Compassion can deepen parents’ connections with their teens

By Dan Kaufman

For The Beachcomber

Editor’s note: According to statewide data, Vashon teens are more likely to have used marijuana or alcohol in the last 30 days than their peers statewide. A group of Islanders who work with youth or on youth-related issues has put together a series of talks and workshops focused on teens, parenting and drug and alcohol use in an ongoing effort to address teen substance abuse on Vashon.

The Beachcomber has asked several Islanders to write about the issue in the next several weeks. This is the fourth column.

As a family coach and mental health counselor who has worked with families for many years, I have nothing but respect for parents and parenting.

It has to be the hardest job there is, especially in the overwhelming and complex world that we live in today. There are many negative influences and innumerable difficult decisions to be made almost daily.

Parents need to be mediators, developmental experts and futurists to both manage the constant flow of information that comes at them and make decisions that may affect the rest of their children’s lives.

These challenges come in the midst of being tired from working hard, trying to find quality time with their kids and significant others and being stressed by a world that often seems to be on the brink of disaster.

On top of all that, children are constantly expecting, no, demanding their parent’s immediate attention to fix their problems with a wave of a magic wand. As one parent said, “It’s a lot of pressure when this is your only shot to nurture and grow this other human being.” That IS a lot of pressure.

So often I hear parents being hard on themselves when problems arise.

They feel guilty, imagine all of the horrible things that might happen because of their “mistakes” and have a stereo connection to the critic in their heads that won’t give them any peace. The truth is, even if you’ve made a “mistake,” it doesn’t mean the end of the world has come. As another parent stated, “Mistakes are what make us better.” All too often parents resist reaching out for help when something does happen — even though there is a lot of support available to them — because of the fear of judgment.

A few simple strategies can make this journey a lot easier for both parents and children. A starting place for me when working with families is to help them move from judgment to compassion. How do you do this?

First, remember that compassion is what connects us as all as human beings. We all have suffering, we all have shortcomings, and we all make mistakes. Knowing this allows you to connect compassionately with all those who have also made mistakes and find comfort, rather than judgment, in your sometimes less than skillful attempts to raise your children.

When you feel inadequate in the face of all the stresses, remember that you are not alone. Every parent has felt what you are feeling at some point.

Second, remember the same is true with your children. Children, especially teens, try on many personas as they attempt to figure out who they are, separate from parents and become independent.

Like you, beneath their sometimes unskilled attempts to accomplish these developmental tasks are feelings of insecurity, anxiety and frustration.

Like you, they are learning on the job and need the adults in their lives to be mirrors and models for them while also providing unconditional positive regard for them as human beings. You may not always like their choices, but you can always love who they are and the magic of their unfolding.

Lastly, create an intention for how you’d like your relationships to be. For example, you may want your relationship with your teen to be loving, open and trusting. Create an image in your mind’s eye of what that looks and feels like and hold that image while putting your hand on your chest and breathing into your heart. Let the image and the feeling in your heart merge and sense what it feels like.

Practice this frequently and, when you anticipate having a difficult time with your teen, touch your heart and remember the feeling and your intention as you engage with them. Beginning difficult conversations with the right intention can help avoid conflict and anger.

Remembering that compassion connects us all as human beings and that we can create an intention for how we want our relationships to be can provide a guiding light when times are challenging.

Being compassionate with yourself and connecting with your children by understanding the struggles that go on beneath the behavior they display deepens your connection and understanding of them as human beings.

Using the compassion of your heart-center rather than your judgments when interacting with your children will send a message of caring, understanding and unconditional regard. I read a quote recently that said, “Stop trying to perfect your child, but keep trying to perfect your relationship with them.” Seems like good advice.

— Dr. Daniel Kaufman is a licensed mental health counselor and

family coach.

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