What do counsellors offer young people?
- A non-judgemental listening approach
- Time to express all feelings without taking their actions or words personally
- The space to find their own solutions while being gently guided
- The ability to build resilience through honest exploration and guidance
As a counsellor, I offer empathy but my emotions are not guided by the choices that a young person makes. I deeply care that I am able to support a young person to feel emotionally resilient and to cope with life and learn new emotion regulation skills but I respect their choices. In other words, a client could not leave me feeling let down, ashamed or upset by their choices and actions. These are feelings that can often be experienced by parents and the way that you feel will directly reflect on the way that you parent. This can cause a lot of chaos at home!
I see each client as an independent and unique thinker who is walking their own path. I see my role as to guide a young person by lighting the path they choose to take and this is how I choose to parent
I decided a while ago to parent in the same way. So I started to look at my son as if he were an individual person who is on his own journey. I decide to have no emotional tie to the choices he makes or the actions he takes, but to instead guide, share and listen. I decided to respect his choices and wishes and to treat him as an independent thinker who is on his own journey and not mine! I wanted to guide him but not control or sway his experiences! This felt odd at first, but I was willing to go for it! What did I have to lose?
Throughout my time in supporting young people I have found the same four key steps have come up again and again with regard to peaceful parenting and raising resilient kids! Young people share things like “my parents don’t listen to me”, “my parents are always trying to control me”, “my parents don’t understand me”!
So the next time your child is upset, try stepping into their world and seeing things from their perspective. Imagine that you are learning for the first time about how your child thinks and feels. Don’t try to guess or fix, but instead look for the facts and the meaning behind the words, Become a parent detective and take the time to work things out with your child’s wishes and feelings guiding you!
STEP 1: IMAGINE
Imagine that your mouth is totally unable to move and that you are unable to talk. Just listen to what is being said! Allow your child the space to express, to unpick their day and to share what they are thinking, without judgement or the standard “if I was you” speech that a lot of young people face from parents. Just be there in your child’s space, offering a safe place to talk and to feel what ever they are feeling.
STEP 2: EXPLORE
Explore with questions that are open and accepting of your child’s viewpoint and feelings. “So you felt like he was being unfair?” or “You are saying that you are feeling sad?” Don’t criticise the way a young person feels or experiences situations. Rather go with it. Remember that you were not there at the time and that you only get the few words that your child shares with you. You don’t get all of the other information that your child is using to make sense of a situation. This includes sensory information like the environment, voices, sounds, looks from other people and general body language. Your child is processing so much about a situation. Don’t use language like “don’t feel like that” or “I’m sure that wasn’t the way it was”. These kinds of expression are more about the way you feel than they are about your child’s experiences. You could be confusing your child. The fact is that your child does feel this way. Instead use language like “You say that people were looking at you and that they think you’re silly? I’m wondering if there is another way of looking at this? What would you be thinking if you saw someone who was upset?” This way your child can be guided to gently consider alternative viewpoints. “I would feel bad that they were upset”, so “maybe when they were looking at you, they were feeling bad that you were upset and they wanted to help but didn’t know how!”
STEP 3: CLARIFY
Clarify what your child would like to do about their situation or what they need some help with. Don’t try to sway your child from what they would like to do or to convince them of what you are thinking and feeling as being the right way forward. Stay with your child’s wishes and respect their right to make choices for themselves. This helps a young person to feel strong, resilient and in control.
STEP 4: EMPOWER
Now that you have listened, explored and clarified you can start to create a plan going forward. “So how would you like to deal with this?” “What do you think might happen if…” “Whats the worst that can happen when…” Staying with your child’s viewpoint and choices is important here. Keeping your emotions and wishes out of the picture is important too. You are raising a strong and independent thinker and this is going to help to empower your child to make choices that feel right for them. Obviously with regard to safeguarding, you would need to step in if the choices they were about to make were unsafe! You can explore this using exactly the same gentle challenging approach as in step 2, where you gently look for other viewpoints.
Remember that what you want for your child, might not be what they want for themselves! It is important to be able and willing to recognise when you are trying to be the writer in someone else’s story!