Do my kids know I love them? Should I tell my children everyday that I love them? Is it enough to give them hugs and kisses or should I be doing more to show my love? What else can I do to connect emotionally to my kids? These are just some of the numerous questions I get asked by parents. If you’ve asked these questions, or ones along the same lines, you are not alone! While there are many parenting books, there is not one way to parent a child. Children are unique, and therefore, need to be parented in different ways. What works for you may not work for your sister or your neighbor.
That being said, there is one thing that all children need: love. A healthy attachment to parents, and an underlying feeling that they are loved and supported, are fabulous stepping stones for a successful future. Many parents question how to adequately show love for their children in such a busy and screen filled world. The best way to show love for your children is to find out how they feel loved.
Gary Chapman is the author of the book “The Five Love Languages.” This book is about the love languages that couples feel and how to use those to connect in your relationship. His book “5 Love Languages of Children” is a fantastic tool for any parent who is wondering how to effectively show love to their child. It talks about ways to identify your child’s love language, how to then show it, and discipline through that love language. There is power in realizing the specific way that your child needs to feel love. If you don’t know what category they fall into simply ask them! Opening up that line of communication can be a great way to get to know your child.
Another great book about identifying and talking about emotions is John Gottman’s book “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.” In this book parents are coached through different ways to talk to their child about emotion and then how to regulate said emotion. It is a fantastic read for any parent who wants to know more about emotion and how to teach their child about that.
Many times an inability to talk about emotion stems from the way you were taught to talk about and process emotions growing up. We know from years of research that creating a loving relationship at home is one of the best indicators of future success. If you are struggling with identifying your own emotion, and unpacking that is difficult, coaching your child through difficult emotions may be too hard. Therapy is always a great place to learn tools that will emotionally strengthen you, and will allow you to then strengthen your relationships with your children and spouse.
Now get out there! Tell your kids you love them. Give them a hug. Make their bed for them. Buy them a candy bar. Go for a walk with them. Find the specific way they feel loved and show it to them in that specific way. It will be a great exercise for both of you.
Brainstorm with your child a short ritual you will both perform every time you say goodbye. This could be a secret handshake, a special song, a mantra you say together or a combination of words and touch. Anything that is meaningful for both you and your child will work.
Don’t Use Tough Love as
a Go To
Karen Young of Hey Sigmund explains how
fighting against our natural fight or flight instincts is a losing battle.
“We humans are
wired towards keeping ourselves safe above everything else. It’s instinctive,
automatic, and powerful. This is why tough love, punishment or negotiation just
won’t work. If you were in quicksand, no amount of any of that would keep you
there while you got sucked under. You’d fight for your life at any cost. School
is less dramatic than quicksand but to a brain and a body in fight or flight,
it feels the same.
empower your children by teaching them how this primitive part of our brain
works and breathing exercises they can employ to combat them.
Do Encourage Your Child
To Express Feelings Through Art
One of the most therapeutic and helpful things your child can do to understand and combat their anxiety is to explore their fears and experiences through art. A study conducted by Khadar et al. (2013) showed that the boys with separation anxiety developed more adaptive behaviors and emotions, and the children tended to share more feelings and improved their communication skills. This particular study used the medium of paint, but drawing, sculpting or any other medium that appeals to your child can be used.
Don’t Teach Your Child
to Fight Their Anxiety
teach your child to recognize and verbally point out what they are feeling and
where in their body they are feeling it as an outside observer. Have your child
thank their anxiety for doing its best to keep them safe. But use their
thinking brain to then tell the anxiety that they are safe and that they’ve got
Do Externalize the
Have your child describe their anxiety—what it feels like, what it says and what it looks like. Then have your child design a creature that embodies anxiety. Have your child name the object and talk through the aspects of the creature your child creates. This gives you and your child a way to visualize, separate their feelings from who they are and a new language to speak about their anxiety.
If your child is experiencing separation anxiety that is concerning you, please schedule an appointment with me by calling 801.944.4555
Recently, I attended a funeral for my dear friend who had a significant impact during my adolescence. As the days led up to the funeral, I looked for a babysitter but was unable to find one so I needed to take my 5-year old son. I had concerns about what behavior he would have throughout the event and what he would think or take away from it. I was pleasantly surprised at the outcome. He was well behaved and respectful throughout the day. He showed sympathy by giving me a tissue when he saw my crying and empathized with my friend’s son who was visibly saddened.
