Supporting a young person who isn't ready to change

I guess this article comes from the heart of working with many young people and children who have come to see me as a result of a parent being worried about them and desperately seeking a way to help and support them.


Most of the time, the young person is vested in making positive changes and is completely on board with being open to learning some skills and strategies to change some problematic issues, behaviours and emotions. They all come having given consent as I would never work with someone who hadn't, irrespective of age, yet variable levels of investment in themselves.

Sometimes the young person isn't ready to make changes. For whatever reason, there is a reason for them to be anxious, depressed, self-harming, self-medicating or avoiding places like school, socialising or any other of the many problems that I help people with. Sometimes they don't feel quite ready but are open, and with careful coaching, start seeing the benefits of the work that we do together and the reluctant participant becomes an eager participant.

And this isn't limited to young people, I frequently get calls from concerned family members and have even had a request to purchase vouchers for Christmas/birthday. This requires careful wording for it is usually done with the person's best interests at heart and for positive reasons. Occasionally, I see clients who are involved in controlling relationships, and this brings entirely different challenges to overcome.

So what do you do when you realise that someone you care deeply about is struggling and needs help but they either refuse it or resist the idea?

For parents, it can be utterly heartbreaking and can leave you feeling completely powerless as your beautiful child hits their version of a destruct button and there seems to be nothing that you can do about it. Every attempt to help or support is met by a steel wall, the quick exit back to their lair or a torrential outburst designed to send you scattering to the four corners of the earth ensuring that you will think twice before broaching the subject again anytime soon.

Or worse still, you are given false hope as they agree to seek help yet disengage with any of the ideas, strategies or support structures implemented that are all designed to help them out of the hole they are furtively digging themselves deeper into.

As a Mum of four and Nana to three, I know first-hand some of the difficulties faced when someone you love has hit the metaphorical destruct button. I think that most people, at some point in their life will go through a really troublesome time.

I also know, from my own mental health struggles in my younger years what it is like to desperately know that I need help but lack the ability to seek or implement it.

For many, it is about timing

For parents, you may have to ride the storm with your child until they are ready to head for the safety of the port, then have the courage to show them the way by leading them. You may feel that all is lost and that you will surely all drown, but know one thing - this time will pass. The one thing that you can pretty much guarantee is that things will change.

Young people experience phenomenal changes in their physiology right up until the age of 25, between the ages of 12-25 this change is more rapid than at any time since before they were born. It is no wonder that it can get a bit messy.

Think of a caterpillar and its journey to becoming a butterfly. As a caterpillar, it knows exactly what its purpose is, to eat and get plump, ready to metamorphose into a butterfly. But during the chrysalis stage, it turns into a gooey mess that has no definitive structure or purpose. Then it emerges as a beautiful butterfly, having transformed unrecognisably from its former state. I don't think humans go through such a visible physical structural change but change they do, and for some, it does get messy.

Be ready to just listen

If like me, you like fixing things, sorting things out, and finding a solution, then the art of just listening might prove to be a bit more difficult than it sounds. Active listening is a skill. For most of us, when we listen to someone else, we are usually relating what is being said to ourselves and often formulate a response before the person has even finished.

Sometimes we even jump ahead and predict or presume what the other person means. It might be that what is needed is for the young person to be heard. Without being judged, without you offering advice, your take on things or a solution. To sit with someone and truly listen, without placing your idealisms on the conversation takes an act of pure selflessness and it takes patience, tolerance and putting aside your own needs. Active listening means focusing and paying attention solely to what the other person is saying.

Lead them, don't just tell them

As parents, we frequently step into parent mode and tell our children what they need to be doing rather than guiding them. I liken it to walking hand in hand with them on a journey with an uncertain destination rather than standing at the end of the road and pointing in the direction of a destination and telling them what directions they need to follow. You've probably lost them at the first 'go left.'

Understand that an adult brain thinks differently from a child’s brain. Your child is unlikely to see the world the same way that you do for many reasons. In the world of NLP, this is called 'map and territory.' Each individual has their own map of the world as they see it, to them it is accurate. Each individual map collectively makes up the territory, your map is your map and nobody is disputing it, but it isn't the territory.

From the work I have done, the major differences in map and territory differences have been about values, perspective and cause and effect. 

Perspectives differ

What you might see as incredibly important may be of little consequence to your toddler or teen or anywhere in between. 

Five years in my life is only 10%. Five years in a 15-year-old is 33%. Perspectives differ. As an adult, I believe that it is your responsibility to be more flexible in your thinking than your child is stuck.

Imagine being a river that comes across an obstacle. What does a river do? It usually finds the easiest way around the obstacle or gently erodes the obstacle over time. What it doesn't do is stand its ground and insist that its' way is the right way.

Offer the possibility of another way

If you do find yourself in the unenviable position of having someone that you love be in a tricky place and not open to changing, sow a seed. If you can plant a seed of possibility and allow it to grow at its own pace, nurturing it, and caring for it, then there is a good chance that the seed will grow, become strong and eventually blossom. In my experience, patience, understanding and acceptance are the key factors required to allow a seed to grow. Smothering the seed will only serve to suffocate it and it is unlikely to grow. 

If you would like to talk to me about what your young person is going through then please get in touch. I offer a no-obligation 20-minute chat and if I feel that my approach isn’t the best then I will do my best to signpost you in the right direction.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 3BN
Written by Nikki Emerton
Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 3BN

I’m Nikki, a recovered perfectionist, still a bit of an over-achiever, slightly introverted lover of running, the outdoors, wild swimming & good food - not all at the same time of course!

I use a several modalities, including coaching, NLP, IEMT, CBT & Somatic work. Helping people achieve positive changes so that they can live life to the fullest.

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