Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Those cherished phone calls with your program child certainly epitomize the phone company slogans of “reach out and touch someone . . . it’s the next best thing to being there”. Parents and students alike, typically look forward with great anticipation to those calls. But when those calls end, have they felt productive? Has it really been the next best thing to being there? Or are you left feeling frustrated? Are you feeling like you missed something important, but didn’t know how to get to it or what to do about it? The good news is that there are some key things you can do to facilitate more beneficial results.

Scrap the Chit-Chat: You want your calls to be meaningful? Save the small talk for the last couple of minutes of your call. For a meaningful call, be prepared to start it that way. For instance begin by asking things like, “So tell me what’s been going on with you in your Program?” “What have you been working on this week?” “What have you learned about you?” What are you most proud of?” Filling your conversations with small talk about the weather, the league standing of their favorite team or who won the Oscars, will not lend value in achieving your family’s healing. Mom and Dad, your calls have been included in your child’s program for a purpose. Decide what your purpose is in preparation for those calls.

Make some notes: By being focused you won’t do the ‘shotgun approach’ of blasting all over the board bouncing from one thing to another. Or be left hoping for a meaningful direction. There are a number of issues your child is working on both personally and in regards to your relationship with them. There won’t be time to address them all in your call so make some notes to keep on track. Ask your staff for their insight and direction. They are on the front lines with your child and know the areas that are challenging them presently. Be a great support system for your child by creating a unified message by means of teaming with your staff.

Your Set up: How are you setting up your questions? Are they open-ended? Or are you asking questions that can always be answered with a yes, no or a one word answers? Unless they are using these calls as a means of manipulating your emotions, they will be forthcoming with information if asked in an interested, non-judgmental way. On the other hand, if your calls do not feel productive, an option is to end them early by saying, “If you don’t have much to talk about, that’s OK. We can give it another shot on your next call. I won’t bore you with my stuff, so I’ll talk to you later.” Don’t make them wrong or guilt them out. Just be matter-of-fact. You’ll likely find your next call to be more productive.

Be OK with their challenges: Setbacks are not only part of progress, they are critical to it. You made a choice to intervene because there were issues that needed to be addressed and handled. Be clear that your child will not learn and progress according to your timetable. Get comfortable in allowing them to learn and progress at their own speed. You have your speed, and they have theirs. Their most valuable lessons are contained within the obstacles they overcome. By remembering that, you let go of expectations. If you want to build an open communication of trust with your child, ‘step into their shoes’ and ‘hear with their ears’ as to what messages you are giving to them. Is it one of believing in their capabilities, or of judgment and disappointment? What would encourage and inspire you?

Be Accountability Focused: Always model accountability for them. You will have a powerful influence on your child if your calls include your ownership of the family healing process. Share your insights for growth and change. Set the pace of being willing to look at the things that aren’t working in your own life, or in the relationship with your child. Be their hero by modeling the courage of change for them. Show them you’re willing to ask, “Is this working for me?”, and if it’s not, that you’re doing something about it.

Assist: Don’t rescue. If during the call they start into a complaining, whining, gripe session, ask them how they resolved it, what their part was in it, or what they did/or could do to create a positive solution. Do not go into reaction. Stay neutral. Assist them by holding up the ‘mirror’ of their accountability. Never get into a ‘gossip’ session about another student. Never, ever engage in bad mouthing or criticizing their staff. If you have concerns or questions, take it directly to your staff. Do not discuss it with your child. As in positive parenting, it is critical that you and the staff present a unified, supportive team for your child. Be a support to your child by holding them accountable and letting go of the consequences they set up for themselves. All choices have consequences. Do not rob them of their lessons by being tempted to rescue them from the consequences of their choices. Let them have their own experience. This is how they learn.

Your phone calls are good information-runs at the progress level of communication between you and your child. While it feels great to hear their voice and feel connected, reach for the deeper purpose. Phone calls aren’t just about making you feel good. Beyond that is the opportunity to build a deep bond with your child. An emotional bond that is forged through them ‘feeling heard’ and knowing they can count on you to care enough to hold them accountable. Those minutes together are precious, and when looked at, contain valuable information for both you and your child.