Listening to our children moaning that they are bored, we can challenge them to reflect using the three basic skills, perhaps they will find a solution for themselves that will enable them and us all to thrive in these challenging circumstances. | Reuters/Tim Shaffer


Throughout my many years of working with young people and their parents the question of surviving verses thriving often comes up. At one level it is a philosophical question as to whether we as human being ‘deserve’ to thrive or whether simply surviving should suffice. Here I nail my colours to the mast and say I firmly believe all people are entitled to the opportunity to thrive. Maybe that’s a rub in the lockdown – we are all being curtailed. Things we loved to do are not possible, exercising outdoors, enjoying the sun on a beach, running in parks with the kids.

Financial concerns threaten the very survival of our businesses; the food we put on the table and to talk about anything more than survival at the moment may seem trivial. But I believe we have this amazing capacity to look anew on challenging circumstances and indeed thrive and much of the work I do with young people is about ‘visiting the dark spaces’ and shining the light on them. So today I thought I would write a bit about the training that I offer to young people and how it can also help adults too. The language may be simplified for adolescents but the processes are the same for parents – as a family if we embrace these tools, we can turn the light onto the darker spaces – including CoVid 19, money worries and health concerns and equip our children to embrace the uncertain with a useful set of tools that may help.

I am trained in Acceptance and Commitment therapy/training, (ACT), this type of training or therapy combines behavioural techniques with mindfulness meditation so it is right up my street. It doesn’t linger on our past, trying to understand why, it simply looks at the present and asks, ‘is this behaviour working for you?’. You can see how this approach is useful for all types of addictions, school phobia, bullying, even schizophrenia – the research is extensive and peer reviewed, showing that for many people this type of therapy leads them to more fulfilling lives. As parents, almost all of us when asked the question of what we want for our children – the answer is to be ‘happy’. ACT principles can be used in the home and at school to help young people thrive rather than just survive.

ACT is a method to increase our psychological flexibility – so on lockdown for example, we may rigidly stick to the things that we used to do and focus on what we are not allowed to do for the time being. It’s ok to reflect on this of course, but it may not be helpful to stick with that – the answer to ‘how’s that working out for you’ may well be – ‘not well, I’m pretty miserable’. So applying some of the practical tools available in adolescent training may help the whole family. Here it goes.

The work of Louise L Hayes and Joseph Ciarrochi has led to a very workable set of tried and tested skills that have helped many young people. Talking with your children in this way may be a way forward especially in times of crisis.

Hayes and Ciarroci have developed three basic skills they refer to as DNA – like the building blocks of our life, these skills run through us and enable us to behave in certain ways. D is the Discoverer in us; N – the noticer and A the advisor. I will start with the advisor, the one that most of us are probably most easily aware of.

  • One of my trainers described the Advisor as ‘Sally FM’ – it’s the almost continual voice that we hear in our heads telling us what to do, what not to do, how to do it etc…. It is helpful to remove the voice from our head and place it as a character on our shoulder, or in Sally’s case think of it as the radio blaring in the background. The advisor is neither good nor bad – but it does use past experience to let us know what is possible or impossible. It can often contain ‘shoulds and musts’. We need to listen carefully for these. For those of us with limiting beliefs we can take the advisors suggestion too literally. “You can’t even go out for a run this week, you are unfit and unhealthy”. This kind of self-talk may well be true in the first part but the assumption may well be incorrect – enter the Noticer.
  • The Noticer is the fictional character that shifts down into the body and really notices how we feel – in this last example – “well no actually, it is true I cannot go out for a run, but I am not unfit or unhealthy” – when we notice this we open the door for the discoverer.
  • The Discover sets eagerly to work with ideas for other ways to exercise during the lockdown. The discoverer may add interesting twists – like filming it and posting on social media; some family with cancelled ski trips have posted mock mountains in their lounge, postponed camping trips turned to tents erected and torches out in the dining room!

By consciously shifting between these three interacting skills we can start to disentangle ourselves from the ‘shoulds and the musts’. We can stay present in this situation on this day in this moment and be open to discoverer options, give them a try. Listening to our children moaning that they are bored, we can challenge them to reflect using the three basic skills, perhaps they will find a solution for themselves that will enable them and us all to thrive in these challenging circumstances. This is a very simplified version of ACT training or therapy but it works! It allows us to move from rigid thinking and habit to new discoveries that will see us through. It’s in our DNA to survive and thrive. We are amazingly resilient and creative.

Reference: The Thriving Adolescent – Louise l Hayes and Joseph Ciarrochi 2015 Raincoast Books.