Keeping Support Going

It’s all very well starting off on the right foot with children and teenagers, getting communication flowing, setting up spaces, establishing a few key rules and so forth -but what tends to happen over time is that these things erode and things can become fraught again. These tips will help you to stay on top of things and persevere with workable ways of dealing with situations.

1. Don’t lose your temper.

Things can go wrong at times and sometimes that is the child’s fault, no question. What matters next is what is important: are you going to respond in a way which helps to resolve the situation, or which worsens it? This is where, as adults, we have to watch our own internal thinking a bit more. If a teenager in particular has done something alarming or with which you don’t agree, it’s perfectly feasible that you will feel justified in losing your temper and verbally attacking them. While there are times when anger might be an appropriate emotional response to a situation, there is never a time when uncontrolled anger is a workable response. Children, especially teenagers, need to see that you as an adult have a grip on yourself and your moods for two main reasons: rampant fury is always destructive and, whatever the rightnesses or wrongnesses of a situation, causes the person on the receiving end to become defensive purely out of self-preservation, which gets you nowhere; and you are their key role model - if you ‘lose it’, that makes it OK for them to lose it too. And that gets you worse than nowhere. Stay calm, even if you have to pretend to be angry to get a point across. There’s a world of difference between displaying anger because it is appropriate, and unleashing anger because you’ve lost control. The first gets things moving forwards; the second drags things backwards. Children can see and respect the difference.

2. Invest in good dictionaries, reference books and other resources.

You can’t always be there to answer questions about the world, which become more and more specialised and technical as the child grows older. One of the best things my parents ever did was invest in a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica (back in the days before the World Wide Web and Google). It supported me throughout my senior schooling and ensured good grades in a range of subjects by making knowledge easily accessible. Now, with all of human knowledge just a click away, it’s even easier to provide for children and teenagers by setting up a stable computer of some kind. They will need good dictionaries and trustworthy reference books too so that they aren’t completely reliant on the internet. Build a structure around children which makes it easy for them to find answers to their questions and watch as their confidence in themselves and understanding of the world grows.