Staying Calm During the Journey Toward Independence

Any parent raising an adolescent would probably admit to “melting down” at least once — and wishing they could have taken back their reaction to the emotionally charged situation.

While saying or doing something regretful in the midst of a challenging situation may be understandable, and ultimately forgivable, parents that model being responsive by maintaining their composure rather than reactive are providing opportunities for growth.

“Emotional sobriety,” says Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D, a psychologist who wrote Surviving Your Child’s Adolescence, is the “capacity for calmness, clear-sightedness, reasonable thought and better judgement when under parenting pressure.”

“As the adolescent detaches more for freedom of independence and differentiates for more individuality of expression,” says Mr. Pickhardt in Keeping Emotional Sobriety When Parenting an Adolescent for Psychology Today ,  “the young person can become more oppositional, experimental, and separated.”

As challenging as it can be for parents to become more vulnerable to their feelings of frustration and worry, responding effectively by maintaining emotional sobriety rather than reacting is an opportunity to improve a situation and lead by example.

Mr. Pickhardt addressed a few common ways the loss of emotional sobriety can occur, each one providing a unique opportunity to model valuable life skills and foster kids and parent bonding.

Take a Step Back

Parents can be tempted to think with their feelings. “While feelings, happy or unhappy, can be very good informants,” says Mr. Pickhardt, “they can be very bad advisors.” Since unhappy feelings can bypass rational thought and may result in harmful words or regrettable actions, it’s better to step back and decompress before responding.

A parent that models slowing down in a heated moment by taking a few silent deep breaths and then redirecting the flow of events can strengthen a father son relationship and is demonstrating how to stay calm. In most situations, one is more likely to respond favorably to another who can remain calm in the midst of a conflict.

Acknowledge and Praise

Parents can display characteristics of being anger prone. Having a high need for control and getting angry when a child’s conduct doesn’t meet certain standards can result in a parent becoming judgmental and irrational. Since taking the behavior of a developing adolescent personally when they don’t meet certain standards is not conducive to empowering them to become more effective or independent, it’s better for a parent to first acknowledge their child’s efforts and praise their intention to accomplish something worthwhile before attempting to give advise.

A parent that models respect by first expressing appreciation is more likely to have their child understand the value of giving and receiving constructive criticism. In situations outside of the family where guiding or supervising another is necessary, communicating constructively will help get the job done.

Focus on the Solution

Parents can fixate on an adolescent’s problem rather than become part of the solution. “When some sector of the young person’s life becomes problematic (for example, with faltering school performance or social acting out or substance using),” says Mr. Pickhardt, “parents can become so focused on the problem that they lose sight of the larger person.” Since fixation can limit what we see and cause feelings of overwhelm — or even desperation, it’s better for a parent to consider the positive aspects of their child’s life and express gratitude for their accomplishments before discussing the necessary steps to reach a solution. This approach can also foster kids and parent bonding.

A parent that models positivity by taking a holistic solution oriented approach is more likely to engage their child in being part of the solution. In social, academic or professional situations where problem solving is always necessary, remaining positive while evaluating possible solutions will be always be a welcomed attitude that fosters progress.

Evaluate and Plan Ahead

Parents can feel trapped by urgency rather than relaxed by planning ahead. “Adolescence is often characterized by an increased urgency of wants,” says Mr. Pickhardt. “There seems to be no time but the present, and a tyranny of “now” can prevail.” Since teens often use the strategy of pushing the panic button to get what they want, it’s better for a parent to emphasize the value of planning ahead by explaining that waiting until the last minute to ask for something without allowing time for a discussion or to weigh the options will result in taking no for an answer.

A parent that models patience by emphasizing the need to evaluate a situation before deciding will help their child learn to plan ahead. In any situation where a decision will have consequences, investing the time to anticipate possible outcomes before taking action is a prudent approach.

“Good parents have good children who will sometimes make bad choices in the normal trial and error process of  growing up,” explains Mr. Pickhardt.

While it’s true that bad adolescent choices present parents with opportunities to help their children grow, a parent’s priority ought to first be maintaining their emotional sobriety so they can lead by example.  

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