SchoolFamily.com is pleased to have a guest post by Sue Blaney, a nationally recognized and award-winning author, speaker, and publisher. Blaney is dedicated to supporting parents and helping them successfully raise teenagers. She specializes in communication, and works with parents and professionals at many levels to educate, empower, and connect parents of teens. Visit her website at www.PleaseStoptheRollercoaster.com
A woman named Sharon called me in tears recently. Her son Adam, a junior in high school, was cut from the baseball team. "You don’t understand," she said through her tears. "He needs this... his social life is non-existent, he has nothing else. Plus he needs this for his college resume. We’re all a mess. I don’t know what to do."
This is a big deal in the life of her high schooler, no doubt about it. He's crushed, and feeling particularly vulnerable because of his disappointing lack of friends at the moment. "This is going to be a difficult weekend," I warned her. It was clear that she was deeply afraid for how her son was going to handle this, and we talked for a while on the phone. It struck me that not only was she hurting because her son was hurting, she was in pain because of her fear and disappointment for him. Parents get to deal with twice the hurt!
Fast forward five days ... in the end, the way Sharon handled the situation was brilliant. In fact it was "text-book" perfect. Let’s review what she did and what made it work. You can apply these same steps when you face a crisis with your teen.
- Give him space; allow him to feel his feelings. The cut came on Friday, and Sharon was dreadfully worried about the weekend. And the weekend wasn’t fun for any of them. On Saturday Adam didn’t get out of his pajamas and he stayed alone in the basement much of the day. He didn’t want to talk to anybody. Sharon let him know she was there for him, that she "got it" and understood how much this hurt, and she gave him the space to nurse his feelings.
- Don’t let your feelings make things worse. Sharon was hurting all weekend too. But she was careful not to let Adam see how upset she was. This can be difficult for parents because it can be hard not to show your feelings. But, if you do let your child see how upset you are, he may take it that he has disappointed you -- which will make him feel even worse. So you need to be very careful about the emotions you show and how he construes their meaning.
- Reach out and get support. Sharon called the parents of some of the other boys who had been cut from the team, and in doing so she felt much better. She also contacted a teacher and former coach who knew her son and had a relationship with him. She asked him to touch base with Adam at school; she felt better that he had an adult watching out for him. Sharon never contacted the varsity coach to complain or to express her feelings about this situation; that would have been inappropriate.
- Get busy. It was going to be a long weekend any way you cut it. Sharon kept herself busy so she was less apt to wallow in worry.
- Plan your approach with your teen’s other parent. Sharon and her husband talked about their approach and how they could help Adam the most. They agreed that they would give him Saturday to stew, and on Sunday they would try and distract him and lure him out to a movie or something. They agreed that on Sunday evening they would have a heart to heart talk. It helped to have a plan; it was vitally important the parents agreed upon it.
- Sit down and talk it out when the emotions are less raw. Adam’s two parents joined him in a discussion about the situation. Key message: "We are not disappointed in you. We are disappointed for you." They were able to discuss the disappointment in the context of Adam’s social challenges, and this led to some helpful and honest expression of feelings and concerns. This can be one of the silver linings of a crisis like this: things that have been left unsaid come out into the light of day -- where they can be dealt with.
- Decide together on next steps; make a plan. Sharon and her husband had agreed ahead of time that they would help Adam make a plan. He needed some coaching around the actions he needed to take and his options. When Adam said he "didn’t feel like it" Sharon shared all the actions she takes in her life when she doesn’t "feel like it" either. There was a lot of honesty shared all around; no lectures. It was a very "adult" conversation.
So—are you dying to know how it ended? Sharon had to pick herself up off the floor on Monday afternoon when Adam came home from school with a smile on his face and announced that he was joining the track team!
A situation like this really can cause a family crisis. Parents know when your child is vulnerable and when something like being accepted on a team takes on additional meaning. But even when things don’t work out as planned, new opportunities can arise. And with care and thought, these situations can actually lead to new opportunities for communication and connection.
Learn from Sharon’s response. Her three most important words to Adam were, "I get it." She understood on many levels how difficult this was for him. And she also knew that he needed gentle, kind but firm guidance to begin to move forward. And with that, he resolved the situation much more quickly than she could have imagined.
Hopefully they have opened some new doors of communication and they won’t wait for another crisis to talk about difficult things. Adam’s resilience was a pleasant surprise. And you can be sure the life-lessons learned from this experience will be with Adam for a long while.