It’s a common trap for parents to believe that they have to define themselves by the many struggles and problems they experience. Those are not the only plots lines in their personal stories. There are many things about them and their children that are positive and just need nurturing to see more growth. Never trust negative characteristics to define or guide you as a parent. Ignore them as much as you can and concentrate on what makes you amazing, awesome, powerful, adorable, tender, kind, sweet, creative, trustworthy, fun-loving, colorful, and possible wild!
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Some people have trouble making good decisions. Boundaries are a challenge and saying “no” feels impossible. For others, they are quite comfortable making decisions. They might even enjoy telling others what choices they should make. Parents often feel a need to tell children what to do all the time. They believe that children can’t or won’t make a good choice. As we contemplate the elements of control in our lives, we want to find that balance between laissez faire attitudes and acting like a control freak.
Making choices, even bad ones is a way to feel powerful. Many children and adults will act in the opposite manner just to feel some form of power in their own lives. Authority figures are seen as untrustworthy, no matter how experienced or wise they might be. That isn’t the point for a person who feels powerless. Control and the defiance that often comes with it feels like the only way to find power or freedom.
We value the freedom that can come through choices. It is one of America’s highest personal values. Unfortunately, freedom to do anything one wants, whenever one wants to do it, and not expect any real consequences is not true freedom. True freedom comes when we exercise self-control.
Ask Dr. Seuss, if you don’t believe me:
You have brains in your head,
You have feet in your shoes,
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.
Sound advice. The trick is choosing the right direction!
Parents want children to listen and obey because they have more experience dealing with the complexities of life. Children want to assert their control in order to better know themselves. There are specific stages where this most evident, like in 2-3-year-old toddler stage and the 13-17 years of adolescence. The reason these ages and stages are so fraught with power struggles is because the child is going through rapid brain growth, hormonal changes, and social/emotional demands. That requires a lot of self-assertion in order to master it all.
As I have already described in other blog posts, a parents job should resemble a coach more than a director. While this isn’t always possible or practical, it is the healthier approach to successful parenting. A parent TELLS a child what to do. Children can’t become responsible human beings or eventual adults if they rely on parents what to do. Parents can expect more self-responsibility and problem-solving if they don’t let the child make choices.
A parent coach offers choices in order to empower children to learn from their choices. Isn’t this how we all learn? Of course, understanding this approach and performing it in the heat of the “battle” is difficult but that isn’t a reason not to use it. The good news is that the drive to choose is built into our nervous systems. You don’t have to tell a child to have an opinion. They already have one. You don’t have to model how to prefer for one type of food over the other or one game over the other. The child just does this naturally. Coaching allows us to direct what is already inborn. Parents should let it work to their advantage!
Forcing control, although at times necessary, shouldn’t be our primary parenting plan. Parents can give choices for things they approve of…usually two is good. If the child wants a third option, and they will, simply repeat the two choices and when the situation becomes a game, and it will, make the choice for the child. This is where parents can be direct and assert their wills. Pick your battles well in other words.
Researchers on control like to use the words “agency” or “self-efficacy”. I guess it sounds more clinical. The more agency we use in life the more power-full we feel. The more good decisions we make, the more confident we are to try new and more challenging things. Good deciders set bigger goals in life than bad deciders. They get along better with other people, can be better team players, have higher academic achievements and work ethics, and they are healthier and happier people overall.
That all sounds good until you make a few bad choices and start to believe that you don’t have the ability to make a good choice, ever! People who go through trauma often feel this way. Depression is a common hallmark of making bad choices or having gone through bad things. This is what researchers call “locus of control”. Someone with an internal locus of control believes they are the cause of a successful outcome. An extern locus of control refers to things happening by chance or luck. After a traumatic event or series of events, a person can feel helpless and have an external locus of control. If something good does happen, it is random and accidental.
It is possible to have an “illusion of control” where someone feels they can master things they really can’t. They don’t have an overdeveloped internal locus of control and may take on too many tasks or make claims of being able to accomplish tasks that are too difficult. They are ready to accept responsibility for success but blame others/events for failures. This illusion prevents them from really learning how to be successful in life. Much of wisdom comes from making mistakes and then trying a new approach next time.
The answer to all of this may be acceptance of reality. This is a philosophical idea and spiritual practice of letting go of expectations and desires that create most of our on-going suffering. When something happens that we don’t want or we don’t get what we do want, we suffer. The truth is everyone does this and everyone suffers. Acceptance allows us to be aware of it and adapt. We don’t blame others for our mistakes or at least, our part of a situation/problem. We are humble and try to find the wisdom of our failures. We don’t allow others to control us and we don’t use control to deal with anxiety. We simply allow what is to be and find the truth in the experience. As the Bible says, “Truth sets us free” (John 8:32).
