Laura’s petrified that her teenage daughter may be headed down a dangerous path.
While she and Kaitlyn sat across from each other in my office, Laura rattled off her string of concerns. Among her worries were slipping grades, Kaitlin’s recent choice of friends—some have been in trouble with the law—and a controlling boyfriend who habitually puts Kaitlyn down.
As her mother talked, Kaitlyn made every attempt—frantically—to disagree and voice her opinion. Understandably so. None of us likes to be cast as a loser, and in Kaitlyn’s eyes that was exactly what was happening. To Kaitlyn, her mother wasn’t listing concerns, she was listing failings. This same scenario was often played out at home, and with even more intensity.
I explained to Laura that during those times, Kaitlyn was defending her self-image. “She must resist your impression of her, because she has to believe in herself,” I said. “If she doesn’t, she’s wide open to all those things you’re worrying about.”
“Your influence as a parent skyrockets as you believe in your child.”
In fact, there’s no better way to arm a child for the challenges of daily life.
As parents, we have little control over what happens after our children become teenagers. A smaller child is much easier to influence. As they head for some danger zone, such as a stairwell, we swiftly reach out and grab them. We can’t do that with teenagers. But we can convey that we have confidence in their ability to master life’s risky stairwells on their own.
Laura won’t be able to dictate Kaitlyn’s choice of friends, and criticizing them will only backfire. Like all of us, Kaitlyn needs to feel valued and accepted, so if her friends are the only ones providing that fundamental need, she will lap it up like a starved kitten. And, let’s face it, when we’re starving, we’re not picky about what the food is and where it’s coming from.
When Kaitlyn feels good about herself, she’s more likely to make choices consistent with that good feeling. Her grades will likely go up, and putdowns will no longer be tolerated.
Laura can help make that happen. I advised her to do the following:
- Instead of saying: “Be careful,” as Kaitlyn leaves the house, say, “I know you’ll be careful.”
- Avoid lecturing her about all the dangers out in the real world. She’s heard them a zillion times from you already. Instead, tell her you know she will use good judgement no matter how tough the challenge.
- Convey that you have confidence in her ability to handle controlling people by saying to her, “I know you’ll stand up for yourself.”
- When she does well, acknowledge it and praise her. We too easily point out errors.
- When she falls short, don’t lose confidence in her—she will be less likely to lose confidence in herself.
I also suggested that Laura add the following phrases to her everyday vocabulary:
- Keep up the good work!
- You can do it!
- You must be so proud of yourself.
- I believe in you.
- I trust you’ll do the right thing.
By believing in her daughter, seeing her in a positive light, and trusting her ability to navigate life’s various challenges, Laura will indirectly bolster Kaitlyn’s self-image while safeguarding her with the strength of confidence. Consequently, she can’t help but influence Kaitlyn’s life for the better.
I call that extraordinary power!
Names are changed to protect client confidentiality.
(c) Salee Reese 2016