Here are a few tips I’ve learned by counseling students with their parents:
—Don’t be available at a moment’s notice. If you can delay the appointment for at least a few hours after the explosive argument, they’ll have a chance to cool down and the session will be more productive
—Start the appointment with prayer. Prayer brings God into the conversation and reminds the counselees that they are Christians. That’s a little tongue-in-cheek. But, really, sometimes this will help the gloves not come off so much during your meeting.
—Begin with stories of what they like or appreciate about each other or a fond memory. Everybody has to share something. This accomplishes three things: 1. It softens everybody in the room; 2. It shows you are going to lead the meeting; 3. It sets a positive mood.
—Stay on point until you reach an agreement. Tackle one issue at a time. THIS IS ESSENTIAL!!! The tendency will be for the conversation to go down secondary paths not related to the current topic. You are in control of the meeting. When somebody (parent or child) takes the conversation down an unrelated bunny trail, it’s important that you pause and redirect the person back on track until a common understanding is reached. You’re not looking for buy-in or agreement, you’re looking to help them understand each other. Good questions during this time are often, “How would you have handled that if you were the parent?” and “How would that have made you feel if you were the child?”
—Keep the conversation moving. The tendency will be for families to harp on a subject much longer than they need to. They’re pouring out their pain and it feels good. You’re leading the conversation so it’s your job to come to an understanding and move on to the next topic. Once understanding is met, announce, “Now that we have an understanding there, we’re going to put that on the shelf for now and not revisit it again in this session. What’s the next issue?”
—Summarize and suggest action steps. Repeat every issue discussed in the meeting as well as the understanding everybody came to on each topic. Give some ideas that could help them communicate better or be more considerate of each other.
—Close in prayer.