7 IN­TEN­TIONAL CON­VER­SA­TIONS

Parenting - - In This Issue -

Dis­cus­sions you need to have

Fam­ily coach Jenny Jack­son on the con­ver­sa­tions you need to have with your child... now

Does the phrase “in­ten­tional con­ver­sa­tions” bring to mind a

row of obe­di­ently seated chil­dren with arms folded lis­ten­ing

in­tently? Sounds very earnest, doesn’t it? Re­lax, make your­self

a cuppa, be­cause that’s not what I mean here. I’m talk­ing about

the kinds of con­ver­sa­tions we sprin­kle through our chil­dren’s

lives bit by bit, as cir­cum­stances and cu­rios­ity arise. It’s the same

as the way our kids learn maths or a sport, each year build­ing on

the next as their un­der­stand­ing and com­pe­tence de­vel­ops. Th­ese

are the con­ver­sa­tions we have when we’re driv­ing to af­ter school

ac­tiv­i­ties, as we watch TV, hear about news items or things that

hap­pen to our kids and their friends. Think about the kinds of

things you’d got your head around as an 18-19 year old. Were there

things you wish your par­ents had talked through with you? Were

there sub­jects they did a pretty good job with that you’ve al­ready

de­cided to re­peat with your kids? Kids don’t al­ways pick things up

by watch­ing oth­ers. Of­ten they need things talked about openly

with some lively dis­cus­sion, be­fore things make sense. By the way,

teens will of­ten take an op­pos­ing view just be­cause they can, so

don’t be alarmed. Here are a few ideas that come up fre­quently in

my work with fam­i­lies.

Tech­nol­ogy/on­line re­silience

When par­ents talk about their kids and tech­nol­ogy the most

fre­quently asked ques­tion is how much screen time is ok. A use­ful

way to think about this is to con­sider what else are our kids do­ing?

Are they do­ing ok in school and get­ting their homework done? Are

they do­ing some sport or other ac­tiv­i­ties? Are they hang­ing out

with their mates? In other words, is their life rea­son­ably bal­anced?

If we ne­go­ti­ate screen time on this ba­sis then we can say with

some con­fi­dence “when you’ve done your homework/got your

chores done you can have some screen time.”

A big­ger is­sue is whether our kids are de­vel­op­ing the re­silience

to act pretty much the same way on­line as they do in their face-to-

face re­la­tion­ships. Can they say they act with kind­ness and re­spect

both to­wards them­selves and oth­ers on­line? Can they deal with

oth­ers' dis­re­spect or cruel words? Can they with­stand re­quests

that make them feel un­com­fort­able or un­easy? Can they pause

and eval­u­ate whether some­thing they do on­line is go­ing to be a

re­ally bad idea or not? Could they even do some good on­line by

stand­ing up for some­one else be­ing bul­lied or start­ing an on­line

project to help oth­ers? If we can brain­storm with our young peo­ple

about who they want to be on­line, how to iden­tify and han­dle

dif­fi­cul­ties and how to man­age their time, we’ve equipped them

to han­dle the tech­no­log­i­cal world of the fu­ture. We’re teach­ing our

kids how to think, not what to think.

Re­la­tion­ships/sex

Here I’m think­ing broadly – about mates

as well as girl- or boyfriends. This is about

set­ting up the ex­pec­ta­tion in our young

peo­ple that they de­serve to be treated and

to treat oth­ers with re­spect. They must

un­der­stand some­thing about bound­ary

keep­ing: how to pro­tect them­selves from

ver­bal, emo­tional and phys­i­cal mis­treat­ment.

It can be tricky for par­ents to fig­ure out how

much or how lit­tle to say about this area of

life and how to talk about it. Our kids need to

see us role mod­el­ing re­spect­ful re­la­tion­ships

in all ar­eas of our lives and they need to hear us

talk­ing about it too.

This will be an on­go­ing con­ver­sa­tion as our kids grow

and ma­ture. It will be lit­tle by lit­tle, here and there, tak­ing

op­por­tu­ni­ties as they present, or mak­ing them if nec­es­sary. Ide­ally

we need to be ahead of the need be­cause our kids de­serve to

hear good in­for­ma­tion from us first. So with preschool­ers we’ll

be talk­ing about names for body parts, ap­pro­pri­ate touch­ing,

toi­let­ing and dress­ing. Through pri­mary school years talk

about health, hy­giene, safety and re­spect for self and oth­ers.

