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Welcome to the launch of the new and improved Counseling Today website and my first blog post! I am Dr. Susan Rose, CEO of Counseling Today, and I am so excited to share with you MORE of what Counseling Today has to offer! The amount of ideas and inspiration whirling around in my head, collected over a lifetime of education and experience, is ready to jump out. I wanted to start by telling you why I created this blog, what you will be seeing more of in my posts, and my overall experience of revamping my website.


Animated Bookworm

Why I started the blog

Since I have been in education and especially since I became a Counselor Educator, many have asked “Why don’t you write a book?!” I have spent the most current years of my career in higher education, but have many years experience as a school counselor and teacher in both private and public schools. This experience, along with my education and research, established a broad spectrum of experience from which to draw and placed me in situations which prompted this blog so that I could informally share what I’ve learned with fellow counselors as well as parents. Additionally, writing is another one of my passions, so it seems natural to combine two of my passions (school counseling and writing) with this blog.

What you will be seeing in my posts

Counseling will obviously be the main topic of my blog, but get ready because you will be seeing much more of the face behind Counseling Today (me), and a mixture of what I’ve picked up along the way throughout my career, including counseling strategies, parenting techniques, and self-care. I may be a “perfectionist” but I am nowhere near perfect. That’s one of the main messages I want to convey with this blog – that we are all just trying to get through this life the best way we can. But, if we support each other, we can make it better for all of us. Please feel free to always share your experiences and communicate with me along the way! I hope to inspire you because, truthfully, I believe that one cannot help others without helping themselves. So, we’re all in this together.

Revamp experience

After being inspired to start my blog, I wanted to act fast. Yet, I learned that this is not a fast task. Not only did I want to start a blog, but after having my business for almost twenty years, I was ready to totally revamp my brand and website which I initially created on my own. Originally, the company and the website was focused on selling curriculum that I wrote. The new direction is to share information through the blog as well as through Professional Development workshops and seminars. The new website and this blog reintroduces us.

Supporting the Walk

Because I hope to help others understand the supporting of grief a little better through my experience, I’m going to focus a little bit on being with someone while they’re grieving. It’s incredibly difficult! Although we as a culture fail to support grieving people appropriately, its important to applaud your wanting to be supportive. By wanting to do the big, deep, heavy, hard work of loving someone inside their pain, you are doing a wonderful service!

Yet, to truly be supportive, we need a new image of what grief support really is. Devine writes:

When a bone is broken, it needs a supportive case around it to help it heal. It needs a supportive case around it to help it heal. It needs external support so it can go about the intricate complex, difficult process of growing itself back together. Your task is to be part of that case for your broken friend. Not to do the actual mending. Not to offer pep talks to the broken places about how they’re going to be great again. Not to offer suggestions about the bone might go about becoming whole. Your task is to simply be there. Wrap yourself around what is broken. Your job… is to bear witness to something beautiful and terrible – and to resist the very human urge to fix it or make it right.

We’re all so uncomfortable with grief that we tend to want to fix it so that we don’t have to endure it. Someone going through grief doesn’t have that luxury. The grief must be endured in order to heal. To ignore it would be analogous to ignoring a physical illness. We wouldn’t ignore the broken bone, the burst appendix, the heart arrhythmia, etc. It takes time and support for physical healing just as it takes time and support for emotional healing. We need to allow that!

The biggest thing to remember today is to resist the urge to make it better. We need to notice that urge or impulse, then don’t act on it. Pause before you offer support. We will discuss what to do in that pause as we continue the support and walk through each week.

References

Devine, M. (2017). It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand. Boulder, CO: Sounds True. (ISBN: 97871622039074)

Walking Alongside Grief

If I don’t manage to spread any other message through my sharing than this one, then I will feel that I have accomplished my goal. It is such a misunderstanding that we “accept” loss or “get through” it. We instead learn to carry our pain a little lighter as we walk alongside it.

