In part I of this blog series, I discussed the value of shifting from a problem to future orientation and goals. Such a shift can substantially change the relationship dynamic between parents and young adults. Beyond this, there are other ways to engage our young adults that can shift the focus toward solutions versus getting mired in problems which often lead to a contentious dynamic between parents and young adults. The following ideas originate in the Brief Therapy Solution Model (Berg and De Shazer) referred to in part I that applies to therapy, business, and parenting.
Shifting from Problems or Complaints to Goals
The goals are something that both parties can get behind. Most behavior has some underlying positive intent; deciphering that underlying interest or intent is essential. Here are some examples of shifting from problems to goals. Can you see the difference between getting sucked into a problem versus moving toward a goal?
- Young Adult Statement: “I smoke weed because it relaxes me.” young adult statement.
- Parent Response: “So, you want to be able to relax (goal)? What other ideas do you have to relax?”
- Young Adult Statement: “I don’t know what I want to do in life.”
- Parent Response: “You want to figure out what you could do in your life (goal)? What ideas do you have to discover this life goal?”
Finding the Exception
In this approach, parents elicit exceptions to a problem that the young adult raises as a basis for not moving forward to launch. The parent may also point out strengths or natural qualities of the young adult that could help them move forward. I remember parents coming to see me years ago and saying their son, a teenager, was unmotivated and lazy and sleeps late into the morning. I began to ask the son what he loved to do. He said he liked to go snowboarding. When I asked when and with whom he goes snowboarding, he said he gets up at six o’clock on Saturday mornings, and his friends pick him up to go snowboarding. Does this sound like an unmotivated young man?
- Young Adult Statement: “I’m not good at anything. I’m a loser.”
- Parent Response: “You did well in school when you were younger. You were on the honor role. What skills did you use then that you could use now?”
- Parent Response: “You earned an Eagle Scout badge and showed a lot of stamina and determination to achieve that. How can you apply what you learned from Eagle Scouts to your current situation?”
Focus on What is Working
This technique is related to finding something that the young adult is doing now and amplifying this. As parents, we often focus on what the young adult is not doing and complain about it. Although it may be challenging, it’s important to find positive actions by the young adult and compliment them on these. The research indicates that it takes about five compliments to overcome the impact of one negative criticism. Look for small behaviors you can praise and encourage.
- “What seems to help when you feel down? In what ways are you coping with your depression or anxiety? Reinforce answers and encourage more of what is working.”
- “I noticed you took the dog for a walk last night. I appreciate that.”
- “I noticed that you put gas in the car. Thanks.”
- “I noticed that you went out with some friends. I’m happy to see you getting out.”
- “You sent applications to two employers. That’s a good start on finding work.”
- “Thanks for your help with my computer. You really know a lot about computers.”
Re-label & Change a Noun to a Verb
Where diagnostic labels can be helpful for therapists to focus the course of treatment, they can become a catchall for not moving forward and become part of the young adult’s identity. I often discourage parents from labeling their young adults because it can inhibit change. Rephrasing a problem from a diagnostic category to behavior to address can be empowering. Here are some examples of rephrasing that focuses on behaviors rather than labels.
- Young Adult Statement: “I’m depressed and can’t do anything.”
- Parent Response: “So, you have trouble motivating yourself at times. What are ways you have successfully motivated yourself in the past?”
- Young Adult Statement: “I have ADHD.”
- Parent Response: “So, you need help with concentrating at times. What helps you focus? When have you been able to concentrate?”
Scaling is a valuable tool for developing an approach to a problem or issue that leads to a solution discussion. It’s a helpful way to ask a question on something that may be subjective and difficult to answer otherwise. I usually use a (0=not at all to a 10=completely) type of Likert Scale, but you could use a five-point scale. An example would be to ask your young adult how they are doing. The typical answer, especially from a teenager, is “fine.” Where do you go from there? They answered your question and have no need or desire to say more. But if you ask them – How are you doing today on a scale of 0=terrible to 10=great, you will get an answer that enables you to continue the conversation. The most common number for struggling young adults is “4.”
Once you get the number, you can pursue two directions. If it’s a low score, ask what’s happening that’s causing them to feel like a 3 or 4. Then ask what they can do to get the score to one or two numbers higher. You should not use this approach in any routine way, but it can be helpful if a young adult struggles to describe their feelings, anxiety or depression, and other subjective states.
- WARNING: Please be sure you are using these techniques in the spirit of helping the young adult and not in an effort to manipulate the young adult to pursue the direction you want. If you do the latter, you stand a good chance of alienating your son or daughter or creating distrust. Your use of these solution-oriented techniques should be done in love and serve to support the young adult’s efforts to become self-sufficient and independent.
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- When a Young Adult’s Transition to Independence is Complicated by Special Needs - October 27, 2023