Guidance counsellor and social worker, Tim Woo, shares his tips with us as we help our teens cope with pressure
It seems as though that students in Hong Kong have been having a rough time lately. As a school counsellor and social worker, I often hear that the pressures from school, families, friends, relationships, or the need to live up to societal expectations, are all part of their list of qualms they face daily. Being a teenager is tough, but feeling as though you’re doing life by yourself, is even tougher. However, sitting on the wayside, watching your child go through it when they won’t let you help them, is probably the hardest. To prevent that, here are five practical tips for engaging your child.
Communicate with other caregivers
If your child comes to you for something, are you confident enough to know that that they will get the same answer from your partner? It is important to ensure that the two of you (or the other caregivers in the lives of your children) are consistent in the messages that you give. Take time to discuss with one another about how you feel about certain topics, the nonnegotiables in life, and even the day to day expectations. This will most definitely save you lots of time, headaches, and the potential of conflict with one another.
Actively build on the relationship
All people thrive in the idea that they are being pursued, loved, and valued as individuals. Striving to build the relationship in creative and meaningful ways consistently, can go a long way, setting yourself up for more opportunities to learn about your child in ways you never imagined. Naturally, the ways that you enjoy being cared for, is the way that you tend to do for others. With that said, it may not be the way your child wants to be loved the most. One of my go to activities that I recommend to parents are the 5 Love Languages test by Gary Chapman. It’s an awesome resource that is fun to do with your child and you will inevitably learn how to better love the people in your life, and in turn, they learn how to love you better as well. A win-win situation! Does your child need words of affirmation the most? Seek out ways to compliment them daily. Physical touch? Make sure you wrestle them (or offer a hug!), or something along those lines. You know what I mean!
Create consistent avenues for communication
Knowing how and when your child is at ease allows for you to create opportunities to connect in a non-confrontational way. Whether it be celebrating successes, or sorting through messy situations, your child knows when and where they can share with you, on the regular. Consistency of knowing there is opportunity and a chance to speak privately with you, without having to ask, can be really helpful. Car rides, walking the dog, regular Friday night slumber parties, or a specific café in Hong Kong, what’s important is that it works for the both of you.
Ask questions – but watch your language.
Many arguments and conflicts can stem from poor communication or a feeling of being unheard. This feeling of injustice for getting in trouble when their side of the story hasn’t even been fully heard can be a sensitive area, but being questioned about it doesn’t do much for the situation either. For me, I’ve done my best to remove the word “Why?” from my vocabulary, as I have found that most often, when being asked “Why?” it can feel as though I’m asking someone to justify their actions, which can come with a defensive attitude. Ask questions like “How did that happen?” and “What did you do next?” This assures children that you are interested in their perspective, as opposed to questioning them for their actions. Making this small change has allowed for greater depth and insight on the choices and actions of students I work with.
Be prepared for the tough conversations
Again, have a conversation with your partner about both of your perspectives and what messages you want to impart to your children. With social media running amuck, the likelihood of your child running into difficult topics before their time, is quite high. Whether it be about drugs, sex, or alcohol, let me assure you that those “tough” topics, are just the tip of the iceberg. By the off chance you’re not prepared, don’t be afraid to put it off by saying “That’s a really good question. Let me think about it and get back to you,” as opposed to making something up on the spot. You don’t have to have all the answers all the time.
Ultimately, don’t pick on the little things. The question we should be asking is, “What kind of person do I want my child to grow up to be?” Life is messy, there will be setbacks and disappointments. As long as we model to our kids how to be resilient and we’re there for them as an active listener and supporter there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel.