A t some point, everyone will have to tell their parents some news that may upset them, disappoint them or quite possibly make them angry. If this has not already happened, then you have managed, somehow, to avoid the inevitable. Mess up a few tests, and your average isn’t going to be as high as your parents may have hoped it would be. Decide that you want to study something completely different, and your parents may think you are being reckless. Meet someone you want to spend all of your time with, and your parents may worry you don’t care about your studies.
Here is our answer:
In our answer, we going to walk you through one way of talking to mom, take you through the rationale behind each element of a response, step by step, and give you a few tips on what to do and what to avoid.
Step #1. Set up the conversation.
The first step in talking to mom or dad is to let them know that you have something important to talk about. This gives mom or dad a chance to prepare and think through themselves before reacting. You don’t have to give up too many details at this point.
Here’s what you could say.
Mom (and dad), I would like to talk to you about school in the next day or so. I have been putting this off now for a while because I don’t feel good about it. School has not gone as well as I would like. It’s been really hard. I worry that you are going to angry or upset. but I have a plan to get back on track. Can we sit down and talk about this (tomorrow)? When would be a good time to talk?
Rationale: There is a lot being said in this opener. You have (a) said that things did not go well (without saying too much), (b) mentioned that you don’t feel good about it, which signals to mom and dad that you do care about school, (c) indicated that you do have a plan, which signals to mom and dad that it is going to get better and (d) explained why you have waited to talk to them, which signals to mom and dad that you understand that it is important to keep them involved.
Step #2: Manage their worries and expectations
The next step is to start managing your parents expectations and worries. Parents usually have high expectations of you, which is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, research has shown that children with parents who have expectations tend to do better than children whose parents have no expectations. Expectations themselves are not the problem. Expectations that are unrealistically high (e.g., you were going to get As all the time), along with worries that are extreme (e.g., you are not going to finish or get a job), need to be managed.
Most parents worry. They worry that you are not going to work hard enough, not going to do very well, get distracted and lose your drive, and maybe even fail an exam or even a course. It is excessive, and it can make everything harder. Parents worry, mostly, because they want the best for you and don’t want to see fail or experience setbacks. Worrying about you is part of their job description. And it can be really annoying. One of the best things you can do is to acknowledge their worries.
Here is what you could say:
Mom (and dad), I know that you are worried that I am not going to do well. And I know that you expected so much more. So did I. University (college) is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be, and I don’t think I was as prepared as I needed to be. But, I want to do well. That’s important to me.
Rationale: In this section, you acknowledge what your parents are feeling. This lets them know that you understand what they are feeling, which lets them know that you understand how important this is to them. Mentioning that you don’t think you were sufficiently prepared reminds them (and you) that any setback you have experienced is about not being prepared, which is entirely fixable. And the last part reminds them that doing well is important to them.
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Step #3. Communicate your plan
In this step, you should communicate your plan — but you do need to have a plan that is effective and believable. That means you need a concrete plan. Telling your parents (or yourself) that you are going to do better is a good start and might give your parents some reassurance, but saying you are going to do better isn’t a plan.
At this point, you may not even know what you need to do to turn things around. That’s okay. Finding out what you need to do may actually be part of the plan. In most cases, your plan is likely to include (a) getting some help from someone (to figure out what you need to do), (b) getting some help (to help you stick to your plan) and (b) developing or improving both your study skills and coping skills.
In some cases, you may need some help fine-tuning what you are studying. Many students arrive at college and university planning to study something but discover that it is not for them and need to adjust their programs. In this instance, you will need to talk to an academic advisor at your school. In other cases, you may be dealing with mental health difficulties that are getting in the way of you doing your best. In this instance, you will need to talk to a mental health professional.
Lastly, your plan should have a role for mom and dad. It might be a small role, but if you include them in your plan, you will help them manage their own worries and concerns.
Here’s what you say.
Mom (and dad), I have a plan to get this back on track. Part of my plan is to meet with an advisor and professors to figure what went wrong and what I can do better. Right now, I am not entirely sure what I need to do differently, but there is some help at school to work this out.
Part of my plan is to make a better schedule and spend more time on doing the work. I have access to the some learning resources (i.e., this website) and plan to start using them more. I am a bit concerned about staying on track, so I was wondering if a tutor might help.
I think I also need some help with dealing with my worries/ moods/focus. I would like make an appointment with my doctor (or counsellor) to learn how to deal my worries and moods, which have really been getting in the way.
I am not sure that I am studying the right courses. My plan is to finish these courses this year, but also figure out what is going to be right for me.
Rationale: This is the most important part of your conversation with mom and dad. Communicating a concrete plan — even if it is only to get help — will reassure mom and dad that you are taking this seriously. Remember most of their disappointment and frustration is about worry.
Step #4: Address the pushback: No matter how well thought out your plan is and how well you have tried to calm their worries, mom and dad may give you a bit of pushback on your plan. For whatever reason, they may start picking apart your plan (e.g., is that really going to work), end up criticizing you (e.g., you are just not serious about this), dump their own worries (e.g., I just don’t see how you are going to turn this around or (d) unleash their advice (e.g., you need to stop seeing friends, spend more time studying).
Avoid the debate
It is easy to find yourself in a debate with your parents about whether or not your plan is any good, about what you need to do more of, and about whether or not you have enough time for friends. Very often, these are debates that no one can really win. And, if everyone thinks they are right, then it is unlikely that anyone will back down.
Ask about their concerns
Rather than debating whether or not your plan is any good, ask your parents about their concerns. Asking about “what their concerns” are will refocus and shift the debate to a discussion about what their worries are, which they have never really mentioned, and which you may not be fully aware of.
Once you know about their concerns, you can start to address them directly. If you are successful in addressing their concerns, you can usually find middle ground.
Here is what you can say:
Mom (and dad), I know that you want the best for me. I think I have a plan that can work. Can I ask you what your concerns are? What are you worried might happen?
Can I ask you what it would take for you to be less concerned?
Disclaimer: The advice provided by our experts is not intended as nor should be viewed as treatment or psychotherapy. Each persons’ situation is unique and may require a plan that explicitly address their own unique challenges, needs and abilities. Please consult your health or mental health provider that knows you best.
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