By Dr. James Sutton, Psychologist
A 13-year-old boy was brought to my office by his parents; they were having big-time struggles with him. During the evaluation I asked him if he had a message he wanted his parents to hear loud and clear above all else. He replied (almost tearfully), “Tell them I don’t mean to cause trouble.” I believe he meant it, but it wasn’t going to stop his defiance. His statement did, however, underscore a powerful message I have been hearing one way or another from young people for over 30 years: They might struggle with their folks, but they DON’T want to lose them. Here’s an intervention that focuses on recapturing the relationship in the midst of conflict.
As your son or daughter is just going to sleep, sit quietly at the foot of their bed for 2 minutes. Two minutes, that’s all (but it will seem like an eternity at first). Say nothing, and then leave after the two minutes. If you continue this, it’s a safe bet that your child will eventually say something like, “Uh … Mom (Dad), WHY are you sitting on my bed?” There’s your opening. Try responding with something like this:
Well, you know, it’s gets a little crazy around this house during the day sometimes (especially in the mornings). If we’re not fussing at each other, we’re not speaking much at all. I guess I just wanted to be with you for a minute or two when things were quiet and calm. Is that okay?
Chances are it will be more than okay. The interchange that can occur naturally during the most peaceful and stable part of the child’s entire day, the moments before they drop off to sleep, can be special and relationship-focused.
I’ve shared this intervention with hundreds of parents over the years. Of those who have tried it and reported back to me, not a single parent ever indicated that the intervention exploded in their face. There were varying degrees of effectiveness, but all of them were glad they tried it. Most of them kept it up.
Let me be clear. I don’t recommend this intervention for all parents (I wouldn’t recommend it if the child was afraid of the parent, for instance), but it continues to be one of the most simple yet powerful actions I know that can put a relationship back on track. It won’t solve every issue, but it’s not a bad place to start.
Although a nationally recognized child and adolescent psychologist, author and speaker, Dr. James Sutton deeply values his first calling as a public school teacher. Today he is in demand for his expertise on emotionally and behaviorally troubled youngsters, and his skill for sharing it. Dr. Sutton is the founder and host of The Changing Behavior Network, a popular internet radio program supporting young people and their families, and every month he publishes The Changing Behavior Digest, offering tips on managing difficult children and teens. Both resources (and others) are available at no cost through his website, http://www.DocSpeak.com.