I like to think of children’s challenging behavior as a form of communication. It’s their way of saying “Mom, I’m hurting right now and the feelings inside my body are too big to keep inside.” I regularly find myself meeting with moms who perceive their children’s most difficult behaviors as a reflection of their parenting abilities. As you said, Hello Mom Guilt! In my practice, I ask moms to consider another perspective, “My child’s behavior is not a measure of my parenting abilities but a way for them to show me their inner most and challenging emotional experiences.” When moms can operate from this framework, they are more likely to be able to tolerate, empathize with and validate their children’s big emotions leading to feelings of connection for all. Reading this article, thinking about strategies, and questioning yourself is evidence alone that you are a mom who cares deeply about your child. That will always be enough!
How can we as parents disconnect ourselves from the behavior we see happening and keep the day moving without meltdowns?
I think there are a couple key steps here. First, talk to your child proactively about emotions but specifically uncomfortable ones which may present throughout the day. Give your child a preview of parts of the day which may be challenging letting them know you understand and you will be there to support them. Things are not nearly as scary when we are prepared for them with a plan in place. Secondly, check in with yourself during the hard moments and notice if mom guilt is showing up. Next, search for the WHY? behind their behavior. When they are acting out, PAUSE and BREATHE. Then, ask yourself “Why is my child acting out?” “What emotion may my child be experiencing that is causing them to act in this way?” For a youngster, they may be feeling self doubt in e-learning or disappointment missing their dance class. When we pause, we are more likely to interpret their behavior with understanding and generosity and respond in a way that builds connection. Lastly, I would say, let the little stuff go whenever possible! Unless the behavior poses physical or emotional danger, it may be easier to let it go and move on.
Can you give advice on talking to children about the big feelings they may be having? I find that my children immediately go on the defense when I ask how they are feeling- is there a sneaky way to go about it?
Validate! Validate! Validate! This can mean different things based on different developmental ages and personalities. If your kids do not express their feeling, simply guess how you think they may be feeling and validate it. This may look a little something like this, “Jamie, I saw you ripped up your notebook and threw it on the ground. You are really feeling super mad. I get it- you aren’t going to school, seeing grandma, and you cant even go to the park. There are so many changes recently. Of course you feel this way!” I find a parent’s guess as to why their child is struggling is typically correct. Try to ignore urges to change or “fix” the feeling by asking your child to look on the bright side -that will come later. Giving children permission to experience their feelings can be extremely powerful and may allow your child to problem solve and take a new perspective when they are calm.
Now, for the sneaky ways- give young kids an opportunity to ‘play out’ what they may be experiencing. You can provide directives such as “let’s use the legos to build a world of what home feels like these days” or “let’s each draw how we’re feeling today.” Kids use play to communicate so join in whenever you can.
Use humor whenever possible. Humor brings a lightheartedness to tough topics and makes children more likely to open up and share. Don’t underestimate this one!
E-learning is extremely challenging for Elementary students. I think even more so than any other age. They aren’t to the point of working independently yet like they may be by 6th grade, but they’re also too old for many of the pre-school activities they would be able to do on their own- which leads to boredom. Do you have advice on how to continued learn while home, but without so much resistance?
This topic has come up in 90 percent of my recent sessions with parents. My advice would be to really focus on finding things your child is doing well with regards to e learning and academics. Praise them whenever possible. E learning is new for everyone and no one knows exactly how to do it successfully. Don’t sacrifice connection with your child for school work! This may mean some days less work is done than others and that’s OK!
In regards to practical strategies, give lots of movement breaks, position the hardest task first when possible – it will help your child feel accomplished, and use sticker or points charts which highlight effort vs outcomes (I.E. earn a sticker for X minutes of continued focus). Kids are used to benchmarks like Dojo or clip system, in school, so replicate that when you can.
You work with children navigating a number of different learning disorders such as ADHD along with anxiety and depression. These all add an additional layer of stress during the stay at home order. What advice would you give parents in these situations?
Some of the same strategies I listed above will be helpful for kids with ADHD. In addition, engage your child in a conversation about their specific learning style- Do they learn best when information is presented on the board? When they hear it from the teacher? Do they benefit from checklists or worksheets? They may not know and if that’s the case, that’s ok, do experiments to find out.
For the particularly anxious and sad kiddos, watch for behavior changes. Try to validate their feelings whenever possible. Take a pause before you talk to them and check in with yourself to ensure you aren’t transmitting your own anxious thoughts onto them. Give them fact based information about the scary stuff. When we do, we control the narrative and the way they process the experience. There is nothing scarier for a child then being alone in their worried thoughts. A good rule of thumb – if your child is asking the question, they have already been thinking about the topic for awhile.
Taking care of ourselves as parents while working, teaching, exercising, and many days spending 100% of our time together is tough! Self care is more important than ever, yet we’re forced to find way to do this mostly from home. Where does therapy come in and is it possible at this time?
You said it!!! Parents are being asked to take on so many new roles and ALL of this is happening at once. Self care is critical at this time. This looks different for everyone. For some, it’s alone time (who even remembers what that is!) and for others its physical activity. Therapy can be a terrific act of self-care! The majority of clinicians, myself included, are offering Telehealth. Clients log into a HIPPA compliant platform and we meet virtually. If you have an internet connection that can support something like Netflix, then we should be able to engage. Sessions usually last about 50 mins and take place once a week. Here are some of the items someone can address via teletherapy: general stress related to Covid-19, anxiety, depression, relational issues like marriage and parenting. Therapy can be a great place to vent as well as develop meaningful action plans for coping with stress. The need for parent work is higher than ever now that parents are being forced to wear many hats. No problem is too small for therapy and there’s no better time to engage then now. If you want to show up for your kids, you have to show up for yourself first. Kids and teens can also benefit from Telehealth during this time. Therapy is a great space for them to process the many changes and losses they are experiencing.
I’m happy to answer any additional questions about therapy! I can be reached at [email protected] or @therapywitharielle on Facebook and Instagram.