Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Approachable Parent

Think back into your growing up years in middle school and high school. When you had something that you were concerned about, who did you open up to? Did you feel comfortable enough to talk with either of your parents? Today's blog entry is about becoming an approachable parent, and steps to become one.

Let's start by thinking about the qualities of a friend you might open up to now, as an adult, about something you are concerned about. My guess is that you are MORE likely to open up with someone who is:

*a good listener
*cares about you
*has a wise, well-balanced perspective
*confidential (isn't going to tell others)
*doesn't tell stories and get the focus back on themself
*calm,not a hot reactor
*doesn't give advice or suggestions unless asked to do so
*available, will make time for you a priority
*instills hope, doesn't give up on you
*makes eye contact, doesn't multi-task while talking with you
*makes you feel important

Teens tell me that they shut down and go elsewhere to discuss problems or heartfelt concerns when parents are dictators, yell,react,judge, berate, or are otherwise hard to talk to. No parent is perfect (me included), but when you can be an approachable parent MOST of the time, it can transform your relationship with your son or daughter. Over time, your child or teen will grow more confidence in their ability to be safe opening up to you.

Building strong families and healthy relationships has everything to do with creating a sense of ease that "we can talk about anything or get through any obstacle together". Being relationship saavy means realizing you can not only use the approachability factor with your children, but also your partner, your siblings,your older parents, your grandchildren, etc. When those closest to you feel safe to open up when they are hurting it is one measure of true intimacy.

When changes, loss, or challenges are going on in the family it is especially an important time to be approachable. When you are in emotional pain yourself, it is easy to forget about how scary a death, separation, divorce, job loss, or move can be for your son or daughter. Sharing only age-appropriate information, keeping adult/child boundaries, and being emotionally available to your children is critically important at these times. It will help your child move through a difficult life transition effectively, and you will be aware if they need professional support like counseling.

So, put away the laptop, the iphone, and turn off the tv a bit this week. Ask a child or teen that you love how they are, how they feel about the new school year starting, or how their friends are doing. Pick a relaxed setting,and be low-key in your approach. As adults, it is up to us to raise the level of openness and interest in how the young person's life is going. We don't want our sons or daughters to experience us being to self-absorbed to care, or to difficult to talk to. If they are out of the habit of trusting you enough to open up, it may take a while. Don't give up. We are here for the long run, and your efforts to be more approachable will make a difference in the months and years ahead.

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