If I had a dollar for every time I heard this…
Listen, trying to help a child who won’t accept it is definitely a hard pill t swallow, but you’re not alone, and there is hope. This trend often starts when the student is in middle school and can last throughout college.
Parents discuss this type of situation with me regularly. They say,
“My kid won’t listen to me,”
“That’s exactly what I said to her, but she got mad when I said it,”
“I try to help but he won’t let me,”
There’s an emotional aspect for the parent. It’s sad to experience, heartbreaking to watch your child struggle and not accept your input, frustrating to try to reason with them.
There’s an emotional aspect for the child. They resist help, put up walls, often because they feel shame or they feel like something’s wrong with them, and it can often be intensified when parents try to help. Of course this is the opposite of what you are trying to do, but it happens all the time.
There’s the logistical aspect. The more behind students get, the more difficult it becomes to dig out of the hole, the less they want to try, but the more the parents push, lecture, use logical arguments, and the worse everything gets.
There’s the big picture aspect. The more they develop habits of avoidance, the more difficult life will be as an adult, leading to fewer choices in life.
There’s the misperception that many kids have that they are more competent than they really are. They want to do things on their own.
There’s the evolutionary aspect. Kids are supposed to gain independence from parental authority in order to become adults. It is natural for them to become resistant to parents. The brain is getting good at arguing, which has it’s benefits, but they are getting good at arguing why they should be able to do what they want, often neglecting to comprehend the counterarguments.
I could go on.
So what to do?
I wish I had an easy answer, but there isn’t one. You must try anything and everything, and never give up. Trust me, the effort you make is noticed even if it isn’t appreciated. The point is that you try to connect, try to be helpful, show interest. I do have some practical tips though:
Remember to have fun with your child. Create traditions and fun activities where you don’t talk about school at all. Take a step back and remember that your relationship ultimately is the most important thing.
Really listen. Ask, “how can I be helpful?” and listen to what they are trying to communicate. When there is a gap int eh conversation, resist the urge to say something. Rather, keep listening, tell them you really want to know what would help. This space is critical, so bite your tongue and listen longer than you think you need to. In my work with students, this has been one of the most powerful tools. It’s often after a long pause that they had the safe space to collect their thoughts and share the most important things they need to share. When this is shared, THEN you can move towards real solutions.
KEY: Often times, what is really stressful is the abstract nature of how adults intervene. In other words, they don’t know when you’re going to ask them about school, how long the uncomfortable conversation is going to last, and often they literally don’t have good answers. So they jsut end up feeling bad. Therefore, its’ good to make the abstract concrete. You can do this by clearly stating something like this, “Hey, we’re going to talk at 7 tonight about school. I need you to be completely honest with me and I won’t get mad at all. I will only try to be supportive. in fact, I will ask you HOW you want me to be supportive, and I will honor that as long as you are honest.” Then do your best to do that, and if it doesn’t work out completely, apologize, be human, move on and try again next time. It’s a process. Create space. Back off a bit, relax. Students feel your anxiety and they put up walls. Take a breather, take a step back, then re-approach your child with a heart to heart that is NOT a surprise.
This sort of approach allows you to have the heart to heart, set boundaries. It allows you to stand your ground while remaining flexible when that is in the best interest.
Ownership and buy-in. Try to ask your child what they think, ask what they need and want. They often have awesome ideas. I often ask things like this, “Do you want to hear my thoughts?” before jumping in with my solution. Or I ask, “How can I be helpful? What would make this better for you?” When we sincerely create this sort of space, we can get down to the heart of the matter.
Get help. When things are too overwhelming and your relationship with your child is suffering, get a family therapist, a coach, take some classes, research your problem. Use teachers to help. But seriously, a great therapist is an investment that will pay off in quality of life, so don’t hesitate to get help! You and your child are worth it.
Also, be open to all sorts of ideas. Sometimes meds can be game changers. Somatic therapies like brain-spotting, EMDR, eft tapping and somatic experiencing can be life changing. Other things like brain gym, tutors, and heart math can be great. Research and try!
The environment. Modify the environment in order to help with executive tasks. Think of it as improving automation of tasks wherever possible. In other words, have a basket by the door for things that need to be remembered, use visual reminders, have a place for homework (see my video about the Queue), have organizational systems as simple as possible, have labeled places for everything important, have chores listed visually, etc..
Finally, frequent sincere compliments go a long way. Give specific feedback on what they are doing “right.” I like the 3:1 rule, 3 compliments for each “negative” you share.
I know getting your kid to accept your help is an incredibly difficult scenario, but again, don’t give up. It’s messy, it’s challenging, but it’s real. Your relationship with your child is the most important thing in the world, so keep that in the back of your mind, and keep pushing forward.
Yeah, we can unintentionally create a lot of pressure. Keep this in mind and you can create a space where you can be more helpful.
Thank you for a very helpful article. I needed to read this and I believe you are right on!!
Look forward to all your blogs.
Glad to hear it Kb!
Thank you, Seth. As a parent and family therapist, I get this from both angles. Very timely for my 14-year-old son and me…and for a few clients as well. I have learned not to talk about school in the car- it’s so easy as they are a captive audience, but then they start to tune you out, and it’s such a great opportunity to connect.
That is a great point. They’s just spent the entire day in school, often times (especially as they get older), school is the LAST thing they want to talk about. We have to compartmentalize our school discussions so they don’t feel like they are lingering all the time. There is a time and a place, and kids legitimately need times when they KNOW they are FREE to NOT think about it at all.
Hi Seth. I am experiencing all these issues and more. My son is 18 in 5 months but still has 1.5 years of high school to go. He is at the stage where he has missed school for the last 2 weeks, sleeps late so rises late. I know I need to get him to go speak to someone but he just won’t take it on.