That is the primary purpose for this blog: to help me walk alongside the grief for the most amazing man that ever walked this earth. I am reminded of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “One of the most beautiful compensations of this life is that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”

As a counselor educator, I began this blog to help other counselors. Yet, in the midst, I went through this life changing event. And, pain, just as any feeling, needs expression. As Megan Devine so eloquently expresses, “the human mind naturally goes to creative expression; it’s the way we’re built. We are storytelling creatures.” It’s not that writing, or any creative activity, is healing in and of itself. I don’t believe by any stretch of the imagination that creating something out of grief makes it a “fair trade” or even that it will move me out of the fog at a faster rate. What I do believe is that writing it down will help me to make sense of the world, especially now when everything that’s happened seems to make no sense.

So, I began with the very personal story that brought us to where we are. And, yes, I will always use the “royal” we. One does not partner with another for over 38 years without carrying that soul for all eternity. I continue to wear the “married ring” as my granddaughter affectionately termed it many years ago. I will be his wife forever. Death does not part us. It simply changes the relationship. Writing allows that connection to continue. The stories are a continuation of love.

References

Devine, M. (2017). It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand. Boulder, CO: Sounds True. (ISBN: 97871622039074)

Anticipatory Loss

Anticipatory loss is defined as grief that is felt in anticipation of someone’s death. He kept telling me that he was getting weaker, but I just couldn’t hear it. He would talk about the finances and tell me how he had prepared for us in retirement and was concerned that it would now just be me, so I needed to listen. He finally realized that I needed to remain hopeful and made a spreadsheet, a trademark of his. The family joked about all of his planning spreadsheets. We were alike in that way. I always had my manila folder on vacations and everything had a place in our home.

I include this aspect of the fight in the blog as a warning to any going through this journey or helping others through it. It it not actually denial to need to remain hopeful. It is a natural defense mechanism. Yet, it did cost us time as I was angry at the disease and didn’t want to realize how sick he was.

I continued to fight the disease and didn’t treasure the time we had together at the end as I would have liked. Yet, knowing grief as I do, I realize that the mind goes through guilt as part of the healing. I believe that I would have regrets even if everything was perfect. Bob knew me so well and tried to prepare me for that. He even said, “I don’t want you to have regrets.” He told me time and time again that he was a blessed man, because he had a wonderful family and wonderful career. I feel so blessed, because he truly believed that both of those were because of me. He would tell the children that his career wouldn’t be what it was without “Mom’s foot in his butt”. He wasn’t a silver tongue devil, but he was honest to a fault.

So, whether you recognize anticipatory loss when it’s happening or not, it’s important that you recognize it at some point so that it can be addressed. It is so important to sit with all types of grief for a moment so that it can sink in and allow healing. The idea of “getting through” grief is a misnomer. We learn to walk alongside it.

More on that next week.

Fighting the Battle

After the four surgeries over Thanksgiving, his body was very weak from the surgeries and the eight days in the hospital with limited movement. He was frustrated about missing the activities of the Christmas holidays, his favorite, but fought hard to walk again and returned to work in January.

Then, in February, he began to feel lethargic again. We thought it was because he was removed from the steroids as they had run their six month course. Yet, his doctors in Cleveland felt he needed to be seen again for further testing. He was admitted on March 9, 2019. The kidney biopsy confirmed that he had amyloidosis as the disease had now spread to the kidneys. On March 17, Ohio’s governor ordered that all hospitals could not have visitors. Administration allowed me to stay through March 21 as I explained that I had not been out of the hospital since March 9 and therefore was not bringing in any new germs. Yet, the medical teams powers were stripped by the politicians at that time, and I had to leave him. (I don’t want to bring in politics at this time. Ohio’s governor is Republican, and Kentucky’s is Democrat. Both made poor decisions that cost us time.)

He was released from Cleveland on March 31 to Frazier Rehab. We were so excited, because Frazier was allowing at least one visitor. We would be allowed to see one another. Yet, on that same day, Kentucky’s governor overpowered the medical team and removed that privilege. That was a difficult day for both of us. No one, except possibly the medical team seeing the mental anguish daily, can know how not having your loved ones to support you affects physical healing. Yet, Bob fought on. On April 21, the day before his birthday, I was allowed to visit because I was being trained how to help him in and out of the car, into the wheelchair, and all the equipment to help him walk again. We were so excited! We practiced again on his birthday, then he got to come home on April 23. We were again back at home with meds and a bright outlook.

