Family Signposts to Lower Our Self-Disclosure

In our Family, we Value our own and others’ Privacy

  • Introduce the metaphor of a theatre to help your children understand that we each have a public front stage and a private back stage. Some children may prefer to spend more time on their front stage; they may find ‘back stage’ time uncomfortable, boring or lonely. Together, explore times when it is appropriate to keep things in our private backstage, sharing with whose we know trust.
  • Privacy is particularly important to adolescents. Value their privacy by knocking before you go into their bedrooms; ask them if your need to check their phone, pockets or bags.
  • Expect your children to value the privacy of those in your family. Establish similar expectations about respecting your own privacy, such as knocking on your bedroom door; not looking in your wallet or purse without permission; not taking clothes out of siblings’ rooms.

In our Family, at times we purposefully keep our Thoughts, Feelings, Ideas, Skills and Qualities to ourselves

  • Take opportunities to model holding back your qualities or skills out of sensitivity to those you are with. For example: not overshadowing someone else with lesser skills; not sharing our own achievements if it leaves others feeling diminished.
  • Teach your children how to respond to a decision they do not agree with. This might be a collective group decision, or the decision of someone in authority such as a teacher. For example: ” I have a different opinion about this however I accept that a decision has been made, and I will go along with it.”
  • Resist temptation to step in when your children are struggling and help them. Stand back, giving them opportunity to find their own solution. Struggle within a supportive context builds resilience, tenacity and ultimately increases your children’s skills and abilities. For example: “I know it is hard, struggle is part of the learning process. I know you will find a way to do this.”
  • Model good listening skills when talking with your children. Be mindful of how much you talk, and how much you listen. At times choose to sit with silence, creating space for them to talk, rather than filling in all the gaps. Use open ended, extension or clarification questions in your conversation. For example: “What do you think? What led you to that opinion? Could you explain that again?”
  • Judging the right time to interrupt is an important social skill. Model this yourself; be wary of barging into your children’s conversations or activities. Use scripts such as “Is this a good time to ask you something?”, “Have you got a moment?” If you have a child who tends to interrupt you, use a redirection strategy such as “Let’s try that again… start with ….is this a good time to ask you something Mum?”
  • Adolescence can be a stressful time leading to emotional fragility and volatility. Some children may express their feelings publicly in unhealthy or socially inappropriate ways such as shouting, stomping off, moaning, posting raw emotions on social media – with negative consequences. Use the metaphor of a feeling balloon. “Our feeling balloon holds all our feelings. Sometimes our balloon can get full over time as feelings build up, or inflate quickly in response to an event. Show your children a full, untied balloon, and then allow it to deflate flying across the room aggressively and uncontrollably. Explore what this feels like for us when we explode with other people, and how others may feel. Blow up the balloon again, but this time let the air out slowly in a controlled way. Explore private and healthy ways of letting go of these feelings. For example: having a bath, going for a run, listening to music, talking to a friend, writing in your journal.

In our Family, we use Social Media Responsibly and Respectfully

  • As adolescents develop their own ideas and opinions, they may be tempted to add their voice to emotive on line causes or alliances. Remind them to think carefully before committing their words to a post. Acknowledge their passion, whilst also highlighting real cases where a social post has had serious implications.
  • As digital natives, our children may not anticipate the risks of sharing personal information or images on social media. Suggest safety questions they can ask to protect themselves. For example: “Who else could see this? How would I feel if this relationship ends? How would I feel if this was seen by a future employer? Would someone be able to work out where I live?”
  • Adolescents can be impulsive; they may not anticipate the impact of their words on others. Whereas real time interactions give our children clues about how a person is reacting, social media doesn’t. Remind your children of this. For example: “When you post something, imagine the faces of the different people who will read this. Remember different people might read the same post in different ways.”
  • Adolescents may struggle to think about long term consequences. Use the metaphor of digital footprint to help  explain the permanence of  digital activity; what is shared on their public digital front stage cannot easily be removed or deleted. Draw attention to examples in public, peer or your own life where an email or  post has had ramifications several months or years later.

