She sat in my office with tears streaming down her face. Tough girl was having a tough day. It was supposed to be her last day of school because her mom was moving in with a new boyfriend. Now her mom wasn’t sure about the relationship or the move. Her daughter was confused and a mess.
She’s not the only tween or teen whose life is affected by their parent’s choices.
As a counselor for adolescents, I’ve heard kids express anger, hurt, frustration and grief over their parent’s choices. Changing jobs, schools, and relationships affects a teen’s life. Lifestyle choices of addiction, self-medication, lack of treatment for mental illness, violence, and other unhealthy behaviors also affect a child’s life.
Be aware of how your choices affect your kids. Your teens might first respond in anger. The sixth-grade girl in my office first raged at her mom, but later identified frustration, confusion, and hurt the source of her anger. When first recognizing anger in your teen, asking a few questions can help them verbalize the real emotion they’re feeling.
- What bothers you the most about (identify the situation)?
- Are you angry, frustrated or sad? Are there other emotions you’re feeling?
- What do you want me to know about (identify the situation)?
It’s easy to downplay a child’s feelings or tell yourself your choices don’t affect your kids. But they do. Kids don’t have control over their lives. Parent’s choices or behavior often brings confusion, chaos, fear, uncertainty, depression or grief. When you listen to and validate your teen’s feelings, it positively impacts your relationship with them. It also helps their long-term development.
When there are decisions you don’t have control of, talking with your teen about how the change affects them gives them a voice. It helps relieve anxiety and stress. Listening and validating their fears and concerns helps them transition and face unknown futures. Even though you might not control the circumstances or outcome, you can help your teen know how to respond to changes in their life.
For choices you can control, be honest with yourself about how your decisions affects your teen. After listening to your teen, consider personal or lifestyle changes that may be needed.
- If your job is stressing your entire family, consider changing jobs or getting help for your stress.
- If a dating or marriage relationship is ending, your partner is also leaving your child’s life. Talk with your teen about the change. If they want to still maintain a relationship with the person, consider options for making that happen.
- If you have a mental health condition requiring medication or treatment, stay in active treatment for your health and that of your children.
- If you have a problem with self-medicating, alcohol or drug use, eating disorders, or self-harm, seek professional treatment for your health and that of your kids.
- If you’re in an abusive relationship, seek help and safety for you and your family.
Even though teens seem adult-like and self-sufficient, they’re still kids. They need adults in their lives to provide a healthy, stable environment. Be honest with yourself about how your choices are affecting your teens.
How have you already helped your child make it through tough situations? Are there choices to you need to assess? What have you found helpful in overcoming past or present choices?
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