A few days later, we were working on a holiday craft and my son started asking questions about the funeral. “Why did we go?” he asked and “Was she your family?” He was able to reflect on the emotions of others. He commented on my friend’s son’s emotions and said, “It’s good that it wasn’t his mom so he still has someone to care for him.” He stated, “I would be so sad if you died.” He then proceeded to ask questions about how people die.
This situation really had me reflecting about how to talk to children about death and should they attend a funeral.
How to talk to your children about death
When deciding how to talk to a child about death, consider the age and development of the child. Children process death differently than adults. They may realize that they feel sad but may not understand the permanency of death. Here are some suggestions to start the conversation.
Be honest and straightforward. Telling a child that a loved one is “in a better place” can be confusing and send a message that there is something wrong with this place. Instead, you could say, “Uncle Jack died in a car accident. That means that we won’t get to see him anymore.”
Answer questions honestly and directly. When your child asks when Fluffy the pet turtle is coming home gently remind the child that Fluffy has died and will not be coming home.
Don’t be afraid to show your emotions. Children learn from the way we act and respond in daily events. Shedding tears in sadness of the loss is appropriate for your child to see and it will help them learn how to cope with emotions when they come up. With this, encourage your child to express their emotions.
Remember that children will have their own reaction to loss. Offer empathy and understanding through emotions or disruptive behaviors.
I recently sat down with the ladies of “Family Looking Up” to discuss how women’s assertiveness can help our families. The conversation included clearing up misconceptions about assertiveness (such as the false idea that it equates to being aggressive or selfish) and also how women can view their own needs as being equal to that of their children and their partner. If you’re interested in learning more about how to improve your communication style, practice self-compassion, and say no without guilt, take a listen!
Click here to learn more about my book “The Assertiveness Guide For Women: How to Communicate Your Needs, Set Healthy Boundaries, and Transform Relationships.”
I know most of you started reading this in hopes of finding the magic bullet for dealing with your child’s misbehavior. You should know, that’s not the type of grounding we are talking about. While you won’t be getting any discipline tips, the mindfulness grounding techniqu
es presented here pose many benefits for you and your child, including allowing your child to be more present especially when becoming behaviorally or emotionally dysregulated.
The goal of grounding is to calm the emotional and irrational part of our brain so that we can begin to think more logically about what is going on. Grounding exercises allow individuals to:
Remain calm and present when we become over stimulated or experience a flashback from a negative past experience
Begin to feel and express big emotions such as anxiety or anger
Catch our self in a whirlwind of worrying thoughts.
One helpful grounding exercise is bring our mind to what we are sensing in the present moment by carefully observe our surroundings and noticing what we are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or touching. This draws the mind away from worries, concerns, or large emotions and grounds us to the current space we are in.
One specific grounding technique I use with families and their children involves Lego mini-figures. Using a Lego mini-figure for this technique is not required; however, it is nice as it can have unique details and is easy to bring along anywhere you go. When the child gets upset they begin to describe the details they see on the mini-figure and what it reminds them of. Often children will describe the figures facial expression, specific cloths they are wearing, and discuss memories of playing with the figure. After the child has done this, I will have them take a deep breath before checking in with their parent or going back to play. While most children can do this on their own, I recommend the parent to participate and do this with the child in the beginning. By doing this with them, the child will become more comfortable at using this technique when they are upset.
It is important to note that while this specific technique is geared towards our children, it can also apply to us as adults. We as adults can look at our surroundings and describe what we see, hear, smell, taste, or touch. If we apply this, and other mindfulness techniques, alongside with our children, we will feel less anxiety and stress and will find that escalated situations will deescalate more quickly.
If you, or your child,would like to learn more about other helpful grounding techniques and strategies to positively manage your child’s emotional or behavior challenges, please contact us at Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555. We can provide a more specific approach to meet your individual or family needs.
Marriage is a wonderful change, but it certainly brings some challenges, not just for the couple involved, but also for the in-law relationship dynamic. I recently sat down with the Good Things Utah to share my top 3 tips for daughter-in-laws and mother-in-laws:
Ready or not, it’s back to school! With the end of summer comes new teachers, new books and supplies, and a new schedule for our kiddos. It’s an exciting time, but it can also be pretty overwhelming. Here are some ways to help your children with the transition of going back to school:
1) Check In With Them Emotionally
Often children have big feelings about new changes (such as returning to school), but they don’t quite have the words to articulate it, so parents can help coax things out of them. Asking things like, “what are you looking forward to about school?” can help them express their emotions. Without emphasizing the negative, be sure to also ask things like, “is there anything you’re nervous about?” so they can get those anxious feelings out and begin to work through them. Remember, the more you can help kids name their emotions, the more manageable those feelings become for them.