With teens we need to be talk­ing about healthy re­la­tion­ships,

bul­ly­ing, con­flict skills, porn, mas­tur­ba­tion, what con­sen­sual sex

is and isn’t and the im­pact of al­co­hol and drugs on the abil­ity to

con­sent or not. We need to present our­selves as in­ter­ested and

ca­pa­ble of hav­ing use­ful and re­al­is­tic con­ver­sa­tions about sex and

re­la­tion­ships so our kids know they have us to bounce ideas off

Life skills/bal­anced life

and op­por­tu­ni­ties to process their thoughts and ideas. There are

great re­sources avail­able to help us fig­ure out what and how to talk

about this topic. You might like to start with the Sex with At­ti­tude

hand­book for teens, Hot Tips brochures and other re­sources found

on The Par­ent­ing Place web­site.

It’s a great idea to have in mind what you think are the es­sen­tial

skills your young per­son will need by the time they leave home

such as cooking, clean­ing, hy­giene, bud­get­ing, driv­ing and look­ing

af­ter a car, so­cial skills and time man­age­ment. Con­ver­sa­tions

about chores can then be set in this con­text – es­sen­tial skills

for life. Don’t let your son or daugh­ter

be the bor­ing flat­mate who only knows

how to cook two meals! Part of par­ent­ing

teenagers in­volves pre­par­ing them for life

in the real world and giv­ing them a sense

of mas­tery and ca­pa­bil­ity so they feel ready

for in­de­pen­dence. It’s use­ful to think about

grad­u­ally hand­ing over re­spon­si­bil­ity and

free­dom as they are ready and in­ter­ested.

Some teens will want to race ahead be­fore

they’re ready and some will hang back and

be happy to be taken care of. Both need

to be man­aged calmly, re­spect­fully

and grad­u­ally.

A use­ful way to talk about this with young peo­ple is to get

them to think in terms of four do­mains: so­cial, aca­demic/

work, phys­i­cal and com­mu­nity. So­cial is about en­sur­ing they

have con­tact with mates both face-to-face and via tech­nol­ogy.

Aca­demic means study whether at school or ter­tiary. Phys­i­cal

means do­ing some­thing ac­tive and keep­ing healthy. Think wider

than sport – also con­sider cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties, mu­sic, dance, theatre,

etc. Com­mu­nity means youth group, church, vol­un­teer­ing in a

com­mu­nity or school or­ga­ni­za­tion – in other words giv­ing back

in some way. All do­mains con­trib­ute to de­vel­op­ing skills and

con­fi­dence for life.

Al­co­hol/drugs/par­ties

We know that a protective fac­tor for young peo­ple is know­ing

what their par­ents think about al­co­hol and drug use. This gives us a

great plat­form to be clear about what we want for our teens ahead

of time. Again we need to be mod­el­ing re­spon­si­ble use of al­co­hol.

Bas­ing our fam­ily rules on what the law says is a great way to be

straight­for­ward, firm and fair amidst pres­sure from other teens

and the wider com­mu­nity. Help­ing our kids work out strate­gies

to han­dle the pres­sure is key. Brain­storm some good face-sav­ing

come­backs to use at par­ties such as “I’m not into it” or “No thanks,

I’ve got a game to­mor­row.”

En­cour­ag­ing teens to think and plan ahead pre­pares them for

pres­sured or tricky sit­u­a­tions. What would they do if their sober

driver ended up drink­ing at the party? What if their friends went

off and left them? What if a friend’s par­ent of­fered them al­co­hol?

What would they do if they felt they had to take pills to fit in?

This is an­other area where we need to be grad­u­ally hand­ing

over re­spon­si­bil­ity and free­dom to our teens as they demon­strate

ma­tu­rity. It will be an on­go­ing con­ver­sa­tion and rene­go­ti­a­tion

over time but hav­ing some ex­pec­ta­tions in place early on re­duces

the like­li­hood of par­ents clamp­ing down out of fear and kids

re­act­ing neg­a­tively.

