I see kids from 11 years and upwards for psychotherapy.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s about studying for exams, or tidying one’s room, or putting out the garbage, staying up too late, watching too much TV, whatever the issue, parents so often default to the lecture.
The first session is usually with the parents or at least the mother. We start to discuss the problem and then at some point, the parents turn to the kid and say, in this very authoritarian, dictatorial tone, “How many times have we told you that you’re not thinking about your future?!”
What does the kid do?
They roll their eyes upwards and dissociate – meaning they leave the room – and the words of the parent bounce off them like bullets from an invisible space ship shield in a Star Wars movie.
The parents see this response but continue as though they haven’t and the energy and tone of the self-righteous lecture continues.
They blunder on with this blitzkrieg of knowing advice, helpless in the face of having no other options in their communication armoury.
If all you have is a hammer, then you are going to hit everything in your path.
Oscar Wilde’s fabulous expression comes to mind in situations like this:
“The best thing to do with good advice is to pass it on, it’s of no
use to oneself.”
Undeniably almost every parent on the planet loves their kids.
The problem is that when under pressure this love is replaced by fear and the fear produces a desire to manipulate and control.
For most parents, the best way to exert this control is via the authoritarian lecture.
Children do not respond well to this. They resent being disrespected and rightfully they rebel.
What Is A Parent’s Job?
A parent’s job is to learn to let go of, or at least put aside their fears and to learn to ask questions, to listen and go slowly. Resisting the desire to control and manipulate by being more skillful in the way in which they share their views.
Most people learn best when they come to their own conclusions about what life and the solving of problems are about.
In addition, parents want their kids to go for psychotherapy, but don’t often want to work on their own issues, as people, as parents.
Why should the poor kid have to do all of the work?!
The essence of my Strategic Questions model is to get the other person to do the work and to find alternative ways of accessing the internal motivation of the kid. When we are in the lecture mode we are doing the work and we are exhausting ourselves and we are not being listened to.
This was so beautifully illustrated by a parent with whom I was chatting to about their kid. His son was not showing sufficient motivation around his studies and his exam preparation.
After having firstly shifted his attitude from authoritarian lecturer to skillful communicator, to get the kid to do the work, the parent said, “I moved from – ‘I’m gonna lay down the law’ to ‘let me see how much of this you can come up with yourself’ and then the 20% that I shared was much better received.“
He continued, “It worked so much better than me saying, here’s the 4 things that you’ve got do to turn this problem around.”
Learning to ask Strategic Questions in order to assist the children in coming to the right conclusion is way better than trying to maneuver and manipulate them in the right direction.
The Underlying Psychology
Before I list some examples of what the questions look like I would like to discuss the psychology behind why questions work.
We are all control freaks. Some people mask this desire for control, so they look easy going.
Underneath it, they are not.
Just notice how many times in a day you get just a little bit irritated. With your PC, with your phone, with people who are boring, unreliable, disrespectful, with time management and inappropriateness and simply wanting things to be different, not least of all the behaviour of your kids.
All of this irritation is resistance to life just doing what it does and this resistance is a wanting to control what is happening. In my estimation do it 500 to 1,000 times a day.
So much of the time what this ends up as being is a war between ‘my control vs yours.’
So when your kids are not doing their homework and leaving their room in a mess and fighting with their siblings, you want to control them and they resist being controlled because they’re wanting control of their room and their homework and their siblings, in opposition to how you want to control these things.
The critical thing about the lecture is that it is trying to take control away from the child and they will either fight you to the death for this control or submit and become passive and too good, essentially shutting down their spirit.
When you start to ask questions you give the child precisely what they want, which is a greater sense of being in control, which makes them more likely to calm down and get internally motivated.
By the way, this is exactly the same when two adults are in conflict.
In addition and most critically, you empower them because they start to think for themselves.
The lecture is disempowering them!
When you are doing all of this you come across as much more calm and modulated and paradoxically, in control.
You look and feel more in control when you’re not trying to control the world.
I originally created this model in my corporate work because difficult conversations require exactly the same type of approach. When people are stressed and in an argumentative mode the defensive approach or the lecture simply raises the level of aggression and shuts down dialogue and problem-solving skill.
This approach requires a fundamental shift in your attitude. You need to let go of your anxiety and the need to control or simply ‘park’ the need to be in control. Put it aside with an intention to be more skilful.
You need to let go of your intoxicated desire to dominate and control your kids because you are so frightened for their future. If you do this you have won half the battle. You think that the battle is with your kids.
It’s not, it’s with yourself!
Can you see that this is what happens in all relationships?
Because you think that the battle is with them, you go to war with them!
When they fight you back they are trying to save their Spirit. You are trying to destroy their Spirit and of course, on the positive side take care of their future.
Parents say they love their kids but in the moment that they are lecturing and trying to dominate there is no love there, there is just destruction.
What will help you to do this is to see at a really fundamental level, that your fear and desire to control and dominate your kids is failing, dismally. Just watch their eyes when you start the lecture, they roll upwards and they dissociate, ie they leave the room in their heads.
They’ve abandoned you, because you’ve abandoned them.
I want to give just a few examples of how I would use Strategic Questions with kids. This is not a formula. There is not one way to do it.
Unskilful Mom: “You haven’t done your homework!”
Skilful Mom: “I’m wondering if you’ve thought about doing your homework?”
Kid: “Yes I have.”
Mom: “Looks like doing it’s going to be hard to just do it?”
Mom: “It’s difficult to do the things we don’t want to do isn’t it?”
Mom: “I guess you could get into trouble at school tomorrow if you haven’t done it, yes?”
Kid: “I feel so fat.”
Unskilful Mom: “Well you eat junk.”
Skilful Mom: “It’s hard to resist sugar, yes?”
Kid: “I know.”
Mom: “Especially when you are upset, yes?”
Mom: “Can I give you a hug?”
Unskilful Mom: “If you go messing around like this you are going to fail at the end of the year!”
Skilful Mom: “I’m wondering if you’re little bit anxious about the end of the year exams?”
Mom: smiling “You’re not worried about the future are you?” This can sound sarcastic and aggressive, if your tone and attitude aren’t spot on.
Mom: laughing “I know, I’m the one who does all of the worrying. Maybe I should stop? If I stop, will you do the worrying for me and you?”
Can you see that in these examples you are opening up a dialogue, as opposed to closing it down?
You are also not trying to fix everything NOW.
The mind is the King of control. It wants to solve all problems now, some of which can only be solved later.
Some won’t be solved later at all and sometimes you will discover that there was no problem in the first place.
What do I mean?
Bill Gates and Steve Jobs dropped out of university. For their parents, this was most likely seen to be a big problem…then!
If you would like a face to face or Skype session to work with any of the issues this might have raised for you, drop me a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org