In July, he was having balancing problems and stomach issues. We went back to Nortons, who sent us back to Cleveland to their Amyloidosis center. By this time, I could at least be with him as the one visitor. He had test after test, but couldn’t find the cause of the Amyloidosis. Hence, it was determined that it must be the HS. We were again sent home with a different set of meds. We remained hopeful that we could get the HS under control, which would then control the Amyloidosis. The distressing awareness that both diseases were incurable didn’t phase our hopefulness. We were sure we were going to win this fight.

Yet, both of us were quietly concerned. In hindsight, I can see the signs of anticipatory loss that we were both displaying as the Amyloidosis continue to spread and affect his peripheral nerves and gastrointestinal system.

More on Anticipatory Loss next week.

Profoundly Changed

It has taken some time, but I am now ready to share with you that my amazing husband, Bob Rose, went to be with Jesus on October 20, 2020. This has changed my life in so many ways that it feels like I will forever be finding my footing again. One of the early things I heard myself say over and over again is, “You marry someone, because you can’t imagine your life without them. Then, when you have to really do life without them, it’s unimaginable.”

Because I am learning so much more about grief, this blog will shift to help others in grief as well as counselors helping others in grief. And, it will move to weekly posts rather than biweekly. First, we will begin with telling the story of that amazing man.

He fought the disease for six years, and I was convinced that we were going to win. We were going to get to be that old married couple in rockers on the porch. Well, really, those rockers are on the deck, but you get the picture. We had actually bought matching navy blue cracker barrel rockers, because he was a NAVY veteran. We were ready.

The fight began in the Summer of 2014. We were sitting on the beach when he called my attention to a rash that had become very infected over the course of our time on Madeira. We thought it was just a reaction to the salt, sand, or something in the air that he wasn’t used to. Yet, it didn’t clear up when we returned home. This started our trek back and forth to Cleveland Clinic, the local Norton’s Brownsboro Hospital, and so many doctor’s appointments and surgeries that I lost count. It was first simply Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS), a chronic skin condition. Although that was annoying, it wasn’t terminal.

Yet, over the course of time, the HS caused a rare disease called Amyloidosis, which was first misdiagnosed as Sarcoidosis in July 2019 as it was centralized in the heart. He received an ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator), which acted as both defibrillator and pacemaker, and he was placed on steroids to address the Sarcoidosis. We thought we were out of the woods.

He loved his job at Louisville Gas and Electric and continued to work, because he was also convinced we were going to kick this thing. Then, in November 2019, the skin infection caused four surgeries over Thanksgiving week. Our children cooked Thanksgiving dinner and brought it to the hospital. I am so grateful for that, because that was our last Thanksgiving together. This was the beginning of the end, but neither of us saw it.

More on this last year next week.

Developing Emotional Intelligence

Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. Martin Luther King, Jr.

            It is one of the primary responsibilities of the school counselor to provide their students the necessary tools to be able to control their own behavior in a positive and appropriate fashion. This is what is known as EQ or Emotional Quotient.  Counselors teach their students how to understand and manage human emotions, encouraging the development of “internal assets” such as integrity, honesty, restraint, empathy, decisiveness, and friendship-making skills.

            John D. Mayer, a researcher and associate professor of psychology at the University of New Hampshire, and Peter Salovey, a Yale University psychology professor, coined the term emotional intelligence in 1990 after exploring the relationships between cognitive brain functions (such as memory, reasoning, judgment, and abstract thought) and affect (including emotions, moods, and feelings of fatigue or energy).  They describe emotional intelligence as the ability to recognize how you and those around you are feeling, as well as the ability to generate, understand, and regulate emotions.  Once labeled, the concept of emotional intelligence spread rapidly. 

            In 1995, Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and writer for The New York Times, expanded on the Mayer-Salovey theory claiming that the art of understanding and managing human emotions “can matter more than IQ” in determining whether a person leads a successful life (Goleman, 1995).

