How You Can Help Your Child by Helping Yourself
With so much focus on CYP (child and young people) mental health post-pandemic, I am often asked by parents the best ways to help their child who is full of worry and uncertainty. It can be heartbreaking as a parent watching your child struggling with anxiety, overwhelm and loss.
As a parent you want to protect your child from anything that is harmful or may make them unhappy. We want to fix things for them. We want to make everything safe. From the minute they are here we are feeding, nurturing and protecting them.
But these past two years have taken their toll on parents as much as their children. Working from home, homeschooling, and isolation from their own support networks have hit parents hard. Sometimes at the expense of their own marriage or relationship.
Helping Your Child
Having spent many years working with children and young people in education there are certainly some things you can do to help them. For example:
- Check in with them everyday. Whether it’s a quick chat at bedtime or on the way home from school, take some time to ask your child how they are or how their day has been. It may sound an obvious thing to do, and you may not get much of a response sometimes, but at least you are showing your child that you are there when they do need someone to listen.
- Do something together. This could be engaging in sport or something creative. But the main thing is that you’re doing it together. It could be that you are both reading your own books but in the same space. That close proximity will help maintain a (verbal or non-verbal) connection.
- Don’t overload them. As much as it is important to check in with each other, or spend time together, sometimes children and young people need their own space too to process what is going on in their lives, or just to relax.
There are two reasons that I work in private practice with adults. Firstly, the trauma work I was doing with children and young people led me close to burnout.
The second reason, and the main one for working with parents or adults only, is that I realised that if the parent wasn’t supported it could make it difficult for the child to implement any changes.
Parents have the autonomy to make changes in a way that children don’t. So, if the parent is getting support for their own mental health and well-being, this will have a positive impact on the child and thus their relationship.
It can feel hard to prioritise yourself in this way. After all, as I said at the beginning, as parents it is all about the child and their well-being. But if we don’t look after ourselves, how will we have the resources to help them?
How Therapy Can Help
As parents, we are often the go-to for our children, other family, friends, work colleagues etc. Parents will often fill their cups to the brim and then wonder why feel anxious, overwhelmed and lost. (This may sound familiar, please see first paragraph)!
Therapy is a helpful way to empty those cups. A therapist is not part of your everyday life and so you can speak freely about your experiences, thoughts and struggles. By emptying your cup, you are creating space for your children, and showing them that when you are struggling, it is ok to ask for help.
One day they may ask for help from you, and you want to ensure you are in the best place possible to give them what they need.