Stumped

Have you ever struggled to help your child?

My youngest son shared that he had a bad day, and when I probed to figure out why it was bad, it made the situation worse. Instead of getting to the bottom of what made his day bad, he decided that his day wasn’t just bad, but everything was bad, and that he just couldn’t explain all his feelings. I could see my inquiries weren’t having the intended effect.

I attempted again to find out what was behind his feelings. He just got more upset, and after we talked in circles — me inquiring, him unable to explain — he said,”Mom, can we just stop? I’m all talked out.” I sighed, partly relieved since I wasn’t making progress and getting frustrated myself, and partly bummed because I pride myself on helping my kids work through their feelings. I was stumped. “Well, let me know if you want to talk again. I want to help if I can,” I said and that was the end of it.

My son never asked to revisit the topic, he wasn’t as upset as he’d previously been, so maybe whatever was bothering him passed. Or maybe talking helped (even if it was just s little that would make me feel better). My son knows I’m there and want to help, which I feel good about, but boy did I feel pretty helpless (and somewhat worthless) when I couldn’t help him.

It’s frustrating when you don’t have all the answers, or know how to help your child. After thinking about what had happened, I realized that instead of trying to solve the problem, it might be even more valuable to my son if I just listen and acknowledge his feelings, and in the moment, that might be enough. When I don’t have the answers I hope it is.

Have you ever been stumped with your child? How did you handle the situation? And what did you take from it?

Let’s Talk About It

How comfortable is your child speaking openly? To you? Or Others?

My husband and I are working to help our kids better improve their communication skills. He and I have learned over the course of our relationship that what and how you talk to one another matters, and if you can clearly get across how you are feeling and what’s behind it, it can really help the other person and how they respond.

My oldest son is good about communicating how he is feeling, but not always in the most effective way. He can come on strong or ‘lash out’ as his younger brother would say. He can be defensive and will talk over others until they stop trying to talk over him.

Our boys went to visit their grandparents and when they were back home we asked them about their trip. My oldest shared a few fun things they had done. My younger son started to share a story that my older son clearly didn’t want told. He became defensive, loud and was unwilling to calm down. So, my husband sent him to his room to cool off. We tried to change the mood of the room, and asked my younger son what fun things he had done on the trip. He shared a few memories, including visit a cemetery with his grandparents (where grandma’s parents are buried). We knew from past experiences anything that reminds my son of death makes him sad. He is unique is how early in life he understands the fragility of life and how fleeting it can be — that’s what makes him sad. We asked him how he felt about going to the cemetery. He said it made him a little sad, but he felt okay. He became quiet. Reflective. He looked like he was on the verge of crying. “Are you okay?” I asked. “It’s okay if going to the cemetery made you sad.” “No, that’s not it,” he said, “I just think my life is bad and I don’t like this feeling.” I was surprised by what he said. My husband and I started to ask questions to try to get to the bottom of what was going on. “What do you mean life is bad?” I asked. “I don’t know. I just don’t like the feelings I’m feeling lately. I used to be happy a lot, but now I’m not happy as much,” he said. He is my happy kid, so hearing this wasn’t easy.

After inquiring some more, he shared that what was behind his somber mode was how he and his brother were interacting. He felt that he would say something and his brother would attack him, call him names, and making him feel bad about himself. He didn’t like how his brother was treating him, which is understandable, but what was surprising was how concerned he was about his brother. “I wonder what he’s feeling to say what he’s saying,” he shared. We could see his concern.

My husband got my older son out of his room and spent some time with him discussing the situation, and how he had been talking to his brother. My younger son and I sat together and discussed strategies for how he could better communicate and advocate for himself with his brother. We wanted to make sure he knew that he shouldn’t allow his brother to talk to him however he wanted to. He needed to stand up for himself, and let his brother know when he wasn’t okay with how he was being treated.

My husband and older son joined us and we sat as a family and talked about the situation. At first, the boys started rehashing the incident that had happened while they were away, with each person defending their position and how the other person was wrong. “This isn’t helpful guys,” my husband shared, “there is a lesson to learn here in how to better communicate with one another. When one of you doesn’t like what the other is saying or how they are saying it, you have the right to tell them. And the other person needs to listen. Not yell or defend your position. Just listen. If you don’t understand why the other person is saying what they are saying, ask questions to get clarification. If you can learn these skills now you’ll be way ahead of the game. I never had these types of conversations when I was your age. I didn’t figure there was a better way to communicate until I was much much older. Learn from this.”

My boys looked at each other. I added to my older son, “You know, your brother was more concerned about you and what you were feeling than what you said and how you made him feel. Remember, everyone here loves each other.” My older son smiled and nodded when he realized how much his younger brother cared for him, even when he wasn’t treating him very well.

That ended our family conversation. My boys seemed closer following the talk. There will inevitably be more work to do in helping our sons improve their communication with each other, but knowing that they are more aware and can start to hone these skills now gives me hope for how they will communicate in the future.

How are you honing your communication skills? How are you helping your child help hone theirs?