            Focusing on emotional intelligence or the emotional quotient concentrates our efforts on encouraging “internal assets”.  These assets including caring, motivation to achieve, commitment, to equality and social justice, integrity, honesty, responsibility, self-control, planning and decision-making abilities, self-esteem, a sense of purpose, and a positive view of personal future. 

            But the time a person reaches adulthood, emotional habits are fairly well set.  To change, an adult must unlearn, then relearn behavior. So, it’s up to us as the School Counselor to ensure that we are building the child’s emotional intelligence correctly from the beginning.

            Emotional intelligence works along with personally styles or traits.  People can be emotional intelligent whether they are extroverts or introverts, warm or aloof, emotional or calm.  It’s the development of such attributes as conflict-solving skills, self-motivation, or impulse control that proponents agree can contribute much to a child’s ultimate success.  Success also involves staying centered on a positive path to avoid risk behavior such as violence, drug and alcohol abuse, tobacco use, sexual activity and others.

            Hundreds of studies show that how caregivers such as parents, teachers, counselors, etc. treat children in general – whether with warmth and nurturing or with harsh discipline – deeply affects a child’ emotional life.  But these caregivers can also intentionally guide children to develop emotional skills.  Adults can teach empathy by simply expressing their own feelings frequently, pointing out another person’s feelings, and encouraging the child to share his or her feelings.

            Children develop optimistic outlooks when they observe their parents’ optimism, says Lawrence E. Shapiro (1997).  Shapiro, who frequently uses creative games to teach, suggests the “Stay Calm” game to develop anger control.  While one child concentrates on playing pick-up sticks, another child is allowed to tease him in any way he likes as long as he doesn’t actually touch him.  Each player gets one point for picking up each stick, and two points for showing no reaction to the teasing. 

           We can also use the following suggestions to encourage the development of the internal assets that build up emotional intelligence in their children.

  • Helping people.  Regularly spend time, whether as a family or as a school community, helping others.  Volunteer at local shelters or nursing homes.  Show care for your neighbors.
  • Empathy.  Model mutual respect in the school community.  Do not tolerate insults, put-downs, name-calling, or bullying.  Talk about how selfish or hurtful choices and behaviors affect other people.
  • Decision-making skills.  Include your students in decisions that affect them.  Give them a chance to talk, listen to them respectfully, and consider their feelings and opinions.  Allow for mistakes; don’t blow up at a poor decision.  Instead, help them learn from their errors. 
  • Planning skills.  Give your teenagers daily planners or date books and demonstrate how to use them.  Show them how to plan ahead for long-term assignments so they’re not overwhelmed at the last minutes.
  • Self-esteem.  Celebrate each child’s uniqueness.  Find something special to value and affirm.  Express your love (unconditional positive regard) regularly and often.  Treat your students with respect.  Listen without interrupting; talk without yelling even if they are interrupting and yelling.
  • Hope.  Inspire hope by being hopeful.  Don’t dismiss your student’s dreams as naïve or unrealistic.  Instead, share their enthusiasm.  Eliminate pessimistic phrases from your professional learning community’s vocabulary.  Replace, “It won’t work” with “Why not try”.  My father always told me, “It never hurts to ask” and “The worst they can do is say no”. Just this thinking provides hope.
  • Assertiveness.  Teach your students the difference between assertiveness (positive and affirming), aggression (negative and demanding) and passivity (vulnerable and effortless).  Point out examples of these behaviors in movies, television programs, media, and the community.  Teach your students to stick up for themselves instead of going along with the crowd because it’s easier.

References

Goleman, D. (1995).  Emotional Intelligence.  City, State:  Bantam Books.

Shapiro, L. E. (1997).  How to raise a child with high EQ – A parents guide to emotional intelligence.  City, State:  Harper Collins.

Life is not a contest!

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.     – Anna Quindlen

            Let me remind you that life is not a contest.  So much of the time we treat it as though it were a foot-race – that the first to complete all the stages of development and get there (wherever there is) wins.

