Family dynamics, adolescents and therapy 

Issues within present day relationships can and often do originate from early experiences within families. Often to keep peace we never go to the heart of the matter which, unfortunately, keeps the suffering and pain going. For example, if one experiences their parents as rejecting, then often in other relationships one can be the rejecting one. As a result, we repeat those early relationship patterns without realising. And subsequently we can and do end up passing the wound down and creating multigenerational scars. 

Healing from this can be a long and challenging process. A good starting point is being able to talk through what has happened out loud. Doing this with a therapist can be helpful as they can offer a bird’s eye view of life you see zoomed in. Developing an understanding of your difficulties and relationship patterns allows you to begin to take more conscious steps towards who you want to be moving forwards. 

For children and adolescents this can be even more perplexing. They are trying to develop and recognise who they are in the world, know how to relate to friends, family and others. This can be made more puzzling when there has been a background of family challenges. Some of these may be a normal part of life, such as losing a loved one or divorce. However, that does not mean that it does not affect how the young person relates and their view of the world around them. Often, in situations like this family members can be caught up with the young person in the situation and find it difficult to know how to support them. 

The basis for supporting a teenager is the quality of the relationship you hold with them. If the relationship is built on solid foundations of love and understanding this can facilitate one to have open and honest conversations allowing the young person to open up and understand the world around them. However, this is not always the case and sometimes it can be helpful to think about outside support; this may be in the form of other family members such as older siblings who are able to connect with the young person or aunts and uncles.

When this is not appropriate or does not feel helpful one may turn to therapy to help the young person. Therapy can allow a young person to speak openly about their worries, concerns and life in general. Giving them a space in which they do not have to worry about upsetting anybody. Being in a safe space can allow the young person to consider their values, think about the future, and become introspective. 

It is also important to remember that brain development has not fully occurred in most children and adolescents. In particular the executive functioning skills are still in the process of being developed. Executive function refers to skills that help us focus, plan, prioritise, work toward goals, self-regulate behaviours and emotions, adapt to new and unexpected situations, and ultimately engage in abstract thinking and planning. Just as a principal conductor would do for an orchestra, executive functions supervise and coordinate a multitude of cognitive, behavioural, and emotional tasks.

Executive functions in childhood are, by default, challenging. That’s because, although our executive function skills begin to develop in the first year of life, they are not fully developed until early adulthood. Therefore, if you find it difficult to speak to your children or are confused about how they are responding to different situations, remembering this small fact may help. 

If your child is struggling, it can be really difficult and worrying as a parent and it might feel like a big step to decide to reach out to a psychologist. Challenging family relationships, difficult dynamics and numerous life events leave parents worried about whether they have done something wrong, or whether their child’s psychologist may blame them.

The truth is that lots of children and young people go to therapy at some point, and for all sorts of reasons. A part of the role of a psychologist is to work with you and supportively to think about what is going on and how you can make things work better.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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York YO1 & Birmingham B1

Written by Dr T. Zain

York YO1 & Birmingham B1

Dr Zain has extensive experience of working with children and young people. She put together an article that summarises how therapy might help to improve family relationships.

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