Going Soft When Under Pressure

Sometimes, parents are a bit too wishy-washy, too soft and they need more backbone in their style of communicating, to get the best out of a young person. There is no one-size-fits-all when working with young people, the key is in your flexibility. How much you can change, adapt and adjust to the rising and falling tides of the young person’s emotions?


I often don’t need to say too much about when to soften. Here are three specific scenarios where having a softer touch approach is appropriate.


  • When they are tired.

If you have a young person who is pushed to their limits, we could easily add to the anxiety, worry, and pressure that they feel. I understand and appreciate the desire to give your children as many experiences as possible (particularly if you didn’t have them when you were growing up) via after-school clubs, extra tuition, weekend activities and holiday clubs. But they get tired, and they need more sleep than you do.


If, after school, they have a couple of hours of homework and an activity, that’s equivalent to nine 5-working-days after they’ve been learning all day. Their brains are tired, and they may be unable to process any more. That’s why they need so much more sleep because their brains are processing through the night; growing and organising in ways that adult brains don’t need to do.


When a child is being sensitive and delicate on an emotional level, and you know that they’re tired; soften. Don’t push harder. Don’t ask them to push through to make them more resilient. You might end up pushing them over the edge and that is not going to be fun for anybody.


  • If they have been mistreated.

Now, if there is a constant moan of “My sister hit me around the head” that’s likely to be sibling relations and not mistreatment. But if they’ve been involved in an incident at school, or something unexpected happened where they were a victim; soften.


I once had a consultation with a chap was experiencing severe sleep issues. He had been on some heavy drugs which were not appropriate for his age, to help with sleep. The doctor felt that they were running out of options but when I probed deeper, it transpired that he was severely bullied at school, and this had been happening for quite a long time.


Mum was present during this consultation and when I asked her if she knew about the bullying, she responded that she did, but didn’t want to get involved. She had wanted the boy to sort it out for himself. This is a tough-love perspective.


Of course, it would be amazing to see him develop more resilience, deal with the problem on his own and get past it. But the fact that he’d ended up coming to see me, indicated that that this had not been achieved. I made a point of saying (in front of this young person to the mother) that in my opinion, Mum needed to get into that school and sort out this bullying. The sleep issue wouldn’t resolved until the bullying stopped.


I could see this young person become wide-eyed and starting to smile at me because I he was finally hearing someone advocate for him when his parents had not.

A young person who is being victimised is already experiencing something tough, they don’t additionally need tough love. Instead, they need tea and sympathy so that we get to hear what’s going on. Help them to feel comfortable communicating and then start creating a problem-solving strategy.


  • When they are under pressure.

Exams, tests, and assessments can add tremendous pressure to a young person’s life. If there’s a chance for them to go to the best ballet school that exists and they have a raw natural talent to do it would we want them to have a breakdown to be able to achieve it? Hopefully, the answer is no. Sometimes teachers say to me, “That’s life. They’ve got to get used to these things” “They are going to have university exams in the future, they’re going to be harder than what they’re going through at the moment.”


I’m sure you’ve heard it said before that diamonds evolve under pressure because obviously, diamonds are a very precious element.


But the most expensive element on Earth is francium and that one is explosive. If you drop it into water, it will cause a massive explosion. The chemical symbol is Fr and it is #87 on the periodic table.


My point is that not everything that is valuable is cultivated under pressure, and not everything that is highly valuable, is useful in the same way. We certainly don’t want to put our young people under so much pressure, that they become explosive.


Equally, we don’t want to put them under so much pressure, that they feel precious as then they may not connect well with others.


So, what do we want for these young people? Is it more important that they potentially burn themselves out, and push themselves to the brink of a mental break? Or is it more important that they’re okay, and that they’re good people? It’s important to soften sometimes, but not to the point where you say, “No, you don’t need to do that exam” and allow them to opt-out of it, because that may not be appropriate either.


But you can soften with conversations such as “How can I best support you through this? What are other ways in which we can make life easier?”


Can you change the structure of their life so that they can cope with the things that they need to put their time and focus into? It’s not about giving them an escape route (unless that is the right thing to do). It’s about carving out an environment so that what they want and need to achieve can be done without unnecessary cost to other aspects of their life, such as their mental health.

By Gemma Bailey



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