Acceptance isn’t another form of helplessness, however. We accept our situation but continue to hope for change. Christians, for example, trust that God’s will, however difficult or uncertain, is the better choice over their own personal will. When the two wills conflict, we submit to God’s will. Continue to control people and events, in order to get what you want, alienates family and friends, and puts tension between your reality and your desire to have what you want. This tension will result in negative emotions and behaviors. Learning to accept and let go will allow using that energy to make the best of your situation. Now that does require self-control!
“Accept — then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. This will miraculously transform your whole life.” Eckhart Tolle
“Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.” William James
“The art of acceptance is the art of making someone who has just done you a small favor with that he might have done you a greater one.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
>> Learn more about “Acceptance and Change” in our Freedom From Anxiety course at http://FamilyHealer.tv
>> Invite Ron Huxley to speak at your next event by contacting him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805-709-2023.
Whenever we think about the challenges of parents, there is probably nothing more colorful than the problem of a rebellious teenager. Trying to control an out-of-control adolescent can drive a parent crazy!
I want to do a series of blog posts that address the issue of control through the spiritual discipline of contemplation. Contemplation is the act of looking thoughtfully at something for a long time. It is a deeper reflection on the motives and desires of our heart…and out teenagers.
Control, by nature, forces us to react to external behaviors. In the case of a “rebellious teen,” we are faced with unpleasant back talk, arguments, manipulations, curses, eye rolls, blank stares, aggression, lying, stealing, and other acts that defy our rules and morals.
As we contemplate this challenge, ask yourself the following questions:
“What am I trying to control?”
“Am I trying to control out-of-control behavior?”
“Do I want to win? At whatever the cost?”
“Is it possible to have two winners and no losers?”
“Is it really my mission to dominate the will of another person?”
“What is the long-term goal of parenting: relationship or being right?”
“What is better: A change of heart or a change of behavior?”
The idea of attempting to control someone who is out-of-control sounds like war in the making. How can the two things approach one another? This type of control Control ends with no winners. Parenting is not a competition! You do not have to always be right or win every battle. In fact, why is parenting even seen as a battle? There must be something deeper than this relational reality.
If you make two lists with all the things that a parent can realistically control on one side and all the things that parents cannot control in their teenager’s life, you begin to see the discrepancy in the lists. Parents who focus on the child’s side of the list will be more frustrated than those who stick to their own side.
Control is better viewed as a negotiation.
There are things on the parent’s side of the list that the teenager wants and there are things on the side of the teen’s list that the parent wants. There is room for negotiation and working together toward a common goal.
One of the most powerful items on the parent’s list is transportation. The teen needs to get places and the parent has control of the car. An easy trade-off can be negotiated. Chores completed can result in transportation to a friends house, for example. There doesn’t need to be loud, angry words shared back and forth. Just a simple, direct offer to trade chores for transportation. Don’t react to “moodiness”, eye rolling, or slamming doors. I know it’s hard. Focus on the bigger lessons here…
What parents really want is to see their teen make “good choices.” Choices imply a sense of power that allows the child to choose between good and bad and learn from their experiences. Lessons learned are how the neural software, in the teens brain, gets its updates. Suffering the natural consequences of a teens choices can be painful to watch but without teens will never mature and grow up to be the responsible people parents want.
What teenagers want most is power over their lives. In reflection, it would seem the parent and the child are working toward the same goal, right? The parent wants their teen to have the power to make good choices after all. The failure of this contemplation is that teens view power differently. They want the power to do whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want, without consequences. This is their immature view of adulthood. As adults, we know this is just fantasy. The negative consequences of these kinds of choices taught us that power is really about managing ourselves well. Negative consequences will teach our teens this same lesson just like parents had to learn it.
Control is about communication.
Parents believe that they are clear and perhaps they are but continuing to clearly state expectations and needs may have to be repeated. There are split moments of gentle normalcy where parent and teens can really communicate. Use those moments to understand the child’s needs and struggles. Don’t use it to lecture or give advice. Listen and learn to give you more control. Control is knowing how to meet the needs of the child in a way they can cooperate with you.
Powerless people feel like they have no power, so they engage in power struggles to get more power.
Power-full people know they are powerful and learn to manage themselves.
Powerless people must be empowered to know they are power-full too.
Power is unequal. When we view oower as more rights or more choices than this statement is true. But if we view power and control managing ourselves well than it is not true.
Teenagers believe parents have all the power, therefore they believe they must take it from parents in preset to get any power. This do this through power struggles, by rejecting rules, defying directives, and manipulating or lying to parents.
Focus on problems when in the heat of the power struggle.
Parents who focus on the person exaggerate the struggle. Ask the child what is the problem and how do they want to solve it. Control is coaching a child to a logical conclusion even if it means trying answers the parent already knows won’t work. Let them try! Let go of the tug-of-war rope and join the child on their side of the circumstance. Get their perspective on the situation as childish as it seems. Parents TELl children what to do. Coaches ask them how they want to solve their own problems and cheerlead them to a positive conclusion.
In the end, control is an illusion.
We have no control over anyone else. It is a common reaction to feelings of fear and anxiety. The higher our anxiety, the more we attempt to control. The more we feel out-of-control, the more we work to find some area that we can create control. It is the source of our obsessions and compulsions. It creates power struggles in relationships. It concentrates on being right over relationships. It disconnects instead of connects families. Take notice of the areas in life that feel controllable and those that feel out-of-control. Examine the feelings that come with each. Choose to respond and not react to those feelings. Don’t allow the negative lies that feeling out-of-control tries to tell you: You are a bad parent, You are a failure, You are not loved or respected, You are not safe, You can’t trust anyone but yourself, You are destined to feel horrible and lonely. Find alternative truths to declare over yourself to counter these false beliefs. They may not feel true but feelings are not the truth. Control is managing your beliefs which will, in turn, manage your feelings.
All families experience trauma differently. Some factors such as the children’s age or the family’s culture or ethnicity may influence how the family copes and recovers. After traumatic experiences, family members often show signs of resilience. For some families, however, the stress and burden cause them to feel alone, overwhelmed, and less able to maintain vital family functions. Research demonstrates that trauma impacts all levels of the family:
■ Families that “come together” after traumatic experiences can strengthen bonds and hasten recovery. Families dealing with high stress, limited resources, and multiple trauma exposures often find their coping resources depleted. Their efforts to plan or problem solve are not effective, resulting in ongoing crises and discord.
■ Children, adolescents, and adult family members can experience mild, moderate, or severe posttraumatic stress symptoms. After traumatic exposure, some people grow stronger and develop a new appreciation for life. Others may struggle with continuing trauma-related problems that disrupt functioning in many areas of their lives.
■ Extended family relationships can offer sustaining resources in the form of family rituals and traditions, emotional support, and care giving. Some families who have had significant trauma across generations may experience current problems in functioning, and they risk transmitting the effects of trauma to the next generation.
■ Parent-child relationships have a central role in parents’ and children’s adjustment after trauma exposure. Protective, nurturing, and effective parental responses are positively associated with reduced symptoms in children. At the same time, parental stress, isolation, and burden can make parents less emotionally available to their children and less able to help them recover from trauma.
■ Adult intimate relationships can be a source of strength in coping with a traumatic experience. However, many intimate partners struggle with communication and have difficulty expressing emotion or maintaining intimacy, which make them less available to each other and increases the risk of separation, conflict, or interpersonal violence.
■ Sibling relationships that are close and supportive can offer a buffer against the negative effect of trauma, but siblings who feel disconnected or unprotected can have high conflict. Siblings not directly exposed to trauma can suffer secondary or vicarious traumatic stress; these symptoms mirror posttraumatic stress and interfere with functioning at home or school.
Download the complete fact sheet at http://TraumaToolbox.com and learn more practical tools on how to have a trauma-informed home. Contact Ron Huxley today to set up a therapy session or organize a seminar for your agency or event at email@example.com / 805-709-2023. You can click on the schedule a session link now on the home page if you live in the San Luis Obispo, Ca. or Santa Barbara, Ca. area.
How quickly can you bounce back from difficult situations?
Do you feel like you thrive from day to day or is it challenging to just survive each day?
Resiliency is a popular term in today’s world of positive psychology. The goal is to discover what works and how to use that quality, skill, or mental strategy to feel more effective and capable.
> Watch Ron Huxley’s video on “The Road to Resilience” here.
Unfortunately, when we experience trauma, we develop protective programs, layered deep in our nervous system, that want to avoid situations that might put us in danger or extreme stress/threat. We want to emphasize that this is a protective program and not a negative one, but that it can continue to play out in our lives and relationships, that is no longer needed in our lives. Being aware we have these program helps us address them which opens a door to learning how to adapt.
This process of being aware, addressing difficult issues, and learning to adapt is just one way we can increase our mental toughness.
Mental toughness is about courage, not perfection.
Facing difficulties, after going through traumatic experiences takes courage. Fighting against our own inner protective programs is hard. Taking risks to trust again is tough. Learning to believe in a hope-filled future seems impossible. This isn’t perfection. It is about the process requiring a change of heart. In faith-based terms, we call this transformation.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2
This verse describes that mental toughness or resilience is an inside job. It doesn’t come from outer performance. It comes from an inner transformation of beliefs about ourselves and the world. It can’t be sustained by an external force. True, lasting toughness comes from a conversation of our will.
