Something usual in sessions of individual therapy with adolescents is that they tend to have a typical, diffuse, vague and ambiguous response. When asked questions like what would you like to do? The usual is usually something like “I do not know …”, “I do not care …” or a clarifier “… bah, without more …”.
I often feel that they lack answers. I am aware that the growing period can generate some confusion, making decision making confusing at times. But I am surprised and worried to some degree when a teenager is not able to answer a simple question that refers to his self. At your wish. To your now.
And sometimes I think I know what the reason may be. If we go back a few years, while they were children, many did not have the opportunity to generate their answers because they were given unilaterally by adults.
Let’s imagine a situation; After leaving class, Glenn, who is nine years old, tells his mother:
- Today William has broken Jeffery’s drawing because he did not want to leave his paintings
- Go with William; he has a little genius.- His mother answers him. Surely the teacher will have punished him, right? Because he has not done well, by breaking Jeffery’s drawing.
It does not matter if the answer we offer at this time is in this way or another. Any answer we give will be closing an opportunity to knowledge; mutual, because we will be marking our answer without knowing what is yours, and our own because we will be missing the chance to help you create your response.
Instead, an open question can help you discover and discover your opinion about it.Notice that for there to be an answer; there must first be a question.
- And what do you think of how William has acted?
- Well, it seems super reasonable, because I also take the paintings without asking me and the other day I broke two. When I told him, he laughed at me and left. I would also like to have split his drawing.
As you see in the example, if we only give our opinion, there is an essential part of the information that we are missing. Also, we run the risk of sending an erroneous message to the child, which generates confusion about his feelings or thoughts: “If my mother tells me that it is wrong and I have done the same, something in me should be wrong.”
As a consequence of this fact being repeated, the child may decide that it is better to avoid giving their answers since they often do not coincide with the adults’, and therefore they end up believing that they are wrong (because this is the case). We make him think, of course).
And, at this point, what can we do?
Well, something so simple and complicated at the same time as not to comment. Learn to ask to help them find themselves a solution that is useful to them. This is a complicated dynamic to achieve because we are more accustomed to seeing solutions to the conflicts of others than to listen to them actively and empathically.
And to achieve it, something we can put into practice is to be attentive to our conversations and when we surprise ourselves by giving an opinion or a solution, try to change it by an open question. It is hard but not impossible. As you have seen in the example, even when we have already given our opinion, we can ask about the view of the other, it is not ideal, but in the way of learning it is also valid.
And how do we ask?
As far as possible it is convenient to avoid closed questions, which are those that can be answered with a yes or a no. Instead of asking, have you had a good time at school? We can ask, how did you do at school?
Other types of questions can be: Those that refer to their opinions and feelings: What do you think …? How does it make you feel? What do you think about…?
Circular questions, which encourage reflection: How do you think you will feel …? How would you like to be treated if you were in their place? What do you think you would need/ think/feel if …? Questions focused on finding the solution: What do you think could be a solution to …? How can we do it?
The latter is important in conflicts and adults rarely rely on the answers that children and adolescents can give us. And we make a big mistake because my experience is that when you listen to them and attend to their needs, they are usually very sensible and can generate alternative solutions that are much more creative than ours.
I have tried with my teenage son, and there is no way. His only answer is: “you’re back again, I do not know, and you’re scratching me.” This does not work.
Clear. A person who has not developed the ability to find their answers will not know how to generate them suddenly when one day their m / father decides that they will stop instructing them with theirs.
PATIENCE and TIME. Let’s start little by little. By asking a question and giving the time you need to answer, what can become days if you can find your answer. Sometimes they do not even try because their life experience has taught them that it is useless because then, it is not taken into account.
They need time to verify that this dynamic is changing and time to look inside and find their opinion, their desire, their solution. Sometimes it requires learning new words and others, reconnecting with themselves. And that takes a while. Approximately the same as we will need to break with the dynamics of previous years.