A Ninja Parenting Tool For Dramatically More Calm And Productive Conversations With A Child Who’s Misusing Drugs or Alcohol, with Brenda Zane

Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
A Ninja Parenting Tool For Dramatically More Calm And Productive Conversations With A Child Who’s Misusing Drugs or Alcohol, with Brenda Zane

If you’ve found yourself walking on eggshells because the conversations you need to have with your son or daughter usually end up in a defensive showdown or a series of negotiations and mind-tricks, this is your episode.

We’ll cover a ninja-level parenting tool you can use to approach your son or daughter in a way that lowers their defenses, puts you in the driver’s seat, and actually helps conversations go more smoothly and productively.

You’ll learn what the acronym S.U.R.F. means and hear actual examples of how to use it in a conversation. It’s a short, snack-sized episode that you can listen to and start implementing into your relationship immediately. 

You’ll also get 5 practical tips on setting yourself up for the best possible success using the S.U.R.F. tool to save you from some of the common pitfalls parents land in.


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[00:00:00] Brenda: Welcome to HopeStream, the podcast for parents of kids who are misusing drugs or alcohol, or who are in active addiction, treatment, or early recovery. I’m your host, Brenda Zane, fellow parent to a child who struggled. So I’m right there with you. If you’re enjoying the podcast and want to hang out with me and a bunch of other great moms after the episodes, you can check out the stream. 

It’s a positive online space where you can get support and take a breather from the stresses of dealing with your son or daughter. Just go to the stream community. com to learn more. Now let’s get into today’s episode. Hey friends, I’m so glad to have you back today and listening in doing the work. 

You’re so amazing for continuing to show up, continuing to learn. I know it is not always what you want to do. This probably isn’t the number one podcast you want to be listening to. There’s like really exciting, I don’t know, like real world crime stuff and mysteries, probably more fun stuff, But I just want to recognize you for showing up here for listening in and doing the work that really benefits your son or daughter, but also a lot of other people. 

And today’s episode is one of those that will give you another tool for that toolbox. of all of these amazing skills that you’re building that really does benefit not just your son or daughter who might be struggling with substances, but with anyone in your life who you are wanting to improve communications with. 

It is simple, but I will say like much of what we talk about here on HopeStream, it doesn’t necessarily come naturally, and you do have to work on it just a bit. But the good news is when you get it and you start communicating in this way, it is very, very effective. And not just with our kids again, but with anyone that you interact with, where you’re just feeling stuck and like you want to improve your conversations. 

You can remember the little tool that we’ll talk about using the acronym SURF, and that stands for Specific Understanding Responsibility And feelings, and I will talk about each one of those and give an example so that you can see how to use this really powerful way of connecting with people. 

And then we’ll talk about some other tips and tricks on actually implementing it. And I should say too, before we jump in, that you don’t have to use the letters of this acronym in order. I know for some acronyms you do, you don’t have to for this. All you have to do is just remember SURF, remember S U R F, they’re all just ingredients basically that you’re using to mix into your conversation, wherever they fit best. 

So that’ll all start to make sense in just a minute. First off, the S in SURF stands for specific. So to the very best of your ability, don’t be vague. Don’t hint at what you want. Don’t assume that your son or daughter knows what you want or what you’re expecting of them. Vagueness is really easy to ignore and to challenge. 

And if you’re not very specific, it just opens the door for misinterpretation and negotiation. And as we know, our kids are master negotiators. We in the stream. We have this running joke that if we could somehow get all of our kids together and use all of their negotiation skills for positive cause, they would all be billionaires and be able to repay us for all of the money we’ve invested in them because they are truly masters at this. 

So be very specific about your ask or request and limit the conversation to one topic versus a bunch at the same time. I’d like you to apply for three jobs this week. Is way more easily understood than I’m sick of you laying around all day. You need to get it together. Or I want you to call me if you don’t have anyone sober to drive is more actionable than. 

I want you to be responsible and act your age, because you can imagine if you say that, I want you to be responsible and act your age, your daughter is probably going to come back with something like, are you saying I’m not responsible? And then she’ll give you four examples of how she has been responsible in the last week. 

And then you’re debating her actions in the last week and whether you think they’re responsible or not. Or to what degree you think they’re responsible. And then she’ll argue that her three friends who are also her age are way less responsible. And there you go. You are in a power struggle over what you and she believe demonstrates responsible behavior, not helpful, not productive. 

And it usually ends with somebody slamming a door. But what if you’re feeling lots of emotions? And you really don’t know what you want, you will need to just take some time to think about what would show positive progress, what would be something specific and tangible that they could do to demonstrate progress. 

