Category Archives: Children

How to talk with children and how to be a more loving and effective parent.

Talking With Teens About Exam Results

Living here in New Zealand with a daughter who has just finished Year 12, I’m fully aware of the stress this week can bring to homes across the country: Yes – the dreaded NCEA results are now posted.

How will my daughter react? How well has she done? Do her results seem fair in her mind? In my mind? Do these results open more doors for her than they close? Will her results encourage her to keep on getting more formal education, or put her off and make a gap year or an early start into the working world more likely?

As a mum I’m very much aware of how important these moments with our older children can be. At this age our teens are craving to see the jigsaw puzzle pieces of their lives begin to form some discernable image. They are longing to figure out “who am I and how do I fit in here?” Exam results are one more piece of the puzzle. Increasingly they are receiving feedback from the world about their success in handling the hurdles we place in front of them to enter this wider world. Are they attending, finishing and getting passing grades in Years 11, 12 and 13? Are they effective in group work? Do they pull their weight or slack off? How do they handle the pressure of assignment deadlines? How do they manage the intense boy/girl scene as hormonal roller coasters kick in? Can they get that waitressing job on top of sports, babysitting and a heavy social media agenda?  Does it make more sense to leave College after Year 11 or Year 12 because other opportunities make more sense?

As a Relationship Therapist and a mum I’m very much aware of how important these moments with our older children can be, but for a different reason.  I am aware that as the wider world pulls our teens increasingly into it’s grasp, trying to slot our precious child into an appropriate societal mould, my ability to influence and shape this young person is dwindling – and fast. I can no longer run interference between my child and the way the world sees him or her.  No amount of tasty home-made lunches, ironed shirts, helped-with science projects, library-book runs, exciting birthday invitations and car rides chanting the times tables will help my teenager take responsibility for his or her next steps.

All I have left – as the parent of a teen – is my relationship with him or her. And that relationship is built, one day at a time, one conversation at a time.

So – back to the exam results.

Parents – my invitation to you as you meet this next round of “judgment” from the world upon your teen – is to consider these three things:

  1. Know that every conversation you have with your teen (with anyone!) will do one of two things: It will bring you closer or it will push you apart.
  2. When everything else in your teen’s life is so totally full of risk, change, flux and uncertainty, the biggest gift you can give your teen is the consistency of your loving, supportive presence.
  3. So, if you want a conversation with your teen about exam results (or anything else that matters to them) can you set yourself an intention to use this conversation to grow closer?

 5 Tips for Conversations That Bring You Closer

 1.     START GENTLY. This is easy when you are in a good mood and having a happy conversation, but even if you are anxious or angry, start carefully. One great opening line is simply to state your intention to have a good conversation and an acknowledgment of your own emotional state.  E.g., “Betsy, I’d love to have a chat about your NCEA results. I find I’m feeling a bit anxious since I know how much you were dreading these. Is now a good time?”

2.     GET CURIOUS. If a conversation is to be a genuine conversation then there needs to be some back and forth. All too often our attempts to share can fall victim to the one-way lecture! If you want to know about Betsy and her results, and she is willing to talk to you, then try asking her a question: E.g., “Betsy, have you had a chance to check your exam results? And if you have – how are you feeling about them?”

3.     DISCOVER FEELINGS.  What’s so interesting about a fact?  So, even if Betsy comes right out and tells you her exam results, so what? What matters both to Betsy and you is how she feels about them – right? So let her know you care about her by asking how she is feeling. You’ll see both the examples above already include a feelings element.  This might be new for you – but it’s a real key to improving the quality of your conversations. E.g., “Wow Betsy! You rocked your Level 2 English; I’ll bet you feel confident moving forward into Year 13 with that subject. How do you feel about your Biology scores?”

4.     IDENTIFY NEEDS. Even though you want to communicate to your teen that he or she is the capable captain of his or her ship, you also want to show you are on their team. We all have needs, and learning how to identify and meet our needs more or less effectively is a life-long journey. So – model this with your teen. E.g., “Betsy, I know you’ve been hoping to go on to University. Given these scores, what do you think you need right now to keep your goal a possibility?