2) Set up Bedtime Rituals
Routines and rituals are so important for children to create a sense of consistency, and bedtime in particular is crucial. These little growing bodies and minds need their sleep! A good night’s rest sets the day for them to have the energy, strength, and enthusiasm to face the transition of the starting school year.
3) Don’t Burden Them With Your Own Stress
This one can be tricky for parents. The truth is that we as adults have a lot to think about when school begins again. Uniforms, sports teams, Back-to-School night, shopping for new supplies, etc., and it’s not hard to see how we can easily get overwhelmed. Be careful though, as our little ones are often more aware of our emotions than we may think. Remember that although no one is a “perfect” parent, we need to try to not burden then with our own feelings. If back-to-school stress has got you down, try to unload and process to a spouse or a friend instead.
How are YOU helping your kids transition back into school?
Parenting a child with special needs presents unique rewards and challenges. I once heard a mom compare her experience to “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.” With all the twists and turns on the journey, it can be hard to focus on passengers in the back seat: the child’s sibling(s). Sometimes all you catch is a quick glimpse from the rear-view mirror, before your attention is called ahead to the next major bump in the road.
Before I address this topic any further, it is important to acknowledge that most parents of kids with special needs feel exhausted, guilty, and at times, overwhelmed. This article is not meant to induce more of those feelings. After a long day struggling with the needs of one child, the last thing you need is to be wracked with guilt about how it affected their sibling(s). This is hard to avoid, because quite frankly, many days your child with special needs will get more of your time and energy than your other kids. It’s the cold, hard truth; you can’t change this, and your other child likely knows it. The sooner you accept and acknowledge this, the sooner you’re on your way to giving your “backseat kid” what they may need most on those hard days: a listening ear and true understanding.
As a child therapist, I have spent many hours counseling parents that children, like everyone else, most want to be truly seen, heard and understood. In most cases, parents can do a “good enough” job giving this to their children. Hopefully, it is a relief to know that you don’t need to fix all your child’s problems or eliminate their struggles. You don’t need to have all the answers! But you do need to listen to them when it counts – to hear in a way that communicates: “I see you, and all your feelings are okay.”
For children who have a sibling with special needs, parents might be unaware of just how much is going on below the surface, both positive and negative. I recently spoke with a teenage girl who said this about how her brother’s autism affects her:
“I feel rejected by my family because often my turn never comes.”
“My sibling’s problems are more important than mine. No matter what I’m feeling some days, it feels like it doesn’t matter in the family.”
“My brother gets more attention for his interests because he talks about them so much. He doesn’t understand how I have interests that are important too.”
“I get to feel accepted because autistic people tend to be more accepting of others.”
“I get to watch him overcome his challenges and grow.”
“Sometimes people generalize autism as one thing, but it is a spectrum. They don’t get it, and that’s frustrating. Autistic people can be really different from each other.”
“I learn a lot because my brother knows a lot, and his mind goes so fast.”
“People can be mean and say rude things. They don’t really understand what people go through because they don’t live with it. It hurts and makes me mad. It’s hard because some things they say are true.”
“Sometimes it feels like he’s my mom’s favorite. It’s feels so unfair because she treats him differently. He gets more attention for his accomplishments.”
Before you ask your child what it’s like for them, prepare yourself for an honest answer that may be difficult to hear. It can help to take a deep breath; remember that your child’s struggles, no matter how difficult, can be opportunities for growth and learning. Having done this, it’s okay to ask directly about your child’s experience. You could phrase the question like this: “What’s it like for you? You know, living with your sister’s __________ (insert the name of the sibling’s disability)?” Then try to really listen and not talk much yourself. While you may be tempted to respond by saying something like, “I’m sorry … I just do the best I can,” resist. Just focus on hearing and reflecting what your child is saying; if they laugh, laugh with them, if they cry, cry with them, and above all, hear them. You can do this because in your own way, you get it; although you’re in different seats, you’re on this wild ride together.
Smartphones are here to stay, and they can be a wonderful way to stay in touch with friends, work in our careers, and keep up on what’s going on in the world. However, in some ways they are becoming a huge problem for so many families. Kids and adults are so connected to our phones that we often become disconnected from each other! Here are some tips to manage tech overload and scale back: