When I started my study as psychotherapist, I was a young mother of two boys, reading assiduously to understand how things goes with babies, later with toddlers and now with teens. I knew that information can ease my life and it really did. More than that, my intentions were - and still are - to share all this knowledge so that us, as parents, are able to focus on the bright side of being a parent and not on the hardships. And this is a challenge we encounter every day.
The first discovery I did is that it all begins with me, as a parent.Because parenting has a lot to do with the influence that our own parents and the culture we lived in had on us, starting to asses our "legacy" is the first step. In the process of discovering who we really are, it is important to take away any pressure of wanting to be the perfect parent simply because there is not such a thing. The idea is more about discovering what we unconsciously took from our parents and are giving forward without questioning it.
I COULDN'T REMEMBER MUCH IN THE BEGINNING, BUT WHAT HELPED WAS TO LOOK AT PHOTOS FROM MY CHILDHOOD TIME AND BRING BACK MEMORIES
When in front of your photos, ask yourself what were you thinking and feeling as child? Who gave you love and attention? Did you miss something as child? What unmet wishes did you have? What did you wish that your parents gave you, but never did?
One of the hardest things to do is to focus on my child as individual, not as someone I have a right upon. Yes, I have the responsibility of creating a person, but that person is not me and shouldn't be my ideal self.
SOME OF THE MISTAKES I DID IN THE BEGINNING WAS TO FOCUS ON WHAT MY CHILDREN ARE NOT, INSTEAD OF ON WHAT THEY ARE
Now I try to show them options for what they could become, follow their tempo and support them where they need help. I know that I cannot "fly" for them, just as baby birds leave their nest learning to fly themselves. But what I do is to offer unconditional support, I can be there to catch them when they fall.
BEYOND BASIC NEEDS LIKE SHELTER, FOOD, CLOTHING, KIDS NEED US TO UNDERSTAND THEIR OWN WORTH
They need our allowance for them to be who they are. They need our accepting presence connecting with their authenticity. When we make time to connect with our kids, we build a trustful and positive relationship with them and this will be useful when they grow, and our influence will become less and less. Then, only through a good relationship can we be part of their inner world and support their needs.
I think you all agree that kids are often masters in triggering the worst in us. After many frustrations and sad moments, I understood that the strategy is not to focus on them doing this, but on me, on knowing my vulnerabilities and remediating them. If we cannot contain anger, how can we expect from kids to do it? Or if we don't connect to our emotional world, how to teach them about emotions?
THIS IS WHY I VERY EARLY UNDERSTOOD THAT EMOTIONAL COACHING IS ON TOP OF THE LIST FOR A PARENT TO MANAGE
Understanding emotions, knowing to express but also to regulate them is very important for both parents and kids. In my practice I see adults who have the perception that they cannot deal with difficult situations because as children, they were "spared" of doing so. In my understanding, if kids understand that negative emotions like sadness, anxiety, anger are also part of life, they will be better prepared for an uncertain future. Just take a look at children literature and you will see that it is filled with young heroes overcoming obstacles and fears.
TEACH YOURSELF AND YOUR KIDS COMMUNICATION AND ACTIVE LISTENING SKILLS
This way you ensure that your message comes across as you meant it and also that you have the patience to listen carefully to your child and understand them before making judgements. Learn the basics of conflict management and de-escalation skills to be prepared for solving conflicts constructively. It will spare you from saying things you don't want and will help you to solve conflicts by finding constructive solutions. And don't worry if it’s not always working, because the dynamics of a relationship is so complex, we can constantly improve on that. Instead use reflecting to understand what worked and what didn’t work.
ALWAYS TRY TO INVOLVE KIDS IN FINDING SOLUTIONS
Many kids suffering from anxiety or depression lack the ability to solve their problems. On the contrary, developing in young age problem solving skills will help them take responsibility and see themselves as a mean for action. A very simple technic is to make a mind map with the problem in the middle and together to brainstorm for solutions. Anticipating consequences for each solution will lead to choosing the most appropriate one. If it’s working, celebrate the success, if not, stop, look, correct and try again.
TEACH YOUR KIDS TO ACCEPT THEIR FEARS AND GO AHEAD AND DO THINGS
This way they become doers, not avoiders. There is no guarantee that they will always succeed, but if they learn that the pain of failing is part of life, too they will be more courageous and will not stay stuck in situations because they don't want to suffer.
The list is not ending here. These are some of the essentials a parent should know- as I see from my experience as parent and psychotherapist. The good news is that free information is available, so it is easier to learn new skills and new tools. As for myself, I am far from being a perfect parent, but looking back to where I was, I am proud I have made many progresses, I learned a lot about how to overcome moments of frustration, anger and disappointment and most of it is because I feel good about myself, I'm aware of my limits and I know I am resourceful.
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