Transform Your Frustration into Compassion

In my podcast, The Teen Mind, I describe a teenage boy, David, and his mom, Sheila.  They are fictional characters who represent common parent-child relationships. 

Let’s imagine that David and Sheila came to see me for family therapy, and they talked about a recent conflict.  Earlier in the week, Sheila had found out that, yet again, David had skipped class.  It was his English class, which triggers his anxiety more than any other class.  The conversation goes like this:
 
Sheila: So, what’s going on David, why are you skipping class?
David: I just really hate that class.  Mrs. Washington stresses me out.
Shelia: Okay, I get that, and I know it makes you anxious, but why can’t you just talk to her about it?  It’s not okay to just skip the class!  You’re not going to be able to just skip work when your boss stresses you out.
David: I know mom, it’s not that big of a deal, I’m still doing the work!
Shelia: Well, that’s good, but you’re getting in trouble…you never get in trouble.
 
And here’s where I interrupt.  I say:
“Sheila, I can see you’re trying to help David, and I can tell that you feel stuck with this pattern.” She nods her head. 

Then comes the most important question: I ask, “How do you feel toward David right now?” 

She replies, "I'm frustrated with him.  It feels like he doesn't care that he's skipping class.  This isn't like him."

I say, “There’s a part of you that's frustrated. That makes sense.  Would that part of you be willing to step back for a few minutes and give space for you to lead from the heart?”
 
She takes a deep breath, and nods her head, yes. 

Again, I ask, "Now, how do you feel toward him?"
 
She gets a little choked up and says, “I just want to help.” 
 
I reply, “Yeah, and I imagine that deep in you there’s a knowledge that a part of him, maybe a little boy part, is really scared, and just wants his mom to be there for him.   Do you feel you can do that now?  Just be here with him, leading from your heart?”
 
She nods again, grabbing a tissue to wipe away tears. 
 
So, I turn to David and ask him, “David, what do you want your mom to know about what it’s like for you to go to English Class?”
David, seeing his mom’s vulnerability, feels safe enough to be vulnerable himself.  He shares with her that, when he goes to English class, his anxiety feels overwhelming, that he’s terrified of having a panic attack in front of everyone.  And Sheila is able to listen from her heart, with no agenda, just curiosity and compassion.
 
She responds only with, “I’m so sorry David, that sounds so hard.  I can understand why you’d want to skip.”
 
And when it’s clear that he’s felt heard in what he needs to say, I ask Sheila, “Can you tell David what’s it’s like for you when you find out he’s skipped class?”  And she shares her own fears about David getting caught in a downward spiral and the terrible scenarios that run through her head.  That she wishes she could protect him from everything, like how it felt when he was little.
 
By leading from her heart, Sheila was able to use this conflict to actually strengthen her relationship with David, instead eroding it with their usual pattern. 
 
Also, you probably notice that nothing was fixed or solved in this exchange.  There’s no plan for how David will get to English class or what consequence he’ll have for skipping.  Instead, they’ve laid the foundation for working through problems (not just this one) in a way that feels safe and helpful to everyone.  
 
Now…I think it’s important to say that this short example was fictional and that in real life, it does not happen this quickly or easily.  Especially if you have a teenager, the patterns in place now have grown over years, and will not change in one or two conversations.  Next time, we’ll get more practical, discussing common questions and concerns parents have in learning the process of leading from the heart.
 
Feeling genuinely connected with your teen is hard...and it’s the most important factor in helping them stay on the right path.  Contact me directly for a free 30-minute consultation, and for some simple, straight-forward parenting help. 
 
Note: The characters Sheila and David are fictional and any resemblance to real people is coincidental.