The phone in my pocket began to vibrate. I looked at it and saw that it was a text I'd been waiting for from Denise. My jaw dropped as I watched the short videos in the text. It was a classic meltdown or should I say explosion! It had everything, from yelling and screaming, to throwing things, hitting, jumping, and very nasty words. "I hate you mom. Get away from me." I’d been guiding Denise and Joe as a parent coach for the past few months. The focus was on their son, Xander. Now I had a clear picture of the challenges they were facing.
There had always been a close bond between mother and son. But now that he’s getting older, the outbursts, the violence and the cruel words are getting stronger and so very hurtful. Xander was 9 years old at the time and he wasn't happy about this either. Once he calmed down, he’d feel terrible after these explosions. Denise longed for the days when Xander would run into her arms. It was one of the best things in life. Now it seems they just argue and fight every day. It was no longer a happy and peaceful home. What happened?
When our kids are young, we can control the tone and set appropriate boundaries and rules. (Some of us are more strict while others are more lenient.) The emphasis during these years is on the teaching, directing, protecting and correcting role of a parent. The relationship part usually comes pretty easily because kids tend worship their parents. (Unless of course there's trauma, abuse, mental illness or one of many other possible challenges.) Then rather suddenly it seems, everything changes.
The hormones kick in and the emotions become more volatile. What’s going on? Physiologically some significant changes are taking place. The emotional centers of the brain mature rapidly during early adolescence while the rational frontal lobe is still relatively immature. The young person experiences strong impulses and reactions which are fueled by our "On Demand" culture and highly stimulating screen activity. The rational, cautious and logical frontal lobe is just not up to the task of handling this. These are seismic changes taking place in the brain.
Most of us parent the way we were parented with no strategic shift in our homes. No one ever told us that a strategic parenting shift was necessary as our children approached adolescence. We aren't bad parents, we just never got that vital information. If we press on with heavy control, we'll soon have a war on our hands. If we simply back off, our kids won't get the help and support they need to get through this challenging time unscathed.
Denise and Joe decided to make "The Shift." They shifted away from trying to control Xander and concentrated on partnership and relationship.
I love mountains and I'm especially fond of the photo below. The journey through adolescence can be likened to hiking and conquering these mountains. It's a hard journey and not one to be taken alone without a guide. We needed to help Xander understand the challenges of this climb while convincing him that we were on his side. We all wanted him to succeed and become the best version of himself. We started our journey on the First Pathway by having Xander take the Clifton Strengths Explorer Youth Assessment. This was so very helpful for all of us. Xander’s brain is wired to think about future adventures or projects. He dreams about building a tree fort or lego spaceship; going on an adventure with his friends; or becoming a civil engineer. When it’s time to do a chore or some tedious schoolwork, he gets frustrated because it takes him away from these things. We call this strength, “Future Thinker.”
Xander has become more responsive to help in managing those volatile emotions. Emotional intelligence and development of the frontal lobe of the brain are crucial for our young people. If we start working on it before they his puberty, they will have a significant advantage once the seismic changes hit.
I received this text from Joe recently.
It’s going very well with Xander. He’s been unbelievable the last couple of days. Whatever I ask him to do, he will do it right away with a “Yes sir!” And if he forgets or gets distracted, he says “Oops, I’m so sorry. I’ll do it right now.” Denise and Joe are now fully committed to empowering and equipping Xander to fully embrace his strengths and become the best version of himself.