Focus on the 90

One of the first questions I ask parents to do when they sit down with their son in my office is, “tell me about what your son does well.”  Most of the time, this catches them off guard.  They struggle at first and then have many great things to share with me about their son. 

As they talk, I watch the look on their son’s face.  While many get embarrassed, I often suspect that they don’t hear this enough. I believe that the majority of parents bring their sons to see me because of the 10% of things that they are struggling with.  While it is only 10%, parents spend 90% of their time and energy focusing on it.  In the initial session, while I spend time getting to know their son, it is obvious to me that they almost always have more good things going for them than not.  I try to make it a practice to focus more on their strengths than their weaknesses. The therapeutic approach to this is called the Strengths Perspective.  It is fascinating to see how boys respond when I get excited and praise them for their successes.  In today’s society, teenage boys get very little acknowledgement from their parents, teachers, and peers for the gifts, talents and strengths they posses. 

This is especially evident when I ask boys questions like:q  Tell me what you like about yourself?

  • What are you good at?
  • What special gifts and talents do you have?
  • What has you stand out from your peers?

Here is an exercise I highly recommend to parents that can bring about a significant change in your son if you do it two to three times per week:Your job is to say “What I like about you is…” or “What I love about you is…” and fill in the blank with one or many words that describe what you like or love about them. It could be one of their physical traits, personality traits, etc.  After you say it one time, do it again and again (filling in new words) for 3 minutes.  Your son’s job is to remain silent and just take it in.  If you run out of things to say, you can say, “What I love about you is EVERYTHING.” 

Here is how it might look:

  • What I love about you is how funny you are
  • What I like about you is how nice you are to your sisters
  • What I love about you is how hard you studied for you math final
  • What I love about you is EVERYTHING
  • What I like about you is how well you dress

When you are done, tell your son that he can respond by saying “Thank you” or even “You are very perceptive”.  At first, your son may shy away from this. Keep in mind that he is probably not used to being showered with compliments. However, over time you will find that your son will begin to enjoy it. He may even reciprocate and tell you what he likes/loves about you. Give it a try!

Michael L. Stoller