In our Family, we value Times of Stillness, Silence and Solitude

  • Solitude supports good mental health, yet we spend so little time alone in our own thoughts. Build in opportunities for solitude. For example: suggest a family walk, giving each other time to wander at their own speed; turn the TV off, and each read a book without having to talk.
  • As a Christmas stocking present, give your children a book they can use as a journal. Write in the front page some ideas as to how to use the journal – jotting down ideas, exploring feelings, sketching designs? Explain that only they will see what is in the journal is only for them to see; it is a safe space to explore their own thoughts and ideas.
  • Many of us go to bed connected to the world through our phones and devices. Tell your children about the impact of ‘blue’ electronic light on sleep quality. Consider a family research project – removing devices from your bedroom at bedtime for one month – did your sleep improve?
  • Introduce family routines which support quiet self-reflection. Take a moment of silence before a meal to appreciate the food before us, or reflect on the day before bed. Many schools teach mindfulness; ask your children to teach you what they are learning, and use these practices in your home.
  • Be careful not to over stimulate your children with activities. Allow them down time in their private back stage. Down time gives our brain time to consolidate all it is taking in, and stimulates creativity. Encourage your children to doodle, daydream, sketch and strum. Notice and value the creations, inventions or new chords that emanate from this time of personal creativity.
  • Some adolescents spend a lot of time on their front stage – doing activities, engaging with friends – not wanting to miss out on all the action. This can leave them exhausted. When you see the signs of exhaustion or strain, guide them in building in regular times of rest and solitude in between times of busyness and activity. Think about how you model this as parents.

In our Family, we Stop and Think before we Act or Speak

  • Adolescents may struggle to read facial cues accurately; they may struggle more  given how many of their interactions are through social networks rather than face to face. Draw attention to facial expressions as a way of guiding your children’s social interactions. For example: “Does Tom look like he is finding the joke funny? Just notice how busy I am right now; is this right time to ask this? Look at Sachin’s face; how do you think he is feeling after that comment?”  Model reading social cues yourself by noticing your children’s facial expressions. For example: “You look tired, why don’t you watch some TV before doing your homework?”
  • When our children are emotionally volatile or distressed, our instinct may be to step in and talk, but they may need time alone. Stepping in and asking them to talk may lead to further escalation. Acknowledge the feeling and assure them of support. For example “I can see you are angry. I’m going to stand back and give you time on your own to calm down. I’ll be in the sitting room if you want to talk.”
  • Many adolescents struggle to manage their big feelings and powerful opinions. Sometimes they might express them in ways we think are inappropriate. Guide your children in knowing how to express their thoughts and feelings safely and respectfully. For example: I statements such as “I am feeling angry about this” rather than you statements, such as “You make me angry”. Try to adopt a non-confrontational body language and a calm tone of voice. Try to model this yourself. Remember that none of us get this right all the time. Hearing a parent say sorry and reflect on what they should have done may have a more powerful impact than having a perfect parent.
  • We all have triggers which cause us to react in aggressive and unhelpful ways, in which we lack self-control. Recognise your own triggers and help your children recognise their own. Explore strategies to help you respond more effectively in these situations. One strategy might be using a traffic light metaphor – RED: stop; AMBER: take 3 slow breathes: RESPOND: I statement e.g. “I am choosing to ignore that comment.”
  • Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to making unwise decisions or taking risks when with peers on their social front stage. Explain how the  ‘peer audience’ can influence our choices if we don’t stop and think. Identify times when your children are vulnerable to such peer influence. Reflect back what you notice; help them identify times when they are more vulnerable; rehearse different choices and the consequences of each.

In our Family, we value Personal Resourcefulness and Perseverance

  • Your children may be tempted to reach out for help before trying to work out a problem on their own. Responding to their requests too quickly can lessen their own resourcefulness and perseverance. Encourage them to look for their own solutions before externalising their requests.  For example: “Spend another couple of minutes working it out for yourself, then I’ll come and help you.” or “What have you already tried before you’ve asked for my help?”
  • Learning to focus and resist distraction is essential if our children are to develop good learning strategies. Install homework routines such as turning the TV off, having equipment ready prepared, turning our phone off. Talk to your children about what helps them focus, where they work best, how long they like to work for without a break. It will be different for each child.

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