Money

You’ll have no­ticed al­ready that your kids’ dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties

are re­flected in their dif­fer­ing re­la­tion­ships with money. Some will

be great savers and some will be great spenders! This is an­other

life skill we need to teach our kids. Can they dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween

a want and a need? Can they de­lay grat­i­fi­ca­tion – put off spend­ing

to­day to get some­thing bet­ter next week or next month? Can

they cri­tique ad­ver­tis­ing and find good deals? They need some

ac­cess to money to learn th­ese skills as they grow up. So how will

your fam­ily do it? There is no one right way. Some fam­i­lies pay per

chore while some give an al­lowance not con­nected to chores. Be

cre­ative. In­volve your kids in the plan­ning be­cause they’ll learn a

lot in the process. Talk about how you man­age money.

The idea of young peo­ple pay­ing board af­ter they leave school

seems to come as shock to some if it hasn’t been talked about

ear­lier and it can turn into a Mex­i­can stand off in some fam­i­lies.

This was al­ways as­sumed in my fam­ily be­cause we’d talked about it

in that way, e.g. “when you leave school and start pay­ing board...” It

was mat­ter-of-fact, brief and so never a big deal.

A great idea for teens is to have an al­lowance that gets paid to

them each term to cover clothes, so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties and birth­day

presents for friends and fam­ily. It’s then up to them to man­age. By

all means com­mis­er­ate if they run out of money – “oh poor you!”

But be clear there will be no bail outs. My

kids quickly be­came op shop­pers and

bar­gain hun­ters to stretch their dol­lars.

They all got af­ter school or week­end jobs to

add to their re­sources. Write a con­tract that

lays out what the al­lowance is to cover and

a break­down of amounts, as well as when

it’s to be paid. Both of you must sign it so

there are no mis­un­der­stand­ings.

Work/study

There seems to be po­ten­tial for the wheels

to fall off in this area if there haven’t been

con­ver­sa­tions from early on about “When

you go to Uni or Tech...” or “When you leave school and get a job...”

The sit­u­a­tion is much clearer when there is a clear ex­pec­ta­tion

that leav­ing school will de­pend on a def­i­nite plan to study or a

job. Where study isn’t an op­tion some young peo­ple will need

help build­ing con­fi­dence find­ing work by first work­ing for friends

or fam­ily dur­ing school hol­i­days. If mo­ti­va­tion is a prob­lem some

young peo­ple may need to know that par­ents will be grad­u­ally

wind­ing back their fi­nan­cial sup­port as they get closer to need­ing to

pro­vide for them­selves. Young peo­ple need to know all of this ahead

of time so they can get their heads around it and be pre­pared.

Han­dling chal­lenges

This one is an es­sen­tial skill. As we know life of­ten throws

chal­lenges at us and our kids need to know this is nor­mal. They

need a sense of them­selves as ca­pa­ble of han­dling the dif­fi­cul­ties

and dis­com­forts of life. They need to know they can work through

a prob­lem and are ok ask­ing for help when they need it. We can

sup­port this by ac­knowl­edg­ing any time they tackle some­thing

tricky and solve it, when they come up with good ideas and

so­lu­tions, and when they hang in through dif­fi­cult times. We

can re­mind them of past suc­cesses so they have a mem­ory

bank of ex­am­ples of their re­source­ful­ness. All of th­ese ideas

give our teens op­por­tu­nity to ex­er­cise their frontal cor­tex, the

ex­ec­u­tive func­tion­ing part of their brains which is cur­rently un­der

devel­op­ment. So help­ing our teens think ahead and bounce

pros and cons around is re­ally valu­able. The best con­text for this

kind of learn­ing is a warm and re­spect­ful re­la­tion­ship with their

par­ents, who see their po­ten­tial and con­tinue to be­lieve in and

sup­port them no mat­ter what.

ideas about what other top­ics you’d like

to raise in your fam­ily. No mat­ter what

would be on your list, if we pro­vide the

kind of at­mos­phere and re­la­tion­ship with

our kids where con­ver­sa­tion, dis­cus­sion

and re­flec­tion is en­cour­aged, where

they feel lis­tened to and not talked at,

we’re giv­ing our kids a priceless trea­sure.

We also stand a pretty good chance of

hav­ing our kids treat us the same way.

By now you’ll be burst­ing with other

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