5.     LISTEN. This is the key to everything. Listening means being quiet and…. listening! Listening does not mean you are agreeing or endorsing what you hear. It simply means you are keen to understand your teen (or whomever you’re listening to). Lean forward. Nod encouragement. Try not to react to what you hear. Ask clarifying questions if you are not clear about something, but be aware of how you ask – your whole heart and self  needs to communicate that it is important for you to fully understand your teen. If possible, try and sum up what you’ve heard. E.g., “So Betsy, if I understand you correctly, you feel on track with everything except your biology. You still want to go on to University but you realize these results might slow you down by a whole year. What you most need is help with the sciences and you’d love for us to talk about how to afford a good science tutor this year?”


(Remember, you can always have conversation do-overs if one heads south.)

If you have any specific questions about how to talk with your particular teen, please do not hesitate to drop me an email. I always respond!



Help For The Holidays

As a Relationship Therapist I’ve noticed that my phone gets busy in December. And, over time, I’ve noticed there are three quite different sorts of cries for help: see if one of these fits for you:

1.         The “Into Christmas” Group   

You more or less like the holidays. You go along – whether with wholehearted enthusiasm or because you feel it is the right thing to do for the kids – and end up buying gifts, decorating the house, fixing large meals, visiting family, entertaining the neighbours, celebrating in your place of worship, and making merry as you go.

The price of all this is a maxed-out credit card, too much on your plate (literally and figuratively), family fights, hangovers, disappointment and enormous stress occasionally off-set by wisps of delight and fleeting moments of searing joy.

What you could use right now might be a couple of ways to maximize the joy and minimize the stress. Keep reading!

2.         The normally “Into Christmas Group” Who Can’t Celebrate This Year

Whilst you hold the vision of a loving and happy holiday season, there has been too much sadness this year so nothing is the same. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one; recently divorced; been diagnosed with an illness; had an accident; lost your job; hit bottom as an alcoholic or any number of things that can come up in life to throw you off course.

Whilst all around there seems to be joy and delight, for you there is just this huge gulf between what you want life to be like and how it really is. It is all the harder to be crying alone when everyone else is making merry.

What you could use right now is a high level course in radical self-care. Keep reading!

3.         The “It’s Just Not My Holiday” Group

For any number of highly legitimate (and possibly painful) reasons, this is THE toughest time of year for you.

As you observe the rising crescendo of jolly behaviour all around, and as the media and advertisers encourage ever more flamboyant spending opportunities, you find yourself wanting to move to an alternative parallel universe in December.

Maybe what you could use right now is some peace and quiet, and the understanding and permission to live this month according to your own beat. Maybe you want to party. Maybe you want to be silent. Maybe you want to take off and hide. Maybe you don’t want to wish anyone Happy Anything. Maybe you want to go on a 3-day organizing rampage. Keep on reading!

3 Ideas for the “Into Christmas” Group

1.         Know what you want

All this holiday hoopla happens because you, and those around you, are seeking to re-create a feeling. What is that feeling? Connection? Magic? Kindness? Awe? Tradition? Faith renewed? Quite often however, amidst all the busyness, the season comes and goes and you realize  you never made time for the one thing you were really looking forward to.

To make sure this does not happen, complete the following sentence:

“This Christmas will have been absolutely wonderful for me if _________ .”

Think about your answer, and then ask the people you live with what they would say.

For me a wonderful holiday season includes reading Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory aloud with the family. My husband likes to make sure we cut our own Christmas tree – normally in deep snow, but in the Auckland rain is fine too. For my son it’s our Christmas morning routine of opening gifts from Santa one at a time and enjoying each gift with rounds of “what can it be?” followed by loads of improbable guesses. For my daughter it’s squeezing her small dog once more into the dreadful stripy knitted  elf costume she gave the poor pup a while back, and then having her portrait taken with said small dog.

When you identify, and share with those around you, the one thing you absolutely know you want to have happen this year there are two great benefits:

a) You’ll make these “Must dos” a priority, &

b) As you make sure you do the few things that  bring each of you the deepest joy you will know – even if things turn to custard and all is not perfect (yet again)  – that it was a wonderful holiday season after all!

