Posted: Nov 10, 2008, 16:38
By Bill Valentine PsyD, CC
In many families, if not most, adolescence is a time of communication blackout. Teens seem to lose their vocabulary and reduce their utterances to monosyllabic grunts or throwaways such as "I guess" or "Whatever."
However, for those young people in a wilderness or therapeutic boarding school, communication skills are honed through daily interactions with peers and staff. Most teens coming out of such environments display newfound articulateness that often surprises and confuses their parents or guardians. The parent coach can assist clients in gaining or employing communication skills with their child.
Coach: So how did things go with you and Cody on the last phone call?
Client: Well, Cody did all the talking. You know, if I didn't know for sure that it was Cody on the other end of the line, I would have thought the program brought a ringer in to talk to me.
Coach: A ringer? What do you mean?
Client: When Cody was home, he was sullen and withdrawn. When we would ask him anything, he would answer either with "Yes" or "No", or he would just stare at us. He never wanted to just sit down and talk. Last night he did nothing but talk.
Coach: What did he talk about?
Client: Mostly about what he is learning about himself. And a lot about how he has felt over the last year.
Coach: That sounds terrific. What did you have to say?
Client: That's the problem. I didn't know what to say. So mostly I just said "Uh Huh" and "Wow."
Coach: Communication is a two-way engagement, message sent, message received. You demonstrated one important part of any communication; really hearing what the other person is saying. If Cody were here today, what would you like to say to him?
Client: That's academic since he doesn't want to hear anything from me.
Coach: Maybe so, but that hasn't been my experience. When young people get a voice, like Cody seems to be doing, they are often hungry to engage in meaningful conversation with their parents. So let's assume he is here and he is eagerly awaiting your words. What do you want to say?
Client: Oh, I don't know. I'm not a real verbal person in the first place. I'm not a psychologist, you know.
Coach: Yes, I know. But you are his dad, and again, my experience tells me that he will want to hear from his dad.
Client: Well, I guess we could talk about sports. He used to be really interested in baseball, especially around World Series time.
Coach: All right, that's a start, but what is there at a deeper level you would like to share with your son?
The coach is recognizing the dad's difficulty in thinking about talking at more than a superficial level with his son. However, she confronts the resistance by using her experience to get the dad to consider alternatives. Next, she acknowledges his first attempt - the sports talk - and then she probes for the feelings that she senses are there.
Client: I don't know what you mean, 'at a deeper level.'
Coach: How do you feel when you think about your son, what he is going through and what the two of you have been through? Mad, sad, glad or scared?
Client: I'm over most of my anger. I guess I feel a lot of sadness and I'm scared for when he comes home. And, I'm glad for the work he is doing.
Coach: Terrific, now you are getting to a level that is similar to the kind of work Cody is doing. What might that tell you?
Client: That we might be able to connect at the level of feelings rather than just trivial "guy talk".
Coach: I couldn't have said it better myself. Let's just start with one feeling. Using me as a stand-in for Cody, tell me about your sadness.
The coach has allowed the dad to find his own direction by keeping him focused on what he really wants to have happen, even if he can't articulate it at first. This coach is utilizing two important coaching skills: forwarding the conversation without forcing an agenda and role-playing. Good coaching is a dance in which the client leads and the coach steers.