Bridging an unreachable gap
Updated: Jan 21, 2021
Teenage life comes with its ups and downs, bringing with it emotions that can feel confusing and overwhelming at times. As a parent of a teenager it is easy to find yourself distanced and shut out when all you want to do is help to make things better.
In this blog Mishtu tells us about the impact that using Clean questions has had in her relationship with her 13 year-old daughter, Anika, enabling them to communicate more openly with one another.
Even from when she was tiny, Anika has never wanted to talk about things that were troubling her. If she got hurt, if she banged herself, she’d want to be on her own. Now that she’s a teenager there is so much going on for her, both at school and socially. She swings from being overly emotional, as teenage girls can be, to shutting down, not wanting to talk.
So, one evening I went up to her room to speak with her. I found her in bed with her duvet over her head. She seemed unreachable, so I just went and sat with her.
I wanted her to tell me what was troubling her, to be able to make it better for her. But I realised that’s not what she wants. She has all these feelings and doesn’t know what to do with them – but that’s all. She doesn’t want somebody to fix things for her.
I managed to get her talking and she kept using the word ‘pressure’; I feel pressure. That’s when I decided to open the conversation up using a Listening Space. I asked her;
What kind of pressure?
I wasn’t pushing her to get a particular answer. I wasn’t saying, Was it this kind of pressure? Was it that kind of pressure? Have you thought about this? I did have to calm my own inner stuff by saying to myself, there is no right answer, don’t panic, just do this - ask this question and then just sit and see what happens.
She started to speak fairly freely; Well there’s pressure from friends and there’s pressure from social media. She was able to think about what pressure means for her. She stopped talking to me as if she was waiting suspiciously and thinking, What are you going to do with this information?
I think the question that really opened things up was when I asked her;
Whereabouts is pressure?
She thought about it for a bit. I could see her really thinking about where she felt the pressure. And she said, It’s on the inside and it’s on the outside. It’s in lots of places. She talked about feeling pressure in every way. And I just kept asking,
Is there anything else about pressure?
We talked for maybe 20-25 minutes. It gave her the freedom to say how she felt about things. I was just encouraging her to talk. I was aware that in using this questioning technique I wasn’t being disapproving or judgemental about what she had to say.
As I walked away Anika was still lying in her bed, but I felt like I’d shown her that she could communicate into a space that she hadn’t previously felt able to communicate into. I was able to say to her:
Look, we can have conversations where you can talk openly, like this, and you don’t need to be worried about me trying to change something or fix something, and you can tell me whatever you like – however silly it seems – and we can do this, you know.
It felt like there had been a massive shift - like bridging an unreachable gap.
Reflecting on it now, I realise that she has talked to me much, much more since that moment.
So often, situations escalate in parenting because you’ve got your own worries about being judged; am I saying the right thing, doing the right thing? I’m very aware of my own tendency to be anxious and to overthink things. Asking these questions, creating a Listening Space, takes all of that out of the picture. You don’t need to say the right thing, to give the right advice, to have the right answer. You can just calm yourself and then open this space for your child to speak freely and see what happens in it.
And I think that’s just so powerful.