Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. has a new book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior, on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and wherever books are sold.
Pop Parental Intelligence Questions
Your teen walks in the kitchen with a scowl after he gets off the bus. Backpack tossed on the floor, he goes to the fridge. Takes a cursory look inside and mutters, “Nothin’ good to eat .” Eyes diverted, he takes the sandwich you’d already prepared and with a stiff nod, mumbles a cursory, “Thanks.” And he’s off to his room without a further word.
He’s clearly had a rough day, lets you know it by his gestures and tone of voice, and you’re left standing now muttering to yourself because you’re in a quandary what to do. You can surely do nothing and let him stew in his room, not do his homework, and listen to his ipod brooding alone. Or—–you can pop Parental Intelligence Question Number 1: “Hey, what’s up?” presuming his behavior is a communication directly to you that something’s amiss.
Now the question may be met with a superficial avoidant, “Whatever,” his second message that something is wrong but hard to talk about. Now you can pop Parental Intelligence Question 2: “Hey. Isnt it more than whatever?” Now he looks at you because you’ve touched a chord and head down, he shamefully confesses to what is lurking beneath those heavy eyelids.
Any number of dialogues can ensue, but this isn’t the time to give up. This is the time to acknowledge in words with Parental Intelligence Question Number 3 what he’s been communicating with his behavior: “Had a rough day?” By now you’ve opened the door and your connection that’s been built up over the years allows something like the following:
“I flunked the algebra exam. (Pause) The teacher just dropped it on my desk. Here. There’s a note for you if you already didn’t already get an email.”
“No. No email. She trusted you’d show me the note. So? It’s one test. Why so glum?”
“It’s not one test. It’s the third F. I’m a loser. Seriously, a loser. Really dumb.”
This is a milestone in your relationship. Popping the first Parental Intelligence question let your son know you cared without judgment. Continuing not to judge you kept opening the door. Notice you’ve never criticized once, nor expressed disappointment . You haven’t even offered a solution or complained. You’ve just been listening with minimal questions. The more you wait, the more you hear. The more you listen, the more feelings come out.
Is the topic just the test grades? Or, is it his shame? Which way are you going to go to really continue to connect with him? If you can’t reach into the shame, you’ll never get good test grades. If you don’t help him share his feelings, they’ll be hidden some more and no studying will ever get done for real.
His poor grades are an opportunity for building your relationship. He’s never had trouble with math before. That much you know. The solution to the grades will come from trust in the relationship. At this juncture you don’t know if he doesn’t understand algebra or is distracted by a break-up with a girlfriend or anything else even more serious. Does he get migraines? Is he depressed? Is he on drugs? Or, does he just need a tutor. A litany of those questions will make him feel accused and close that door between you two. So just keep popping Parental Intelligence Questions and he’ll tell you what he needs you to know as he learns to trust you more and more until you understand what’s going through his mind.
When you understand his mind, then quite naturally solutions will emerge. You don’t really know the overarching problem yet. The grades are just the behavior that is sending a message. It is your job to decipher that message. That’s using Parental Intelligence.
Does it sound like a slow process when there’s no time to spare? After all there are already three F’s. Well, slow and steady wins this race. You don’t have time for this? Yes. You do. It’s actually the fastest most sure fire route. Thinking before acting is key to Parental Intelligence. Reading behavior is Parental Intelligence. If you rush this, your son will close down, he’ll have to have more F’s to send more messages, and much more time will be needed to open the door again. The time is now for a smooth finish.