To you, I’d also recommend starting with some small specific actions. Don’t start with huge things like get a job. If that’s the end goal, come up with two or three steps that they can take to accomplish to get it. to the actual job. So just think about a few small milestones for this week or next week, or whenever you’re going to start using this, that you can communicate succinctly versus just saying how fed up or frustrated or disappointed you are. 

The U in SERV stands for understanding. In your conversation, you’re going to offer a statement of understanding, which It can help reduce their defensiveness. It allows them to disarm and actually hear what you’re saying, rather than always being on the defense and in their mind, while you’re talking, they’re coming up with what they’re going to say to refute you. 

And I am sure you’ve heard more than one time, mom or dad, you just don’t understand. You don’t have a clue what I’m going through. And you know what? We don’t, we haven’t lived their experience. Or anybody else’s. And so even if we have been through really hard things, which I’m guessing most of you have, telling them that just isn’t going to make them feel any better. 

Saying that we don’t know and offering some understanding for what they’re going through, though, can be super powerful. It just lets them know that you’re not trying to approach the conversation from where they are. You’re still standing in your shoes, not in theirs. And so you just get that off the table immediately. 

that could sound like, Yeah, I can see how you’d think that, or how you’d feel that. Or, it must be a big adjustment coming home from treatment. Or, wow, I never had to deal with that. I can’t imagine having to cope with this. So those could be magical words to just bring down the defenses and to help move that conversation into a more positive and genuine direction. 

Then the R in SURF stands for responsibility. Now, this is where it can get hard, taking some amount of responsibility. even when you don’t necessarily think you have any to take. But the truth is, if we look hard enough, we can almost always find a place where we can take a little bit of responsibility for what’s going on with the situation at hand. 

And it’s important to say here that You are not playing the martyr. You’re not taking full responsibility and placing all of this on your shoulders. You’re just looking for a place where you can acknowledge your actions or your way of being and share that with them in a genuine way. You do this because if you share in the problem, your son or daughter is more likely to see you as wanting to solve a problem together, rather than blame the problem on them, and this adds an element of collaboration. 

And so they start to see you as human. They start to see that you are capable of making mistakes just like they do. And it’s less alienating for them. So that might sound like. I could have done that better, or I’ve been learning a lot from my therapist or my coach about how I can be better at parenting, or I don’t always get it right. 

So those things break down some of those hard barriers you can envision them standing with their hand up. including some of these can just start to open a dialogue rather than a debate. The F in SURF stands for feelings. So another ingredient in the SURF recipe is describing the emotional impact something is having on you, but not doing it in a highly emotional way. 

And we will talk about that in a minute, but a good rule of thumb is to take the word you out of the sentence when you’re trying to have a respectful, productive conversation, especially when that someone is your child. So giving your feelings labels just helps your child know what the real issues are. 

I worry about what’s happening when you’re not home by midnight is way more helpful in having them understand what’s going on versus you’re always late. Don’t you know your curfew is 12 o’clock? So that’s a really emotionally charged statement versus that I worry about what’s happening when you’re not home by midnight, because that’s the truth, right? 

You are worried about what’s happening. So you’re sharing that statement of feelings. So if you say, You’re always late. Don’t you know your curfew is at 12 o’clock? What are you going to get back if you start there? I know that’s the really easy thing that rolls off our tongue, especially if it’s one or two o’clock in the morning, but rephrasing those words to just clearly state how you’re feeling is something that they can’t argue with. 

They could say they don’t think that you should feel that way. But they can’t tell you that you’re not feeling it. A few other examples of sharing your feelings would be things like, it scares me when I think of you hurting yourself or someone else, instead of saying, if you drive after you take Xanax, you could easily kill someone or. 

It’s really encouraging to see you getting up earlier instead of saying with a sarcastic voice, why are you up so early? So remember what I said at the beginning, you don’t need to use all of these letters in order. You just need to mix them in to the conversation. So here’s an example of what that could sound like when you put it all together. 

Hey, Kyle. You have been home for treatment for two weeks now, which is so great. And I can imagine it might feel a little overwhelming to know where to start with everything. I realize that I’ve been nagging you for the past few days about applying for school and probably a lot of other things. And I’ve honestly been really stressed out about work and I’m just not at my best and I haven’t been sleeping very well. 

It would really help me not to feel so anxious if you picked up the school application by Friday. And if you want, I’m happy to help you fill it out over the weekend. the serve statements in there were, I can imagine it might feel overwhelming to know where to start, so that shows the you, the understanding, I’ve been nagging you the past few days, are taking responsibility, help me not feel so anxious, is the F, the feelings, and pick up the application by Friday, is the specific thing that I want. 

My son to do now, you might be saying, yeah, that sounds great, Brenda, but I would never ever think about all of that when I get into it with my son or daughter and you’re right, you won’t, you won’t just automatically start constructing your conversations and mixing these pieces in unless you practice it. 

