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  • Lori K Walters

How can I get my kid to stop doing that?

We’re all familiar with this feeling: you want the young adult in your life to just stop that behaviour already. Part of you thinks that, if you cajole, lecture, yell, force, plead… But when they’re in their teens and twenties, can you really make them change their behaviour?

The short answer is No. They are past that stage of doing what they’re told or guilted into. Sure, there are some controls you can put on them, like taking away their car keys or not letting them go out on Friday night. But that isn’t going to change their viewpoint or their actions.

The long answer is Yes, parents can influence kids over time by shifting into more of a facilitator/life coach role. When your child was younger, you were their teacher... tying shoes, riding bikes. As they get older, they shift out of that student role and, if you’re willing, you can become more of a coach.

While it’s true that becoming an embodied, skilled coach takes years of study and practice, there are coaching skills that you can develop in order to support your kid through adolescence and beyond. One of those skills is asking questions. Not just any questions, but ones designed to help them learn about themselves: what’s motivating them, how they’re making decisions, what emotions they're feeling, what they value, how they express their needs, etc.

The reason many parents aren’t very good at asking their kids illuminating questions is that they have 15-20 years of experience with this child, in which they have come to conclusions about who their child is and how they think, feel and behave. It’s nobody’s fault; it’s just how the brain works. It gathers data and makes summaries for us, such as, Jason is organized and Emma is more last-minute. Katrina likes competition. Devon readily expresses what’s in his heart. These are evidence-based conclusions the brain makes to help you understand your child.

Coaching your older child requires you to set those assumptions aside. Because the truth of the matter is, you never knows someone else completely, not even your child. People are unique and people are always changing. So to be in this kind of coaching relationship, you need to stop believing that you KNOW them. And then get curious about learning more about them. Who are they right now? Maybe Jason isn’t feeling organized in this particular situation. How might he respond now? Maybe Devon is keeping other emotions below the surface.

~ Let’s pause and see what’s coming up for you right now as you read this. Can you identify some of those conclusions? What emotions arise at the prospect of them aside? Does it feel like something would be at risk if you did this? ~

Coaching, instead of teaching (explaining, instructing, lecturing, imparting), also requires you to set aside your opinion about what’s best for them. And this is challenging for most parents, especially after many years of being the one who had to have that answer. Which school? Which friends? Which activities?

Now that they’re older, the questions are somewhat bigger. Should they take that job? Get that apartment? Apply for that college program? And of course you have opinions about that. Because you care about them and you want them to have a happy, fulfilled life. Of course you do.

But you don’t know what’s best for them.

You don’t know if this decision will lead to their contentment or not. You can’t foresee if going to college right now will be better or worse than getting a job. There is a possibility that hanging out with this crowd is building something in your child that will serve him well in adulthood. In a few years, your kid might say that getting fired from her job was a pivotal moment in her life. At some point, if you are going to stay connected with them, you have to stop telling yourself that you KNOW what’s best for them.

So where does that leave you?

It leaves you wondering… Wondering how they are viewing getting fired. Wondering how they’re feeling when they're with those friends. Wondering what criteria they are using for deciding about a job.

You can’t get them to change their friends or keep their job. But you can help them develop their ability to consider their motivations, the emotions that come up for them, and the activities they are engaging in. Self-reflection, discernment, agency - these are skills they need to find the fulfilment and happiness you deeply hope they will experience.

~ When you shift away from believing you know your child and what’s best for them, you are also called to surrender and trust.

Surrender the control and responsibility you held. Allow that phase to come into completion. Not abandoning or capitulating, but recognizing where you’re at in your parenting - the chicks are leaving the nest. And you have a different role now.

You may also lean into trusting that the Universe/ God has got them. Allowing yourself to feel the bigger mysteries of the human journey, all the unimaginable twists and turns of your own life and the grace that holds you, again and again. Deepen your faith in that. And even though your child’s life is a mystery, trust that it’s unfolding perfectly ~ How to Start A simple place to start coaching your child is being curious about their language. When your child says, ‘I hate my boss’ or ‘school depresses me,’ your brain automatically makes meaning. It creates your meaning, based on your experiences. It’s easy to assume that your kid means the same thing. To shift into more of a facilitator/coach role means to find out what it means to them. First come your automatic reactions. When you hear or feel them, recognize them for what they are: ingrained habits to which you are not bound. It might be a thought like, too bad you have to get through school. Or a fear that they’ll be rude to their boss or quit school. Or a resignation like, well, that’s their problem. Or a grief for their difficulty. Or an urge to go and talk to that annoying teacher. So step one is recognizing and interrupting those first reactions. They are yours, sparked by your own experiences and interpretations. They are your ego’s way of avoiding something for itself. These auto-responses belong in your lane, not your child’s. Next comes validating their experience. While it may be hard for you to hear, they are having a hard time and they are entitled to some time and space to feel those feelings. You know that bosses can be infuriatingly tyrannical, inept or arrogant, that school can be incredibly dull and dejecting. Confirm that these feelings are ok and let them express the emotions that they’re experiencing. When the waters have calmed, begin with a simple, curious question. Word it so it only seeks clarification and holds no opinions or judgement. This opens the space for exploration and self-knowledge. ‘When you say you hate your boss, do you mean that you hate being around him or you hate the way he talks to other people?’ One simple curious question. Not trying to change anything. Just learning. ‘What part of your school day feels most depressing?’ This may lead in one of hundred different directions; follow their lead. It may be a certain class, the building, or classmates. Depress may mean tired, lonely, bored or it may mean clinical depression. Listen and learn. When we jump in with our habitual reactions, we negate our child’s experience and they shut down or blow up. When we ask good questions, we learn about our child and, more importantly, they gain some valuable self-awareness. Perhaps that he values organization and responsibility more than his boss, or that she needs to take one less class this semester. These are the kind of discussions that build connection. ~

So, how do you get them to stop despising their boss or stop ditching school? You don’t. You don’t have that power over their lives anymore. But you most certainly have the ability to empower them to learn about themselves and make self-aware choices as they navigate their lives. This will lead them to engage in the things that feel right for them, that they’re interested in trying, and that will take them to toward the happiness and contentment you hope and pray they will have.

With you on the journey, Lori

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