            Piaget saw this as “the American question”.  When he visited the United States from his home country of Switzerland, he was repeatedly asked, “How do you accelerate the progress of a child through the stages?”  His answer, in summary, was that children develop at their own rate.  And, he cautions, do not push children through any of the stages.  This is especially true in the adolescent years when children are already so aware of their peers.  Forcing a false comparison only deteriorates the self-image further.

            Piaget emphasized that the development of skills must unfold naturally and cannot be easily accelerated by adult activities.  These conclusions support the belief that students should not be expected to function at levels that are beyond them.  It is believed that pushing a child through the stages does not encourage deep thinking.  The child is just surface learning and thus will remediate at the formal operations stage to catch up on the material that was skipped.  This supports the idea that the opposite outcome is actually when a child is pushed through.  It actually slows down the logical thinking and cognitive processes and, usually, cripples the decision-making skills. 

            Speeding up the developmental stages confers no advantage.  In fact, if there is a relationship, it is an inverse one.  That is, if any change occurs at all by pushing a child through the stages, it is a negative one.  The child needs to experience the depth of each stage, not simply the surface.

            So, what can you do as a counselor to help guide students through these stages?

  • Be “askable”.  You want to be nonjudgmental so your students don’t fear disapproval or criticism when they bring an issue to you.  If you don’t watch for those windows of opportunities and respond honestly, children may not bring up any subject – small or serious.
  • Be open in all areas and subjects.  Books, pamphlets, television dialogue and music lyrics all can be used as a springboard to launch a chat.  The easiest way to communicate is by being open as questions occur during everyday occurrences.
  • Steer teenagers toward friends their own age.  Studies show that adolescents whose friends are the same age don’t have the behavior problems of those with older friends.
  • Encourage other pursuits.  Expose students to a broad range of activities so they can find something they want to get involved in.  Encourage activities that emphasize teamwork, strength, and character development.  Encourage doing volunteer work, playing instruments, going to sporting events, getting involved in the community, and other ideas that send a positive message.

One Positive Role Model

Research supports that children will thrive if they have just one positive role model.  Kids are not necessarily trouble makers.  It’s just that the teenage years bring on that developmental stage where they are individuating from their parents.  But, they still need that most important sense of belonging.  They just need a place where they feel comfortable, connected and welcome.  They need a mentor, friend, adult role model who believe in them and guide them to make positive life choices as a young person.  You can provide role models for your students that match values of the professional learning community!

            But, you can also be that support as the counselor.  Tired, tense and overextended counselors sometimes inadvertently fail at supporting their students in the way they need.  Educators often give material favors or “empty praise” as expressions of support, yet the teen remains apathetic.  Giving rewards doesn’t satisfy the question lurking deep inside, “Do my counselors and teachers really care about me?”  and therefore fail to be the real support they require.  We choose to spend time with people and activities that we love and bring us joy.  If we rob our students of our time in lieu of material and financial objects, then they get the underlying message they are not valued and/or loved.  Time is valuable, especially at this time of life when our teens are testing everyone’s love. 

            Try the following ideas, borrowed from both counselors and parents, to strengthen the counselor/student relationship:

  • Plan surprises.  Leave notes for your students or pull a few together for a special surprise such as a dessert you’ve prepared, popcorn party, etc. The time that you spent preparing the note or dessert sends an important message.  Remember, actions speak louder than words!
  • Play together.  If personalities are clashing, play can lessen the tension.  Pull the students to exercise, study together, simply play board games, etc.  Use anything that promotes discussion as the “play”.
  • Ask their opinions.  Allowing student input relates the message that their opinions are valuable and leads to less friction and more understanding.  Talking it out helps!
  • Be accessible. An “open door” policy requires making yourself available to students. Be available during transition points in your student’s day as well as for appointments when they need extended time.
  • Be there for your students.  Attend your student’s sports event, plays, concerts, etc. Your presence is a gift of time that is priceless.
  • Eat lunch with the kids.  Make it a habit to eat with the students. Whether you are pulling specific students for special time with you or simply eating in their space, your presence is time given to them.
  • Celebrate for trying.  Give flowers after cheerleading tryouts (to all – not just that make the squad), give a CD for running for class office or for completing a special academic project.  But, remember, these must be true gifts – not rewards every time your students do something.  They should not expect something – Surprise is important here. The point is to show that stepping out and trying is valuable.
  • Say no!  Being firm and consistent across the school culture speaks a message of love and loyalty.  On a deeper level that one only realizes as they mature, we appreciate our parents, teachers and administrators for being firm. 
  • Acknowledge their coming and going.  Welcome them as they come into school. Part with, “I love you. Be careful;” or “Hang in there”.