2.         Lighten up!

Yes it’s a lovely idea that everyone will drink in moderation, give and receive great gifts, stay friendly, appreciate the beautiful food and more or less seem to be having a good time – but hey – if this is not what’s happening, release your need for control and perfection. Accepting what IS can be far more memorable and liberating than having a tantrum or voicing your disapproval. If things go seriously awry the best approach is a post holiday de-brief where, if need be, you set things up differently for next year.

3.         Listen more than you speak

For many, when the extended clan gathers it is pandemonium. Everyone has a tale, a funny story, a grievance, a whine. Most everyone is out to be heard. However, if you’re interested in having a more meaningful holiday, try listening. Ask questions of your family members. How has their year been? What were the highlights? What are they grateful for? How might they make some needed changes in 2013? If you consider this an opportunity to get closer to one or two of your family or friends, it’s a gift you’ll never forget.

3 Ideas for the normally “Into Christmas Group” Who Can’t Celebrate This Year

No getting around it – this will be a tough year. The good news is, this pain will pass. The bad news is, it will be with you for this holiday cycle. Since the culture at large will not know of your suffering, the only recourse you have is to take matters into your own hands and be extra kind to yourself.

1.         Ramp down your expectations

Knowing that you’ll be sad, unwell, fragile in your sobriety, lonely or not yourself for a myriad of other reasons, tell yourself it is OK not to embrace the holidays this year. It is OK for you to turn down parties; opt out of gift giving; skip a tradition. The key is to check in with yourself and ask, event by event, “Will this bring me happiness and relief?”

Only take part in things that receive a clear “Yes!”

2.         Ask what you need this year

Depending upon what is dampening your joy, your needs this year will be different. If you are sick – maybe you need to be around people who give you energy rather than those who drain you. If you are divorced maybe it would help to be with friends who have come through divorce in a way you respect. If you have lost a loved one, only you’ll know if it would be more helpful to surround yourself with others who are missing this person, or if you’d be better off amongst complete strangers in an entirely new setting. In other words, pay attention to your own process and do your best to make sure you take care of you. It is doubtful others will do such a good job!

3.         Help those who are worse off than you

The best remedy for self-pity or sadness is to look up and notice others who might be worse off. To whatever extent it is possible – can you find a way to help someone who is suffering in a similar way? Someone else who is newly sober, newly bereaved, newly alone, newly diagnosed?  In reaching out with kindness and care to this other person you will find your own burden is lifted.

3  Ideas for the “It’s Just Not My Holiday” Group

If the alternative parallel universe worm-hole opened but you missed it, there are still things you can do to stay centered as those around you become ever more frenzied.

1.         Create your own ritual

If you aren’t into celebrating, December 24, 25 and 26 can be tough: Most stores are closed, there’s nothing great on TV and everywhere you go there are reminders of what a wonderful time other people seem to be having.  So – plan for your own version of wonderful and make these 3 days your annual snooker / fishing / fasting / yoga retreat / movie marathon  and have at them with relish.

2.         Volunteer

Since most establishments make December 24, 25 and 26 mandatory days off work, why not use them for some great Karmic return and volunteer for a cause you love? If you plan ahead there will be heaps of things you could invest 3 days of uninterrupted time into. If you prefer spur-of-the-moment, then check on-line for shelters, soup kitchens, senior centers, animal shelters or refugee agencies – they are always in need of a few good men (and women).

3.         Organize the Year’s End

How often in the course of a year do you have three days with   nothing on your agenda? How lucky you are NOT to be part of the frantic shopping, gifting, feasting and celebrating crowds. For you these 3 days are a total gift. No work. Minimal distractions. You can get all those end-of-year chores behind you: sort out your taxes, go through old files, clip articles from the pile of old magazines, re-think your subscriptions, clean out drawers, put up next year’s calendar, do some long-range goal-setting, plan your next vacation. What a gift!


Whatever happens for you this December, the bottom line is this:

You always have a choice in how you respond to reality.

Live consciously,

Choose carefully.