Archive of ‘Communication’ category

Ways to Helps Your Child Navigate Friendships  

A common question I receive when working with parents is how to offer support when witnessing their child having friendship dilemmas. Friendships are a significant developmental milestone for your child, and it can be tricky to know what to say or how to provide help without causing a rupture in your relationship with them. Here are three ways to help you connect with your child and support them through this challenging phase. 

1. Listen

Friendships are a personal territory often associated with self-consciousness or insecurity, but when children gain the courage to come to you for support, the most helpful thing you can do is listen. Stop whatever you are doing and give them your undivided attention. Thoughtfully listening to your child is key in making them feel not only heard verbally, but also seen in a way that affirms themselves and their experience.

2. Refrain From Giving Advice (At First) 

When your child comes to you and is asking about how to handle a friendship situation, the immediate response may be to fix, solve, or rescue. Resist the temptation to do so. Often times when children go to you for help, what they really want is to be heard. Giving advice can emphasize problem solving rather than focusing on what your child is experiencing. However, sometimes your child may only desire advice. In that case, use bullet point # 3 to try to gauge if there may be any reasons for them not wanting to explore the situation deeply. Some reasons could be avoiding feelings around the friendship or desiring you to intervene and fix the situation. If none of those apply to your child and their situation, then advice giving could be helpful. 

3. Reflecting and Asking Curiosity Questions 

Two things that can help your child navigate friendships are reflecting and asking curiosity questions. Reflecting not only shows that you are listening to what is being said, but it also allows your child to hear how you may be experiencing their thoughts and feelings. Asking your child open ended questions can foster connection and prompts them to explore their situation more deeply. Below are some examples of how you could use reflection and curiosity questions.

Examples of Reflecting: 

  • You seem to be struggling (e.g. angry, frustrated, annoyed) with this situation. 
  • I hear that this friendship is making you question some things. 
  • You sound really concerned (e.g. hurt by, worried, upset with, excited) about your friend. 
  • I appreciate you coming to me and telling me about this. 

Examples of Curiosity Questions:

  • What is this making you feel? 
  • How can I help? 
  • What happened? 
  • Would you like for me to give advice or listen?

These three methods can help you approach this important phase in your child’s life with kindness and empathy, both of which are critical to building a greater connection with them.  If you have any questions for me or would like more information on helping your child through challenging experiences, please reach out to set up a session. 


Navigating Religious (and Political) Differences in your Family

I’m not talking about the stereotypical crazy uncle at your Thanksgiving dinner. I’m talking about your sister or father or son whose beliefs are a real impediment to your family functioning. Maybe you don’t have a relationship with them any more. Or maybe you do, and that’s what hurts.

If you’ve listened to or read the news in the last decade, you’ve come across someone discussing how polarized America is these days. Today, with unprecedented access to infinite opinions and knowledge, these polarizations have begun to infiltrate our normally monolithic institutions, like our schools, churches, towns, and yes, families. 

I come from a Jewish family, and my parents have been proud Democrats since I can remember. In the last 20 years, 3 of my family members have gone steadily to the “right,” either religiously or politically. And the other 3 members of my family have drastically moved “left,” BOTH religiously and politically.  So you can see, I have some personal experience with familial polarization, not to mention that as a therapist I work with many individuals and families with similar family dynamics. 

I’d like to offer some ways I’ve learned to navigate this incredibly difficult situation. 

#1: Talk to them about it.

I put this at number 1 not necessarily because you should start with this, but because it’s the most important and, also, the hardest to do. HOW do you talk to them without it blowing up in your face and ruining your already fragile relationship? Read on. 

#2: Set aside your ego for a short period of time

This means even though you “know” you’re right and they’re horribly misguided, for the duration of one conversation, assume they’re right, or at least that they’re not stupid or evil. This doesn’t have to mean you’re “wrong.” I’m just asking you to pause that part of your brain so that your family member can express their opinions without you attacking them or defending yourself. And when I say “a short period of time,” I mean enough time for them to feel like you might be interested in what they have to say. Once they feel comfortable that they’ve been heard (see #3 below), then you can ask them for a chance to talk about your beliefs. You might want to wait for a separate opportunity to discuss your opinions, rather than immediately after they’ve shared theirs for 2 reasons: they might be emotionally unavailable to listen to you after sharing their beliefs with you; and you might be feeling defensive about your beliefs and end up sharing a little more aggressively than you hoped.