Walking Alongside Parents

Our culture is permeated with parenthood myths such as the one of being able to escape the adolescent stage of development mentioned in the previous blog.  These, of course hinder the parenting process and can cause them to feel defeated.  Accurate information about child and adolescent development helps stressed parents feel relief.  So, I’ve offered some myths you can dispel for your parents to help empower them. I’m sure you are aware of these from your own counseling training, but it’s good to revisit them for your parents.

Myth 1:  Good parents do everything they can for their children.

            Actually, quite the opposite is true!  Good parents encourage their children to do and handle as much as they can for themselves, including the consequences of their mistakes.  Particularly during the teenage years, they avoid swooping in to play “Ms. or Mr. Fix-it” and instead take pride in their children’s growing assumption of responsibility for their problems and blunders.  Supportive parents actively listen and ask powerful questions:  “Do you feel like talking?”; “Is there anything else you can share with me to help me understand?”; “What do you think?”; “What do you need?”; “How can we work this out?”  The answers are not as important as the conversation.  That is, the adolescent needs to feel connected and that someone is listening and caring. Put yourself in a position to be with your child and listen and wait more; you don’t always have to respond. Simply be there to pose these questions and allow the child to use the parent as a “sounding board” to work these issues out for him/herself.

            It has been a source of great happiness for me that I was able to stay home with our children when they were young, but this also caused me some stress when they were ready to go to school.  They had never been away from me for any length of time.  So, whey my oldest went to Kindergarten, I sat in the back of the room on the first day in case he needed me.  After about twenty minutes, he politely came back to me and said, “Mom, you can go now if you want.”  It was then that I realized that I needed him, not the other way around.

 Myth 2:  If we have enjoyed a solid relationship with our pre-adolescent children, then we can count on being the exception to the rule.  Unlike the neighbor’s kids, our teenagers will not mouth off, question everything we say, or try anything of which we do not approve.

            If only that were true – but it is not!  If teenagers do not exhibit any of these behaviors, that is probably more a cause for concern than if they do.  On the other hand, the good news is that contrary to the bleak picture painted by much of the media, most teenagers make it through adolescence successfully and remain attached to their parents.  The emotional bond between parents and their children remains important throughout adolescence.  It is what gives adolescents the emotional foundation to reach out and develop a sense of self beyond the family.

Myth 3:  Responsible parents do not loosen controls during the scary days of adolescence – they tighten them.

            This approach amounts to throwing gasoline on a fire to put it out!  Increasing the number of rules, punishments, interrogations, and lectures from “on high” is like issuing an invitation to your children to go into immediate resistance mode or, at the very least, tune you out.  It is not that teenagers do not need limits and guidance.  In fact, when parents fail to provide limits, they are apt to conclude their parents do not care enough to offer any limits.

            Barbara Minton (2008) provides a good example in Strong Boundaries Create Secure Children. Imagine you are standing on the roof deck of a skyscraper. There are no railings, the wind is blowing and the building sways. Where would you be? You would probably be in the center where you could gather some feeling of security. Now imagine there are high sturdy railings around the edge of the roof deck. You walk over to the railing, push on it a few times to make sure it is sturdy and will hold. Now you feel secure and free to stand by the edge, maybe even look down or out into the beyond. Those railings really changed the experience. You went from feeling insecure to feeling secure just by having a firm boundary around you. It is just this kind of feeling of security your child is after when he challenges you to set firm and consistent limits and boundaries for him.

When you set solid limits and boundaries for your child, you are sending him a clear message that says, “I care about you and I want you to be safe and feel secure as you learn about the world. I am an authority on whom you can always rely.”

