A parent’s job is to help them to achieve, learn the lessons of life and to keep them safe. Unfortunately, it can be excruciating when your child comes home and is very upset about something and you watch him or her struggle to make sense of the pain. As a parent you want to solve the problem, or find ways for your child to fix the problem so that your child won’t feel so powerless. When your child is confronted with a difficult situation, it can be an opportunity to teach your kids that there are always things one can do to manage a tough situation. When the problems have an emotional component to them and involve stress in the family or at school or with friends, parents can help their children tease out what is bothering the child the most about the situation. They come in to my office looking for some guidance and hoping that I can help them come up with some problem-solving alternatives that will make both their child's life and their own life feel more manageable. Although there is not a one size formula that fits all ... there are formulas to help kids to assess what resources they can use.
Typically, I give families some guidelines that will help to navigate them through life. Consider this situation: A mother brings her son for counseling because he seems to be struggling at school. As I do the assessment I find out the dad is a workaholic, has a drinking problem and it is causing great sadness for both mom and her son. I suspect that this is causing poor school performance The number one rule in working with this kind of family is to know that mom and son can only change themselves, They likely have no control over how dad acts. As I work with Mom and her son, I typically ask them as they are describing the struggles to follow the formula whereby they look at three very specific questions. The questions may seem simple but they will help reinforce what they can do as a team or individually to cope better.
The questions are: Can you control this situation? If so, what do you need to get the outcome that would feel more manageable? If not, what do you need for yourself to improve the situation?
In looking at any problematic situation it is important to have faith in your child without doing the work for him. You get to teach your child that there will be some things in life that he cannot control. Truly both Mom and her son can share how they feel about dad’s alcoholic and workaholic tendencies with dad. Sharing their feelings is a powerful and a courageous thing to do. Realistically “this share” will likely not change dad’s habitual processes but it is powerful because it is honest and open communication. The outcome this child wanted was for dad to stop drinking and to be around more. (Realistically, this will likely not happen.) Regardless the next step is to ask themselves what can THEY do to improve the situation? After Mom and son were assertive with their feelings, they chose to go to AlAnon and AlaTeen to get the support they deserved. This taught her son that when things look out of control, there are ALWAYS things you can do.
Helping your child to recognize their own resources is a great gift to give to your child in the school of life!