When our children reach adolescents, they become more emotional as a result of the changes occurring within their brain development. Children age nine to eighteen become more sensitive to the things we say and do. This is the reason I recommend that parents begin to ask emotionally focused questions with their children beginning at age six, in order to establish this level of communication before brain development begins to change.
Here are three questions I recommend parents to ask their children periodically leading up to and to revisit throughout adolescence, especially when parents notice changes in their routine and or volatility.
- How are you doing on the inside?
- How do you feel about yourself?
- Are there things we have said, are saying or doing that bother or hurt you?
When we do ask these questions, we need to learn to really listen to what our children are truly telling us. Have you ever went to confide in someone and they, with only had listened to a couple sentences of what you had to say, went on to tell you their “philosophical wisdom” on the situation going on and on about their experiences? Completely missing what was really going on with you. Do you remember how you felt towards that person, how shut off and frustrated you became. That could be what we do to our children all the time.
Often in my coaching of parents and adolescents, I find adolescents carrying things from the past. They have negative beliefs about themselves and or hurt from messages we communicate that were well meaning and seemed harmless to us. I find that these emotional hairballs fester under the surface, which can damage our child’s outlook, motivation and behavior.
Here is an example of a message I sent to my daughter that was received completely different than intended. This message festered within my daughter for a year resulting in a-typical meltdowns.
Heather was 15 years old when we noticed her becoming more and more reactive much like when she was 9 years old. Little things could result in disproportionate emotional responses, that were frequently directed at my wife Deedee. Given the changes we had made in our approach as parents this was out of the ordinary and caught us by surprise. In these instances, I was able to come alongside and see a peaceful resolution come about quickly.
One evening when I attempted to step in, Heather turned and exploded on me. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Her cutting words hurt and instead of approaching the things in the manner Revive Family teaches, Heather and I went to war and it got messy. After the damage was done we stormed away from each other.
About an hour later, I asked her to talk and we both began apologizing repeatedly to each other. After the apologies I asked her what was going on that lead to the recent eruptions. Her initial response was, “I don’t know.” I reminded her given all the changes we had made that “I do not know” was an opportunity to reflect (PRAY) and figure out what is going on inside. After a couple minutes of reflection, she said, “I am just under so much pressure.”
When I asked her what pressure, she said with a fair amount of emotion, “I have to get straight A’s!” When I asked her, “What makes you think you have to get straight A’s? She said, “You told me I did,” which surprised me given what we teach parents. Instead of saying, “No I didn’t,” which was my first confused thought, I asked, “When did I tell you that?” She replied,
“Remember when I brought my first report card home from school?” I said, “Yeah you had all A’s and one B, and I said great job, didn’t I.” She said, “Yes, but you also said I had the capability of being the class Valedictorian.”
She had taken that statement as an expectation, not an encouragement as intended. This misunderstanding combined with the fact that 80 colleges contacted her in her sophomore year of high school, due to the results of her PSAT’s and we did not have the financial ability to help her, she concluded she had to get scholarships. As a result, Heather had become a leader in three clubs and was taking AP classes. Under this strain the pressure and belief I expected her to get straight A’s led to her increased sensitivity and emotional outbursts when she felt pressure or negativity from us.
After talking through the issues and helping her know she was not expected to get straight A’s we had our daughter back and her outbursts ceased.
Prior to understanding this way of interaction, I rarely communicated on an emotional level with my children. Instead I focused on giving them information and telling them things as I tried to motivate them to behave well and make good decisions. When I learned to communicate on an emotional level, below surface behavior, attitudes and decisions I found a better way to connect with and influence my children and our relationships got much stronger.
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