            Yet, adolescents feel resentful and degraded when parents continue to make top-down decisions and don’t acknowledge their developmental strides by soliciting their input.  This does not mean that you are automatically becoming your child’s friend.  They have enough friends.  You are still the parent.  The difference is that you are diplomatically teaching them how to make their own decisions once they are out on their own by allowing them input into the decisions of their life now within the limits of your control and role modeling the thought process of appropriate decision-making within these limits. Limits are the safe zone for your child. Within the limits, the world is safe and predictable. It’s easier for your child to venture out into the rest of the world when he know there is this safe zone you have created for him. (Minton, 2008)

The Truth:  More Than Ever, Caring Parents Matter!

            Though our young adolescents may appear to be retreating from us, the last thing they want is for us to pull away as well.  More than ever, they depend on us to be a “safety net” – the constant they can count on to listen and care in a sea of change.  It is in the context of warm, supportive connections with us that our children grow sturdy wings capable of carrying them to confident independence.

References

Minton, Barbara L. (2008). Strong Boundaries Create Secure Children. Natural News, May 10, 2008.  Retrieved from http://www.naturalnews.com/023208_child_children_life.html.

Bridging the Gap

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant  I could hardly stand to have the old man around, But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.                                                 – Mark Twain

One of the troubles when working with children is that just when you think you are getting the hang of it, the rules change. They become adolescents. The basic directive that children need our unconditional love, acceptance, and nurturing always applies.  Yet, when we do not continuously adapt our behaviors and expectations to match children’s developmental changes, we risk defeating their efforts to grow up, not to mention endangering the health of our relationship with them.

            Nowhere is this need for unconditional love and acceptance more apparent than during our children’s early adolescence when an astonishing metamorphosis takes place.  Seemingly overnight, those reasonably cooperative, affectionate, admiring creatures from elementary school transform into a rather unappreciative, moody, and hypercritical bunch who find us known as adults hopelessly lacking.  Everything about us is now suspicious. 

          Suffice it say, “We just don’t understand.”  And, we have partners in this new development – their parents. This sudden fall from grace and strident declaration of independence can be devastating for them.  It feels like rejection.  In the words of these adolescents, it’s not fair!  After all those Moms and Dads have done for these youngsters, how dare they turn on them?! Not only are they hurt, but they’re scared.  At a time when the dangers and the stakes loom greater than ever, parents worry that they are losing control and influence over their children.  This is where we can work together for their good.

            First, we can remind the parents not to put their job as parents after being friends with our children.  Friends are equals. Childhood friends drop each other and move on to other friendships, experiencing all the different personalities that life has to offer. Friends don’t guide, nurture, and protect each other; they don’t set boundaries and limits for each other. (Minton, 2008) Being a parent is not an adversarial relationship, but one in which clear lines are drawn about who is in charge. If parents don’t create a solid, secure base from which their child can explore the world, they are probably being a friend rather than a parent. (Minton, 2008)  Parents have to be parents first, and the friendship will follow in due time. 

When parents try to be friends with their children it sends a confusing message. It undermines a child’s feelings of security for parents to be inconsistent in their role. (Minton, 2008)

Next, we can assure parents that this stage is a product of development; we all pass through it. One illustration is from my own personal relationship with my daughter. We had shared a special, close relationship when she was younger. We enjoyed going to concerts, the ballet, and shopping together. So, I thought I had done everything “right” and we would not go through a “rough spot”. After all, I had studied psychology and knew what do do. Yet, no one escapes this stage.

Finally, we can bridge the gap for adolescents who do not have parents with the wherewithal or capacity to provide the parental involvement for successful academic achievement. Some parents carry baggage due to their own lack of success in school. They usually are not aware that they are carrying this baggage, but it impedes their ability to provide proper boundaries and/or appropriate emotional support. It is not that they do not care; it’s that they do not know. So, it’s up to us as counselors to empower parents by collaborating with them and walking alongside them to both teach them and support their child.

References

Minton, Barbara L. (2008). Strong Boundaries Create Secure Children. Natural News, May 10, 2008.  Retrieved from http://www.naturalnews.com/023208_child_children_life.html.