A teenager who refused to leave her bedroom for two years was coaxed to return to school, says Peter Lewer, through subtle work with her parents
Parenting is less about controlling children and more about assisting them to become successful adults. I believe in the resourcefulness of individuals and the likelihood that situations can improve. My role is to assist parents in this process and I have yet to meet the family that cannot achieve positive change.
Every day I meet talented and resourceful individuals and families, and remain enthusiastic about my work. It helps that my employer is forward-thinking and gives me opportunities to develop services to benefit families and promote opportunities for multi-agency working.
When working with parents I adopt a solution-focused approach, which allows me to ask useful questions and to focus on an individual’s competence rather than their deficits. I look for hidden strengths that are unidentified, and encourage parents to accept their responsibility for positive change.
Return to education
I worked with 14-year-old Sarah and her parents over three sessions to enable her to return to education. She had remained in her bedroom for nearly two years. Prior to my involvement with the family, many unsuccessful attempts to persuade her to return to school had been made by various agencies.
At my first visit Sarah’s mother told me she had thrown out the last professionals to have visited. Respectfully, I asked: “What is going so well for your family that you didn’t need their help?” She and Sarah’s father were able to share with me a list of things that were indeed better for the family. The visit ended with me posing a curious question: “I wonder what would need to happen so that next week when I arrive Sarah is downstairs?”
At the next visit Sarah was downstairs, encouraged by her parents. I asked them what their best hopes were. The parents said it was for them to go out together as a family, and for Sarah to go back to school.
During the following appointment they told me they had all enjoyed a day out together and Sarah was now regularly spending time with her parents. We discussed what small signs would indicate Sarah was ready to return to school and we explored steps to make this happen. I summarised the family’s achievements and encouraged them to do more of what was working for them. Following our work together Sarah returned to education and is now feeling settled. She enjoys days out with her parents and has re-established her peer friendships.
I find it more valuable to ask useful questions than share parenting strategies with parents. Most parents benefit more from exploring what they actually do and doing more of what works, than me telling them what I think they could try next.
It is important to celebrate what is working for parents as positive achievements can be added to and under-developed skills and talents be enhanced.
Peter Lewer is an area parenting co-ordinator for Kent Council