We all love our kids and want them to be happy. And most parents will try to do anything and everything in pursuit of this. But it is often this anything or everything that stops us being the best parents we can for our kids and giving them what they really need, as opposed to what we think they want.
When our kids are sad, stressed, anxious or have other issues we often go into overdrive trying to fix it. We might cuddle, hug and kiss them more than usual. We might try to reassure them that life will be OK with our words. Often we try to make life better by making their lives as easy as possible by taking on some of their chores, jobs and responsibilities. Or maybe we give in to what they want in order to avoid a further meltdown and emotional outburst. Sound familiar?
When our kids suffer we just want to make things better so we often fall into the trap of using too many words: ‘you will be fine’, ‘don’t worry about it’, ‘I will be here for you always’ ‘you are safe with me’, ‘you can always come to me’, ‘I will look after you’, ‘I am here, you have nothing to worry about’ etc. When we use too many words trying to make it better we might actually be doing the opposite and making our kids feel even more upset! it is almost like to we are trying to convenience them…
Words can be dangerous and if we find ourselves going into verbal overflow we might actually make them feel more insecure instead of safe. Our aim is to reassure them that life is safe and that they don’t need to have anxiety, sadness or worries but with our flow of ‘reassurance’ we are in danger of talking them into it. We are almost agreeing with them that, ‘yes, life is so scary that you need me’. It’s ok to accept how they feel but we don’t necessarily want to agree. They might even stop listening to us altogether if our flow of words is just too much to take on board and actually just stresses them out further.
Instead: less is more. Just come from a place of, ‘I have heard you’. Let them talk; listen to understand – not to talk. Then make your sentences very short, but assertive and supportive, ‘Sam I can hear that you don’t want to go to the party but here is the thing, we have said yes so we will go and I am sure you will be able to manage it, come on put on your shoes and off we go’… ‘I hear that you are afraid of monsters and want me to look under the bed – but monsters don’t exist – so no I don’t want to – now let’s get you into bed’…’I can hear that you don’t want to go to your own bed and want to sleep in our bed and that you feel scared – there is nothing to be scared of and we trust you to be fine – so let me cuddle you into your bed’…’I can hear that you don’t want to go to school today, we all have days like that – now let’s get your bag ready’.
Here we use less words plus we send a signal that we trust them to manage how they feel. We believe in them!
The more we try to reassure them that it is ok the more validated and real their feelings become!
Yes we need to give our kids hugs and cuddles because we love them not because we feel sorry for them or want to protect them. We don’t have to protect them, but we do need to prepare them for the world.
If we give them LOTS of long cuddles every time they feel sad, worried or stressed we are again sending a signal that, ‘I am here to protect you from the bad stuff out there’… ‘it is better to stay safe with me’, so again we are reinforcing their feelings of unease. And it certainly doesn’t help when we have a sad face at the same time as then we really ARE saying, ‘this is SO sad’ – we cry with them and for them. We don’t need to over-calm or over-reassure them ALL the time.
So too much physical reassurance can make a child more anxious and send the wrong signal: that life is such a scary place that we need A LOT of cuddles and reassurance. It creates unrest not security.
Instead: with your body language send a signal that they don’t need to be attached to you all the time. That you believe that they can do it. That you believe that it will be OK. That you can contain the situation without being too affected. That yes, you will give him a hug because that is nice, but now it is time to get on with life.
When a child is sad and they want a hug – of course give them a hug and a kiss. Then let go and say, ‘right let’s bake a cake / do something else / time to go to school etc.’…move on with positive action. Here we signal that you ARE there for them and DO love them BUT you also believe that they CAN get on with life even when they are sad. This is life, we all get sad and stressed but we still have to get up and go to work!
Be involved but not over-involved. When our kids are going through a hard time parents are often in danger of falling into the following traps:
- We go into fixing and problem-solving mode: we give advice, fix everything (i.e. call school to sort out friendship issues) and we talk too much.
- We do too much for them or expect less from them than the rest of the family: we might feel they are suffering enough so we don’t want to add more stress or burdens to their life. And we start doing things for them that we usually expect them to do i.e. making their bed, packing their bag, taking the bins out even though it is their job. Maybe we don’t ask them to do jobs that we know they can and should do but we place them on other family members instead, i.e. setting the table, walking the dog, emptying the dishwasher etc.
- Or we are too soft and let go of doing homework and prolong bedtime and screen time etc.
What happens in these situations is that we send a signal that we don’t trust them to have daily chores like other ‘normal’ kids, or that we don’t believe they can do it – that they are not up to it. Again, we send a signal that they cannot cope with life as it is. We teach them to give up and give in.
Instead: agree to manageable chores and jobs. Expect the same from them as their siblings around bedtime, homework, screen time etc. Actually, having realistic and agreed chores can help boost a child’s self-esteem and make them feel stronger and more powerful, capable of meeting the world as it is. It will make them feel needed, wanted and able to be part of running the household. Also try to help your child problem solve by listening and asking open ended questions; here is a blog you might find useful about how to problem solve with your kids.
If you really want to send a love declaration to your child allow him to get it wrong – yes allow him to fail. Read here about ‘why failing (safely) gives resilience’.
*N.B. If you feel your child is being bullied or has some serious anxiety issues please seek advice from a professional i.e educational psychologist, teacher etc.
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