Family Counseling Techniques -- Be Impressed by Parents by Donna Hammontree
When I say that family counseling techniques should include being impressed with parents, I should clarify that what I am really referring to is that counselors should be impressed by parents in the eyes of the child. I was recently on a New York City downtown train when a boy beside me treasured a plateful of croissants stuffed with meat. Since he seemed so happy and proud of the dish he held, I commented on how wonderful it looked. He said that his mother, who sat next to him, had cooked chicken and stuffed the croissants. A moment later I noticed that she had taken the plate of food from him and held it herself. I worried that I may have embarrassed her when, actually, I was taking pleasure in her son’s adoration of her. While I was possibly “too up close and personal” due to my Southern culture, I am still stirred. Stirred because I could see in his eyes how mesmerized he was by his mother, and the food she had cooked for him. Perhaps I should have just quietly appreciated the moment, but was compelled to comment. In working with parents, children need for professionals to be impressed by parents. And it is important for me as a professional to clearly communicate my appreciation of a caregiver's efforts and strengths. Helping professionals have a very worthy and natural inclination to “help.” Our training, however, positions us to look for weaknesses in others so that we can provide support. Our formal education qualifies us to assess and intervene, and children sense our qualifications whether they acknowledge them or not. Therefore, when children see us in action with their guardians, depending on our actions, frequently we can hurt and tear down the very parents we are hoping to strengthen. Salvador Minuchin advised using a structural family approach that supports the hierarchy of the family. Using this approach is possible if we see parental strengths and communicate to children that we really trust their parents as family leaders. It is also easy for us to equate higher socioeconomic status with “better” parenting. Consider the juxtaposition of the home cooked food by the mother on the train and the expensive restaurants and grocery stores that we frequent. I sometimes get picky if the food is not local or organic or whatever. But while these factors are important, when I cook I find that the most crucial part of any meal is the happy and generous spirit with which I prepare and serve it. The mother on the train had obviously cooked for her family -- or someone else -- with open hands and a big heart. It is the same with my work. As I deal with parents, if I “turn my nose up” at their efforts to love and care for their children, I may forget to generously season my work with a spirit of respect and admiration for what each mother or father does in the daily processes of caring for children. The quality we most want to identify and support is not fancy or expensive, and most parents have it. A parent’s loving and attuned heart is a crucial ingredient that a child really needs to succeed. By the way, before I forget, I just tried the best recipe and want to tell you. Cook a fresh chicken and season it to your liking. Get some croissants and. Check out the Counseling Collection
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