A year ago, 13-year-old Abby and her mother, Sarah, were in a heartbreaking situation. Things were chaotic at home: there was domestic violence and Abby’s father abused alcohol. Sarah decided enough was enough and left her husband. The year of change that followed—finding a new place to live, working long hours to make ends meet—left Sarah emotionally drained with little time for her daughter. Abby started getting in trouble at school and was suspended multiple times for her defiant behavior. Sarah was too exhausted to understand what was going on with Abby and felt like she didn’t know how to help or parent her. But she knew something needed to be done.

Sarah reached out to ACH for help for her and her daughter. ACH proposed counseling, and Sarah decided to give it a try. At the first session, mother and daughter agreed they wanted an improved relationship and an improvement with her behavior at school. Sarah had no idea how to help and doubted her daughter would improve. Their counselor was encouraging, however, and focused on strengths and little successes. Slowly, Abby started to improve in school: Sarah was no longer getting daily calls from the school, and Abby had not been suspended in over a month.

Then, Abby was suspended for talking back to the teacher. Sarah immediately grounded Abby and talked sternly to her. At the session after the suspension, Sarah expressed to the counselor she knew Abby couldn’t keep up the good behavior. The counselor explored what happened and why Abby talked back to the teacher. Abby expressed that she had a bad day; her boyfriend broke up with her and she was sad about it. The counselor validated Abby’s emotions and explained to Sarah that sometimes people react negatively when experiencing sadness or feeling stressed. The counselor encouraged Sarah to be compassionate and understanding of her daughter’s behavior instead of quickly reacting in a harsh manner with punishments or being judgmental. Sarah expressed she did not even know Abby had a boyfriend and now understood her feelings of sadness.

Slowly, they began to make more progress. Sarah started to listen and ask questions before judging her daughter’s behaviors. Abby started to feel more trust with her mother and was able to talk to her mother about her feelings and daily life struggles. Sarah also learned how to say “yes” more to Abby, such as letting friends come over, when appropriate, instead of focusing on “no” or just the negative behaviors. Abby continued to do better in school, respecting teachers and focusing on her grades. At times, Abby was late for classes, but Sarah’s reaction was one of understanding. The family closed their counseling with a renewed faith in each other, better communication and an overall better relationship.

This holiday season, when you are feeling rushed or stressed about gifts, parties, work or other stressors, take some time to reflect how you are communicating with the ones you love. Are you listening to them, trying to understand their behaviors or do you judge too harshly? The best gift we can give those we love is time, patience, compassion and understanding. Think of someone you love and show them how much they mean to you.

For more information about our counseling program, click on this link or call 817-335-4673.