Archive of ‘Healthy Relationships’ 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!


Supporting Your Teen Through Applying to College

The college application process is an exciting time for any family. Your child has decided to further their education, consider different career paths, and begin the first stage of their adult life. You are proud of them and simultaneously anxious about the choices they will make. This is one of the most uniquely stressful times in a teenager’s life, and it can be easy for any parent to feed off of their child’s stress and worry about whether they are making the best decisions for their future. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you help your child navigate this transitory time.

Encourage them to seek joy

I recently had a parent session with the father of one of my clients who is a junior in high school. He shared with me that his son’s school counselor looked at his choice sheet for his senior year classes and asked him, “Where is the joy in your schedule?” This is such a beautiful reminder that teenagers need balance. Even though AP and IB classes look great on college applications, you have an amazing opportunity to demonstrate to your child that it is necessary to prioritize their mental health and focus on things that make them happy. Start a conversation with them about their schedule. Be curious about the subjects they are interested in, and take note of the electives, sports, fine arts, etc. that make them come alive. Ultimately, colleges pursue students who jump off the page. GPAs and test scores can make an application stand out, but admissions officers are not looking for robots. They want to see students who have passions and varied interests. Reinforce that your child is human, and this is the time in their life to try new things and decipher what makes them feel joyful.  

Help them prioritize their overall wellness

There are so many things that demand high schoolers’ time and energy. Your child is likely coming home feeling exhausted from balancing assignments, tests, extra-curricular activities, friendships, studying for the ACT or SAT, and completing college applications. This often involves overextending themselves and putting their wellness beneath the things on their to-do list. It can be hard to balance helping your teen stay on top of their responsibilities with inspiring them to care for themselves. Here are some behaviors to look out for that indicate your teen needs help to put themselves first:

  • Irritability 
  • Trouble sleeping or oversleeping 
  • Appetite changes 
  • Withdrawal
  • Sluggishness 
  • Decreased interest in previously enjoyable activities

Remind your child that they will not be able to perform the way they would like to in their classes or on their standardized tests if they are not regulated, well-rested, well-fed, and well-connected. Most importantly, children learn by example. If they see you prioritizing your wellness, they will follow suit.

Be patient 

There are many moving parts to college applications like login information, resumes, deadlines that vary according to school, recommendation letters, essays, transcripts, and more. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that houses executive functioning, organizational skills, impulse control, and decision making, and it does not fully develop until around age 25. With this in mind, it can be difficult for teenagers to keep track of all the things they need to acquire and submit for their college applications. They will have plenty of questions for you, and they will need your assistance to stay on track. Listen to their concerns, reflect and validate how they feel, and collaborate with them to find solutions to their problems.

Seek professional help

Teens have many things to consider when they apply to college. This process brings up various existential questions like “Who am I?” “What is my passion?” and “What do I want to do with my life?” It is beneficial for teens to have a safe, confidential, and non-judgmental space to address these questions. Meeting with a therapist can empower your child to care for themselves and face this uncertain time confidently. If your child needs support with the logistical aspects of the college application process, here are some referrals for wonderful college counselors in Austin:

Rebecca Putter of Putter Academic and College Experts

Jen Hendricks of Hendricks Education

Kendall Guess of Path to Admissions

Your teen is looking to you for encouragement, support, and guidance through this incredibly turbulent time. Above all else, remember to focus on connecting with them and maintaining a curious disposition as they communicate their interests to you. Trust that they have the skills within them to see this process through and make decisions that align with their values and desires. Additionally, trust that you are capable of pacing them through this time while helping them embrace their autonomy. 


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