#3: Listen to them

Don’t spend all your energy waiting for them to stop talking so that you can interject counter arguments. In fact, I challenge you to not use one counter argument. Here are some guidelines for listening to people (this is literally my job, so hopefully you can trust that I might have something useful to say about listening to people):

  • Ask them if it’s okay if you ask them a question before asking your question. They may still have more to say before wanting to change the direction of the conversation.
  • Be curious (or at least pretend to be curious). Ex: “Oh that’s interesting… does that mean you also believe _____?” “Where did you learn that?” “When did you first start believing _____?” “Does it bother you when I talk about my beliefs?”
  • Ask for clarification. This can REALLY help avoid any misunderstandings. Ex. “You just said that ______, right?” And let them correct you if you’ve misheard them.
  • Don’t interrupt them. Wait until there’s an obvious end to the point their making. (This one sounds easier than it really is.)

#4: Protect yourself

Don’t let them attack you or your beliefs (Ex: “Liberals are too sensitive.” “Trump supporters are Nazis.” “Secular people are immoral.” “Religious people are nuts.” “You’re in a cult, and you’re being brainwashed.” etc.). Stand up for your beliefs. Let them know that judgements like that are not going to help your relationship. Save those judgments for AFTER your conversation, when you’re home and talking to a supportive friend or significant other. Also, don’t forget to check in with your own emotions. It will likely be incredibly difficult to hear some of the things your family member is saying. Take a break, be it a few minutes or a few days. Ask your family member to slow down. You’re taking a very difficult step in your relationship with your family member. Recognize that it’s not supposed to be easy. If it was easy, you wouldn’t be reading any of this.

#5: Be prepared to have more than one conversation

Depending on many factors, including the depth of your relationship and the length of time you have held opposing views, you may not come to any deep understanding after your first confrontation. The goal of speaking to each other is not to convince one another of your beliefs. It’s to be able to have a relationship where you can respect each other. This requires more than one conversation. 

#6: Have them read this article too!

Being on the same page with your family member will drastically improve the odds that both of you come out feeling more connected with each other. It also will make it less awkward when you try to ask a curious question and fumble through it, because they’ll understand what you’re trying to do.

You can do this!


3 Strategies to Setting Clear and Effective Boundaries

1. Keep it short and simple

When setting boundaries for kids and teenagers, you want to make it easy to remember, easy to reference and repeat. “Please be home by 9pm” or “No friends allowed at home if we aren’t home”, instead of “It probably makes sense that you don’t have anyone over for tonight, we are going to be gone until 10pm and there won’t be anyone here to supervise you and your friends”. We often fall victim to explaining the boundary as we are stating it. Explaining why the boundary exists is a valuable conversation to have, just make sure you separate that conversation from the rule/boundary being stated. The more information or discussion being had while setting the boundary, the higher chance for loopholes, exceptions, or power struggles to follow. When you keep it short and simple, you can reference the boundary easier as well, it is easier to remember for the child/teen and less ambiguity.

2. If “this happens”, then “this is the consequence”

If/then statements are much clearer and easier to understand for a child/teenager. For example, “When homework is done, then you can hangout with your friends” or “If you are late for curfew, then you lose your Xbox for tomorrow”. The limit is clear, if a certain behavior is done, then the consequence is clear, whether it be positive or negative. These statements can be quite helpful in avoiding power struggles as well. If you find yourself getting into a power struggle, you can just take a pause and come back to the original limit set, if “x”, then “y”, end of story. Just as important as the content of the limit, it is even more crucial how you say it. Say it with confidence, keeping it short and simple and in a matter of fact way. The stronger you sound when you state a boundary, the less likely there is pushback.

3. Recognize power struggle attempts and repeat the limit

It would be wonderful if there was never any pushback on a boundary or limit set but that is not the world we live in. If you keep getting pushback, that is okay, just stay consistent and maintain your boundary. The minute you start back peddling on a boundary, you are setting yourself up for them to not believe in future limits set or feel they can wiggle out of them. They might even get upset that you are not budging or that you keep having to repeat the limit, that is okay, this is partly why you are reading this, because holding boundaries is not always easy, it takes consistency and is especially difficult if holding firmer boundaries is a new practice. Remember this: each time you set and hold that boundary is an investment, an investment into future limits set, into your child learning that when a limit is set, it matters and an investment into furthering mutual trust between you and your child. 


1 2 3 18