“I hate you!” How many parents have experienced the sting of these words from their frustrated, angry teen? In heat of the moment, it’s not easy to remain calm. A parent may lash back with equally unkind words or retreat to a corner in shock. Others may react with physical violence toward the child.
In the aftermath of intense conflict, how does a parent begin to repair a damaged relationship? Restorative Parenting, a proven clinical approach developed by Dr. Dave Mathews, PsyD, LICSW, can help. In his role as Associate Director of Clinical Programs at The Bridge for Youth, Matthews works with runaway, homeless, and abandoned youth and their families. He relies on Restorative Parenting to help heal troubled families.
“When intense conflict, violence, or trauma occur between a parent and child, an important contract is broken,” says Dr. Mathews. “To restore the wholeness between the parent and child, the contract must be strengthened, the relationship rebuilt, and work towards healing must take place.”
Mathews is clear how to begin. “It’s the parents’ job to initiate the repair process” he says. To jumpstart the effort, Mathews encourages parents to review a document: The Parent-Child Contract. “This is the unwritten, unspoken contract all parents sign up for when their child is born.”
Next, Dr. Mathews encourages parents to build empathy for their child. “Developmentally, teens are wired to be emotional,” says Mathews. “They don’t have the same decision-making tools as adults”. He steers parents toward viewing the conflict from the child’s perspective, focusing on thoughts and feelings a child may have about the conflict and other situations going on at home or in school. Developing empathy is an important step toward restoring a healthy parent-child relationship.
Parents then need to develop self-understanding as part of the healing process. What teen behaviors drive a parent crazy or are unacceptable? What feelings does a parent have when these behaviors occur? Mathews invites parents to fill in the blanks to these statements:
“When I see these behaviors (name the behaviors) from my child, I feel _____________ and I tend to ____________.”
If parent behavior is inappropriate in a conflict, what alternative behaviors can a parent employ? What strengths does the parent have? How can these be used so that a parent responds to their teen rather than reacting? Reflecting on these questions will better equip a parent to sit and talk with their child.
Once a parent feels ready to talk with their child, Dr. Mathews encourages use of a 3-step communication process: “Acknowledge, Accept, and Affirm. Acknowledge that the conflict happened and acknowledge your child’s feelings. Accept that the child has these feelings. Affirm your commitment to your child.
Mathews models this. (Acknowledge): “I can see that you are angry. “(Accept): It’s okay to have these feelings about this experience and about me. (Affirm): “I will always love you even when you feel this way.”
With Restorative Parenting, it’s important that the parent affirm the feelings and offer the child alternatives.
“When you are angry, I feel ___________. I would prefer that you _______.” The process restores the parent’s role in the child’s life, reaffirming love, connection, safety, boundaries, and guidance.
“Be prepared that your teen may not be ready right away to restore the relationship,” cautions Mathews. He points out, “the child’s readiness may differ from that of the parent. With over 30 years of counseling experience, Dr. Mathews knows this is not the time for a parent to give up. “Be consistent with this approach and it will work.”
The Bridge for Youth provides free counseling services to youth and their families. Call (6123) 377-8800 to schedule an appointment. Walk-in counseling is also available.