Q: We've done our best to raise our son into a mature adult. But now that he's finished college and is out on his own, he's making poor choices. We're disappointed and wonder where we went wrong.
Jim: When an adult child loses his way, it can be hard for parents to know where to begin. In one sense, you'll always be the parent, and he will always be the child you raised. At the same time, as our kids enter adulthood the relationship has to transition to a balance between independent people who make their own decisions.
Our counselors suggest you start by easing your guilt. Did you make mistakes? Of course -- every parent does. But your son is old enough to make his own choices and to take responsibility for them. So give yourself a break.
Secondly, understand that the burden of getting life back on track ought to be your son's, not yours. That's easy to forget. You can encourage him to make better choices, but he's old enough to take responsibility for his own life now. So point him in the right direction and give him advice if he asks for it. But let him be his own person.
Now comes the hard part: Let your son suffer the consequences of his choices. If you rescue him from his problems, he may never feel a reason to live differently. So don't be too quick to save him from self-inflicted pain.
Watching a beloved child make bad decisions can be tough. That's why it can be helpful to discuss your specific concerns with a qualified therapist. If you'd like some extra guidance from our counselors, I invite you to call them at 1-855-771-HELP (4357) or visit FocusOnTheFamily.com.
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Q: Our two sons (ages 7 and 9) argue all the time. I feel like I'm at the end of my rope. How can I help them learn to get along?
Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting and Youth: Kids are only human, so they will argue with one another at times. The good news is that conflict resolution is a skill you can teach your children. Siblings who are close in age often need some coaching.
Here are some ideas to help your kids learn how to resolve conflict:
1. Teach them to clearly say what they want with respect. It may take some time and reflection for children to really know what they want and communicate it well.
2. Teach them to recognize their feelings and how emotions can work against them. For example, if you feel mad, that can prevent you from listening beyond your own wants and needs to hear the other person.
3. Help them understand the concept of team. Teach them how valuable this will be as they grow up -- in school, their marriage, parenting, work and community.
4. Guide them in learning to define the real "win." It's not about who's right, but rather what's best for the family and how they can bless each other.
If your children still can't resolve the conflict (meaning that each child feels heard and respected), you may wish to offer your services for hire. For example, I will ask my kids, "Do you need to hire me to solve this?" They know that it will cost $1 per minute for my help. The one who is charged is whoever isn't willing to compromise, listen or be part of the solution.
Parents need to be creative, consistent and engaged to help kids learn to deal with conflict effectively. Things might not change overnight, but your efforts will help your kids now as well as into adulthood.