Family Signposts to Increase Our Self-Disclosure

In our Family, we recognise our Public Front Stage and our Private Back Stage

  • Introduce the metaphor of a theatre to help your children understand that we each have a more public front stage and a more private back stage. Some children may prefer to spend more time in their back stage, or keep things that really matter to them in their private back stage; that is okay. But explore with your children when it is important to put things on our front stage for people to see. Perhaps our skills in a performance, sharing our opinion in a family conversation or telling a teacher that something is confusing.
  • Explore how we might we might put on a performance, or wear a mask on our social front stage which might prevent the audience from seeing what is really going on our private back stage.  For example: we might see someone as rude, but they may be feeling shy; we might see someone as aggressive, but they may be feeling frightened or embarrassed. Explore why people might wear masks. What masks might we wear on our public front stage? What are the danger of wearing a mask or not showing what is really going on in our back stage?
  • Notice when your children are spending an unhealthy amount of time in their private back stage. Recognise their privacy, whilst also showing that you are interested in what they are doing. For example: if your child spends a long time in their room, knock on their door to offer them a drink and snack. Try a conversation starter such as “That looks like an interesting book… Is that a new game?” Follow up with a question or comment which invites them to share more with you.
  • It can be difficult to get to know our children, especially if we have a big family, or have little time together. We may not see into their private back stage very often. Are there opportunities to spend 1-1 time with each child? Going out for tea? Going for a walk? Watching a programme you both enjoy together? Going on a day trip?

In our Family, we purposefully choose to Share our Thoughts, Ideas and Opinions with others

  • Adolescents can feel uncomfortable in face to face conversations. Have you noticed that you may have your best conversations when you are in the car together? Doing a shared task, moving, being side by side can lessen the obstacles to our adolescents talking. Car journeys, walking the dog, baking or folding the laundry provide wonderful opportunities for conversations – take them!
  • Closed social media apps can help families engage in frequent, short and meaningful ways. Set up a family What’s App group – send pictures, funny comments, shared jokes. This can build family cohesion.
  • Message your children when they face particular challenges, assuring them that they have been kept in min. Send apologies when  you leave on a terse note; wish them well for an exam; thank them for something you saw them do. When they do similarly, thank them for their message – don’t assume their interaction with you is any lesser than saying it face to face. Text can be a wonderful medium for sustaining and building connections with adolescents.
  • After an incident or conflict, always ask your children to give their side of the story. Hear their perspective with an open and neutral posture, resisting the temptation to correct them. For example: “I’m going to listen and gather up all the facts before I make any comments. You talk and I will listen.”
  • If your children are engaged in a dispute together, use neutral openers such as ‘I can see something has happened to upset you both; can I help you sort it out?”
  • Adolescents  explore big questions which may be unsettling for them to hold on their own. They may express ideas which we hear as confused, biased or even extreme. Listening in a neutral way can help our children temper, moderate or clarify those thoughts and feelings. Responding strongly can cause them to keep those thought, feelings and ideas hidden from us. Try scripts such as: “You sound very passionate about this; tell me what has led you to this opinion. Are there other ways of looking at this? Do you know anyone that holds a different opinion? Have you always felt this way?”
  • Ask for your children’s ideas, suggestions and opinions, giving each person opportunity to voice their idea and have it discussed. For example: planning a summer holiday, discussing the day’s news, deciding what cereals to buy. Be particularly mindful of those members of your family who may dominate in these discussion; create space for those who hold back to be heard.

In our Family, we purposefully choose to share our Qualities, Skills and Interests with each other

  • Some children may be reticent to put their blossoming skills and qualities on their front stage for others to see, keeping them hidden in their back stage. Think about the particular skills and qualities you see in each of your children. How could you help them make these more visible to others? How could they use their skills and qualities in a more social context? Invite them to bake a cake for someone; map read for a family journey; teach a younger sibling do something; help organise the kitchen cupboards; enter a competitive event at school?
  • Look for opportunities to model share your own interests with your children. Chat about the music you listen to, the book you are reading or an article you have read. Look for shared interests you could develop together such as watching a box set, going to rugby matches, learning to knit, getting fit.

