Those cherished phone calls with your program child certainly epitomize the phone company slogans of "reach out and touch someone... it's the next best thing to being there". Parents and students alike, typically look forward with great anticipation to those calls. But when those calls end, have they felt productive? Has it really been the next best thing to being there? Or are you left feeling frustrated? Are you feeling like you missed something important but didn't know how to get to it or what to do about it? The good news is that there are some key things you can do to facilitate more beneficial results.
Scrap The Chit-Chat:
You want your calls to be meaningful? Save the small talk for the last couple of minutes of your call. For a meaningful call, be prepared to start it that way. For instance begin by asking things like, "So tell me what's been going on with you in your Program?" "What have you been working on this week?" "What have you learned about you?" "What are you most proud of?" Filling your conversations with small talk about the weather, the league standing of their favorite team or who won the Oscars will not lend value in achieving your family's healing. Mom and Dad, your calls have been included in your child's program for a purpose. Decide what your purpose is in preparation for those calls.
Make Some Notes:
By being focused you won't do the 'shotgun approach' of blasting all over the board bouncing from one thing to another, or be left hoping for a meaningful direction. There are a number of issues your child is working on, both personally and with regard to your relationship with them. There won't be time to address them all in your call so make some notes to keep on track. Ask your staff for their insight and direction. They are on the front lines with your child and know the areas that are challenging them presently. Be a great support system for your child by creating a unified message by means of teaming with your staff.
How are you setting up your questions? Are they open-ended? Or are you asking questions that can always be answered with yes, no or one word answers? Unless your child is using these calls as a means of manipulating your emotions, he/she will be forthcoming with information if asked in an interested, non-judgmental way. On the other hand, if your calls do not feel productive, an option is to end them early by saying, "If you don't have much to talk about, that's OK. We can give it another shot on your next call. I won't bore you with my stuff, so I'll talk to you later." Don't make them wrong or guilt them out. Just be matter-of-fact. You'll likely find your next call to be more productive.
Be OK With Their Challenges:
Setbacks are not only part of progress, they are critical to it. You made a choice to intervene because there were issues that needed to be addressed and handled. Be clear that your child will not learn and progress according to your timetable. Get comfortable in allowing your child to learn and progress at his/her own speed. You have your speed, and he/she has his/ hers. The most valuable lessons are contained within the obstacles the child overcomes. By remembering that, you let go of expectations. If you want to build an open communication of trust with your child, 'step into your child's shoes' and 'hear with his/her ears' as to what messages you are giving. Is it one of believing in your child's capabilities or of judgment and disappointment? What would encourage and inspire you?
Be Accountability Focused:
Always model accountability for your child. You will have a powerful influence on your child if your calls include your ownership of the family healing process. Share your insights for growth and change. Set the pace of being willing to look at the things that aren't working in your own life, or in the relationship with your child. Be the hero by modeling the courage of change for your child. Show him/her you're willing to ask, "Is this working for me?" and if it's not, that you're doing something about it.
Don't rescue. If during the call your child starts into a complaining, whining, gripe session, ask your child how he/she resolved it, what his/her part was in it, or what your child did/or could do to create a positive solution. Do not go into reaction. Stay neutral. Assist your child by holding up the 'mirror' of his/her accountability. Never get into a 'gossip' session about another student. Never, ever engage in bad mouthing or criticizing the staff. If you have concerns or questions, take it directly to your staff. Do not discuss it with your child. As in positive parenting, it is critical that you and the staff present a unified, supportive team for your child. Be a support to your child by holding him/her accountable and letting go of the consequences he/she sets up for him/herself. All choices have consequences. Do not rob your child of lessons by being tempted to rescue him/her from the consequences of his/her choices. Let your child have his/her own experience. This is how your child learns.
Your phone calls are good information-runs at the progress level of communication between you and your child. While it feels great to hear your child's voice and feel connected, reach for the deeper purpose. Phone calls aren't just about making you feel good. Beyond that is the opportunity to build a deep bond with your child, an emotional bond that is forged through your child 'feeling heard' and knowing he/she can count on you to care enough to hold him/her accountable. Those minutes together are precious and, when looked at, contain valuable information for both you and your child.
About the Author: Glenda Gabriel of Core Solutions is a strong advocate for parent's rights and the parent-choice industry. In addition to being the mother of a program graduate, she's worked for many years developing vital parent support services for structured residential boarding schools.