So here are five ideas and tips to get started with how you can. Incorporate surf into your conversations. One is literally practice on a friend, a partner, a spouse. Maybe you have another child or another family member who isn’t using substances. So you can get used to putting all four of these elements together in a setting. 

That’s just a lot less emotionally charged. And with somebody who probably has a little bit more consistency and predictability than your child who might be using substances. And actually it’s fun to do this secretly because the other person doesn’t know what you’re doing and they’re really surprised sometimes at your approach and they’re often very surprised at how much less confrontation there is and how much more quickly things can get resolved. 

So that’s number one, literally practice. Number two is don’t try this when you’re tired, when you’re hungry, when you’re frazzled. After you’ve done your practicing. Wait until you’re in a good place and be sure that your son or daughter is also in a relatively good place. So don’t try this if they’re under the influence of anything. 

I would highly recommend not trying it at two o’clock in the morning. Just wait until the timing is right and you might have to wait a little while. But when you do use it, you want to be setting yourself up for the best possible scenario. Number three is start small. Just start small. Start with a low emotion subject. 

So if you are now, you’ve been practicing, you aren’t tired, you’re not hungry, you’re not frazzled, you’re in a pretty good space, your son or daughter’s in a good space. Maybe you just have this conversation about getting them out to walk the dog or to put the dishes in the dishwasher. Or whatever something is that’s not related to substance use. 

It’s not related to anything like getting a job or applying for school or following up with court paperwork. Just find a topic with as little emotion connected to it as possible and start there. If you jump into a prickly topic, you might not get the best results and then you might get discouraged and not want to keep trying. 

And that’s a very real thing. Another little tip here with this one is to start with a little bit more control and use it in a texting situation. So a lot of times our kids don’t even really talk to us very much. So if you are having a text interaction, it’s actually a great way to practice this because you can work in all of the elements. 

You have a little bit of time to construct the message, and then you can also be really thoughtful about your response. So that’s a pro tip. Think about using this in text. Number four is to be genuine in what you say. Kids can sniff out when we are trying to be fake or if we’re trying to manipulate them. 

So make sure that your body language is mirroring what you’re saying. If you’re saying that you understand and you’re taking some responsibility for this, but you’re using a sarcastic tone of voice or you’re being passive aggressive. If your arms are crossed or you’re scowling or if you’re being wishy washy and unsure and dismissive, it’s not going to come across right and the whole thing might just blow up in your face, but that’s okay. 

You can start again. And number five is just know you’re not going to get it perfect and don’t worry about it. Maybe you only get in two of the four. pieces and that’s okay. It will become more natural over time. And as you start doing it more, it’s going to make a lot more sense to you. And good news. I have put in the show notes for this episode, a PDF download that you can grab. 

It’s totally free. You don’t even have to leave your email address. If You can download it. It’s got each of the letters and it’s got an example of how to use each of those. So if you want that, go to the show notes at Brenda Zane. com forward slash podcast, and you can scroll to episode number 73. Okay. So quick review of the SURF acronym is. 

S specific. U is for understanding. R for taking responsibility. And F for communicating your feelings. And good news for those of you who are in the stream, or for those of you who are thinking about joining, we are going to be having a workshop on this, on communication skills, and really working through the surf. 

acronym and how to use that in real world scenarios in September. So be sure to get in on that. we do workshops like this to give you a chance to just practice and to talk with other moms who are also Using these skills and how they do it. We all learn from each other. It’s pretty awesome. We would love to have you with us there. 

If you want, you can just go to the stream community. com that will give you all the details. You can get signed up and join us. And as always, the first two weeks are free. You just hang out with us. You can go to the workshop. You can learn, you can get some support, come to some events. Have coffee with us on a Saturday morning via zoom. 

And then if you’re getting benefit from it, you just hang around, you pay whatever you can each month or annually. We offer the membership in the stream on a pay what you can model. And why that is, is because we don’t want. Any mom out there to not be able to get the support she needs because of finances. 

So it is pay what you can, you’ll see options on the website. If none of those work for you, you just shoot an email. There’s a link and let us know what you can pay and then you’re in. So Super easy, done deal. No need to stress out about that. I would love to see you there. If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to download my ebook called Hindsight, Three Things I Wish I Knew When My Son Was Misusing Drugs. 

It’s just really insightful. It’s about 18 ish, I think, pages and will give you some really good things to think about and things that you might not be aware of. Some Tools to try additional tools for your tool belt. And you can get that at brendazane. com forward slash hindsight. So check that out. You can also get on my email list, brendazane. 

com forward slash email, and you’ll just get an email from me every Wednesday with some inspiration, some thoughts, and it’s a very simple way to stay in touch in addition to that. the podcast. And of course, the community is where we all hang out after the episodes. I thank you so much for being here today. 

I look forward to meeting you right back here next week.

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