In these extraordinary times of isolation, every parents fear is ‘How will my child cope and how can I help them?’ With unprecedented pressure being placed on the family, there are ways we can all support our children and come out of this crisis more resilient and with a greater sense of connection in the family unit. To flip this situation, think about the opportunity we all have to connect with our kids – a gift in the mayhem of this crazy world. From my experience as an educator of adolescent boys for twenty-four years and being a parent, I believe having a plan is one of the keys to steering our children through this.
Communication and listening are crucial – make some time during your day to open up a conversation about how your son is feeling. Sounds easy… Not! I know that one of the challenges of adolescence is that it comes with a new language – the grunt, particular for boys.
“How was your day?”
“What did you do at school today?”
This is a very common script – trust me, I was a teenage boy and I perfected this new dialect. Ask questions which are ‘easy’ to answer. “If you had to rate your day out of 10, 10 being great and 1 being miserable, how would you rate it?” This number will give you something to work with. Share your rating, how you are feeling, what you are afraid of and what made you feel this way. By doing this, you are modelling how to answer these questions. The reality is, sometimes boys just don’t know what to say. “Mine was a 3 because I had five clients contact me to complain that their orders hadn’t arrived. I got so angry I threw my mobile phone across the room. Did anything make you get angry/sad/frustrated/happy today?” Ask questions that elicit emotions through describing behaviour to help your son express how he is feeling. Ask them their opinion about what is happening at the moment – don’t be afraid to go there. Uncertainty is a factor which makes young people feel unsafe.
I know this all sounds great in theory and the reality might be very different, but persist – communication and listening are keys. As a father, I have learnt that you don’t need to solve every problem and often your child doesn’t want you to – but listening can have a powerful impact. Who knows, maybe they might come to you when they’re feeling down, if they know you will be there to listen.
One strategy to elicit more than the grunt, is pair this conversation with ‘doing something’. It might be making your son lunch, playing basketball in the backyard or dare I suggest it, play a video game with him. Looking silly trying to play Fortnite or missing the hoop altogether, might help him drop his guard. I think boys are more likely to open up when they are active.
Below is a link to a short video by clinical psychologist, Andrew Fuller, with his Big 3 for parents with school-aged children at home.
Mr Mick Lafferty
Deputy Principal – Students