In our Family, we have one or two Trustworthy People who we Share More Deeply with

  • Adolescents may not find it easy to talk to you about things that are on their mind; they may find it easier to talk to people outside the immediate family. Consider who you might encourage to draw alongside your children; a grandparent, godfather, or a family friend? Encourage those adults to find ways to invest in their relationship with your child.
  • Notice if your child’s mood, routine, or attitude changes. Create an opportunity for them to open up without being direct. Use open questions or reflective comments such as “How are you finding things at the moment? I’ve noticed you’ve been more tired than usual recently. You seem to have a lot on your mind. Looks like your friendship group has changed a bit this term.”
  • Adolescents may be more willing to open up if we model it ourselves. Perhaps share a question or problem you are facing too. Offer them opportunities to interact with what you are saying. For example “What would you do? Have you ever had that happen to you? I’m really struggling with this”
  • If your children do share with you, avoid closing down the conversation by reverting the attention onto yourself or making a judgement, or minimising what they say.  Respond with open and validating scripts such as “That’s interesting. What did you do then? Has that happened before? That must have been hard.”
  • Adolescents often become less disclosing to parents, as they develop more intimate friendships beyond the family. Explain that there are some things that parents need to know, so they can act to keep their children safe. For example: someone touching you in appropriately; someone requesting you to do something and asking you to keep it private; someone asking you to do something you feel uncomfortable about; someone treating you in a way that makes you feel diminished in some way. 
  • Sometimes we may need to keep things from our children. However, be careful not to lose your children’s trust by telling half-truths or deceiving them. Explain that sometimes things stay private. Use scripts such as “There is something difficult going on; we are dealing with it, and will tell you more about it when we can.”; or “I am going to explain as best as I can for someone of your age, but there are some things that are not appropriate to share with you.”
  • There may be times when your children want to share something with you but struggle to find the words. They may prefer writing down their thoughts or feelings. Some children might enjoy having a private thought book which can go between you and them. Agree where you will keep it – you might put it under each other’s’ pillow when there is a new entry. Some children may respond well to using a euphemism to indicate that something is  troubling them or they need to talk. For example: “I’m going for a run.” Or “Can we go for a walk?”
  • Model written ways of sharing more intimate things with your children. You might write them a short but meaningful note and put in on their pillow, or write in on their mirror in a dry wipe pen. On meaningful occasions such as birthdays, or big transition moment you might write a more intimate letter which they might refer back to in years to come.

In our Family, we have Safe and Healthy ways of Expressing our Feelings rather than Bottling them up

  • Introduce the metaphor of a feeling balloon to help your children think about the importance of expressing their feelings rather than bottling them up. “We hold our feelings in our feeling balloon. If we have a lot of uncomfortable feelings in our feeling balloon, we can  feel very ‘full up’. We might grip onto the feeling balloon to stop the feelings coming out; this can make us feel stressed. What does that feel like for you? Sometimes we might lose control of those feelings, and the balloon may explode and whizz around the room. People might think – where did they come from? But they don’t know how long we have been holding those feelings inside. How can we find safe and healthy ways of expressing those feelings so they don’t build up or explode?”  Help your children explore safe ways of expressing their feelings such as playing sport, drawing or writing our thoughts, doing mindfulness exercises, listening to music, talking to someone we trust.
  • Everyone has times when they lose it. It is normal and healthy, especially in adolescence. However, sometimes we can let our children’s volatility ignite our own anger leading to a huge family row. The following script can help calm you both down when tempers are running high“We both have very strong feelings about this. Lets’ take some  time on our own to calm down. Once we are calmer, we can find a way forward.” 
  • You may not always know why your child is expressing such volatility. At these times, acknowledge their emotional stage, and assure them of your support. For example: “I can see something must have happened. I can see you are upset/angry/frustrated. I am here to help, you talk and I’ll listen.” Another might be “I can see you are dealing with something really big right now. What is the most helpful thing I could do to help?”
  • Adolescents are coping with so many changes and transitions; it’s not surprising that they get emotionally overwhelmed at times. They may describe themselves as angry, bored,  depressed or stressed. Behind each of those emotions there may be a word that better describes their feelings – such as disappointed, let down, isolated, confused, over looked, unsure, trapped, helpless, ashamed, embarrassed. Look for opportunities to broaden the vocabulary used in your home, so you and your children can better recognise and own the very normal feelings of adolescence.
  • Tell your children when you are tired or under pressure; don’t hide it. Normalise times of  strain and pressure; they are part of moving out of childhood and towards adulthood. Explain how you cope with pressure and strain; what helps and why?

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