When I talk with parents who seek help to address the challenges they face raising their children - whether or not they have a developmental challenge or disability - parents across every culture and socioeconomic group all want the same thing: to know that their children will be okay. We are essentially parenting children, but we're raising ADULTS. Not just any adults! Adults who used to be our children! These little people matter to us more than we can say and so it's completely understandable that we struggle to make sense of the chaotic feelings of distress, worry, and self-doubt.
It's not always possible for every parent to rely on the parenting they received as children in order to make choices in how they parent their children today. And even if they received exemplary parenting - felt truly loved and connected to their caregivers - there are so many other factors and technological developments in the world today that feel strange and unfamiliar and we don't feel equipped with the tools to manage them all.
When we feel overwhelmed it's really important to come back to "what we really want" - that our children will be "okay" (likely you're wanting better than just "okay", but, sometimes "okay" is good enough to hope for!). At times like this, it's important to learn to "stay calm" (see yesterday's post for more on this!) and take the next right step. What might that be? For some parents that might be taking time to meditate, journal, reflect, go for a walk. For others it might be re-reading those most excellent books on parenting (recommendations for those in upcoming posts!). For still others, it might be enrolling in a parenting workshop or working with a therapist to try to make sense of the best way forward for you and your children. We're all unique and how we resolve this most important challenge will be unique as well.
So, stay calm and take the next right step for YOU!
When was the last time you looked at your child and saw them...? Really saw them for who they are?
Let's try this: Think of the first time you saw your child. Maybe it was the moment they were born, or sometime soon after. I remember the first time I saw my daughter. She was wrapped in pink with a pink wool tuque. I had been knocked out for an emergency c-section and was a little slow to "come to" after the anesthetic. We had both already been moved back to our hospital room before I opened my eyes to see her. It was magic! I got to hold her soon after and I remember absorbing every detail of her face. If I were an artist, I would be able to draw every detail even now, over two decades later.
In that first moment, I certainly had not considered what she was feeling at the time, but if I were to guess, I would know she was calm and content and there was nothing for me to do but to hold her.
She's now in her 20's and I still see her every day, but, so often I realize that I am not really seeing her for who she is and what she is experiencing in that moment. This would require me to focus on the present moment and hold a deep sense of curiosity about her experience. Sometimes, to be frank, life with all its demands gets in the way of being able to be that focused and present in that moment.
Your challenge, if you choose to accept it: Try making a deliberate attempt to look at your child sometime today to actually see him or her and wonder what they are feeling and needing in that single moment. Stay calm, open and curious and just see what you see.
One of the biggest challenges many parents face when caring for children with difficulties regulating their attention, emotions, moods and behaviours is regulating their own emotions when their child loses control. It feels almost impossible to stay calm when our children can't. The key word here is "can't" - as in they are not able to stay calm rather than not willing to. This distinction is key.
If we think our child CAN be calm but WON'T, we can only experience frustration and find ourselves in a trap, trying to motivate, nag, reward and cajole our kids to change their mood or behaviours. If, on the other hand, we understand that our child CAN'T be calm, we can begin to consider what underlying skills they need to learn in order to be calm and invest our time and efforts towards helping them develop needed skills.
It's often at this point that we're in a catch-22. For anyone to learn new skills, they need to be calm; but how do we go about teaching someone to calm down if they need to be calm in order to learn? That's where cultivating "Kyokan Connections" comes in.
If you've read "About" me and the business name, "Kyokan Connections", you'll know that "Kyokan" means "empathetic" (in Japanese). The cornerstone of my practice is empathy - offering it, teaching it and nurturing it in parents so that children can regulate their emotions as a foundation for much more learning and development. When parents are able to offer empathy to a child who is struggling to be "calm" - real empathy - the child will grow and develop more skills than the parent might imagine possible. And since it's hard to be empathetic and frustrated at the same time, staying calm is key.
If you're interested in learning to stay calm and learn to be empathic with your child when they're in distress, Click here to request a FREE PDF booklet to help you hack this important skill. If you're ready to take things further and help your child learn to stay calm and problem solve, click here to enroll in The Attuned Caregiver - Parent Workshop, (currently available as an individual 4-hour intensive training program for parents). Both resources will help you help you break down the process into smaller, manageable steps and offer empathy for growth and development - yours and your child's!