I’m currently working with several young adults aged between 13 and 16. I call them young adults because they are growing up rapidly, and might want more independence, crave more privacy, and like to be shown a high level of respect.
Families bring their young adult to me for different reasons. Usually they are concerned about their young adult’s educational results and level of skill in some subjects. They also might not be able to communicate with them about their school-work without their young adult shutting them out. Sometimes they are worried about the level of stress their young adult imposes on themselves to get good grades, and sometimes they are worried about their lack of effort. In my experience as a teacher, it can take time and care to gain the trust of young adults.
You might have noticed that your young adult has become more emotional and ‘touchier’ than when they were younger. Perhaps they also become resentful and uncooperative if they believe that they are coerced into agreements with you. Also, have you noticed that often it is when you are tired, worried, or busy with other tasks, that is when they often choose to refuse to work, have an argument with you or a tantrum, or quietly stop keeping the agreements they had made with you.
If you are worried about your young adult, be brave and plan to rock the family boat now. It becomes more difficult to influence their behaviour when they leave home. Sit down and take your time, calmly and coolly as a good general does before battle, to decide which behaviours your young adult could develop to mature and reach their potential. For instance, you might want them to develop into independent young adults with strong values, skills, and a good work ethic. Think closely about what values, skills, and behaviours you want to focus on at this time in their lives. This article describes ways to develop your young adult’s study skills, but you can use these ideas to work on developing work ethic in other areas such as responsibility for their share of housework, or to develop emotional maturity by showing kindness and respect for other family members.
In your role as their educational support person, I suggest that you look at the big picture first and develop inspiring goals with them. What do they want from their lives this term, year, in several years? And why do they want that? Only then do you work with them to create steady study routines.
Easier said than done you might say. I agree! Here are my best tips on how you can successfully negotiate with your young adult so that they can succeed more easily at school.
Carefully decide what your ‘bottom lines’ are before you negotiate. Your ‘bottom lines’ are the non-negotiable goals you have for them, and any crucially important actions to reach those goals. Be clear about exactly what you expect and hold firmly onto those ‘bottom lines’ as you negotiate, and then negotiations will seldom get ‘derailed’ for long. ‘Derailing’ is when they suddenly and unexpectedly divert you into another topic, and so away from a topic that they don’t want discussed.
Listen with an open heart first to understand them. Remember the feeling of powerlessness you felt when others made important decisions that affected you without listening to what you wanted. I believe that we have all experienced moments of powerlessness like this, so listen closely to them as though you are hearing what they are telling you for the first time. Do this with a certain amount of humility, a big dollop of patience, total concentration while listening, and keep silent until they are finished talking while you listen to deeply understand what they are telling you. Perhaps if you listen to understand them without judgement, then together you will come to agreements about studying that you will both be happy with.
Remember what you want from the negotiation, whatever happens during it. To help you stay ‘on track’ write down exactly what you want from that negotiation. Write down what is not negotiable (your bottom line) and what is negotiable (where your young adult has ‘wriggle room’ to negotiate something more favourable for themselves).
There is no hurry. Negotiations with them can take as long as needed. However, while nothing has been decided, any positive consequences attached to the negotiations can be suspended until negotiations are completed. This will encourage them to continue negotiating with you so that they can have access to those positive consequences.
Keep the time you are talking with your young adult brief and they will pay closer attention to what you say. Have you noticed that some adults talk too long on subjects they find important? I think we all do this at times, often without realising we have, and especially when we are enthusiastic or concerned about something. If you talk too long to your young adult they might use a few useful strategies that you too are familiar with, to manage their boredom or frustration while you are talking. The ‘switch off’ is the most common and politest strategy used. This is when your young adult will seem to be listening attentively, while instead they have stopped listening to you and begun to think about something else. I have often been fooled when a student uses this strategy on me. They look so convincingly attentive that I can still take time to notice that they have ‘switched off’.
Your young adult ‘switches off’ for what they believe are very good reasons. Perhaps they have heard it all before, feel uncomfortable with your intense and emotional tone, do not want to listen because they don’t agree with you, feel blamed by you, or just don’t want to do what you want them to. I believe that we have all been guilty of this behaviour at times when faced with an overly enthusiastic friend or family member.
It’s business-time! Keep all your explanations brief, business-like, and respectful. For negotiations to be successful you must create a situation where your young adult can stay comfortable and alert enough to listen closely to you. Use short and simple sentences, speak slowly, speak briefly, and keep any of your positive or negative emotions out of the room as much as you can.
- Speak in short sentences, and speak slowly in a low, quiet, businesslike voice.
- Pause briefly between sentences.
- Check in at times to see if they agree or disagree with you.
- Regularly check that they have understood you when they seem distracted, then briefly and in a neutral business-like manner repeat any information they might not have heard, understood, or remembered. Repeat again if necessary.
- Don’t stare in their eyes, stand higher than them, or stand or sit very close to them. That can feel threatening and too personal for them. Instead, position yourself so that you can glance at or towards them occasionally, and sit or stand about a metre from them, and at or near their height.
I hope that you have found some useful tips here to use when working with your young adults. Look at my other articles on goal setting for more ideas.
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