> Watch Ron Huxley’s video on “Faith-Based Trauma Therapy” here.
Kelly McGonical, in her book, The Upside of Stress, doesn’t view stressful events as good or bad. She claims that true resiliency comes from finding the good in the stressful situation and learning new ways to deal with challenges. It isn’t that you have to go through trials in order to learn how to deal with them. We all go through tough times. It is how you react to what you can’t control that helps us be mentally tough.
Viktor Frankl, Psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor stated: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of his human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances. To choose one’s way (1959).”
Our ability to choose – what we call our will – is the key to bouncing back and moving forward. It is where we find our true freedom. In my own Christian walk, I have found that it is the “truth that sets us free (John 8:32). Trauma not only overwhelms the nervous system, programs protective emotional programs deep within us, it also redefines our identity.
> Learn more about how trauma affects a child’s brain and development here.
John O’Donohue, contemporary priest, poet, and philosopher, encourages us with the words: “Your identity is not equivalent to your biography. There is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility. Your life becomes the shape of the days you inhabit.”
Another step to mental toughness is to express daily gratitudes. A lot of scientific studies have been done on gratitude and it has become an foundational tool for shifting our negative attitude in psychology and spirituality.
> Invite Ron Huxley to speak to your organization or at your next event on Trauma and Trauma-formed Care here.
Try using the Center for Healing Minds exercise called the 5-3-1 Gratitude Practice:
5… Meditate 5 minutes a day focusing on the breath or taking a break from your to-do list to de-stress and calm the mind. You can use various online videos and apps to help with this process.
3… Write done 3 good things that happened today. Research suggests a positive relationship between gratitude and higher levels of resilience.
1… Do 1 act of kindness per day. Hold the door open for the person coming into a store behind you, pay someone a compliment, be generous in your tipping.
Gratitude blesses others and transforms the inner life of the giver.
Mental toughness is the ability to bounce back, move forward, and shifts negative perspectives. It is how we resist, manage, and overcome difficult moments in our lives. We need it to feel renewed hope following trials and traumas that have impacted our inner self.
> Take free online courses on Trauma-Informed Care, Parenting, and Anxiety at http://FamilyHealer.tv
There is a common problem in social work and mental health today in trying to label people who have experience trauma. The reason for this is that trauma can impact the brain and the body in a way that produces a wide-range of symptoms that can be confusing to understand.
Most professionals are not “trauma-informed” meaning they haven’t received training on how trauma affects every area of human functioning or how to treat the whole person. Trauma, particularly the adverse experiences endured in early childhood, that can result in coping mechanisms that mimic criteria of various clinical diagnoses.
What are some of the labels you have heard placed on traumatized children or adults?
- Trouble makers
- No conscience
- Stressed Out
- and many more…
In addition to a lack of trauma awareness, we are all “meaning-seeking creatures” that want to label everything so that we can feel better about ourselves and our world. Unfortunately, it can do a lot of damage to the people we are labeling. If we label incorrectly, we will treat them incorrectly. This is might also be why so many survivors appear to “sabotage” their success. It isn’t a real desire to ruin their life. They need sensitive professionals and parents who understand how to deal with the root, trauma issues.
Fortunately, there is a national movement to train parents and professionals, who work with traumatized children, to become more “Trauma-Informed.” This movement is reaching out to homes, school, and organizations and explaining “What is trauma?”, “Impact of Trauma on the Brain, Behavior and Health”, “Adverse Childhood Experiences”, “Power of Resilience”, “Regulation Skills”, “Dissociation”, “Mindfulness and Compassion”, “Recognizing Signs and Symptoms of Trauma in Children”, “Attachment Disorders”, “Post-traumatic stress and Post-trauma Growth”, “Trauma in the Community”, “Avoiding Re-traumatization in Survivors”, “Trauma-Sensitive Schools”, “Faith-Based Approaches to Trauma” and more.
The focus of these training efforts is shifting the primary question inherent in treatment plans, screenings, programs and polices from asking “what is wrong with you” to “what has happened to you”.
This paradigm shift starts the dialogue with survivors, humanizes our practices and helps traumatized children and adults on how to find true healing.
If you would like Ron to train your organization on Trauma-Informed Care, contact him today at 805-709-2023 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The other side of toxic stress and trauma is resiliency. We can build resiliency skills in our homes, schools, and the community-at-large. Trauma-informed care asks us to make a paradigm shift in our approaches from asking survivors “what’s wrong with you?” to “what happened to you?”. The latter creates safety and respect in our programs and procedures with traumatized children, women, and men.
Learn the six key principles of SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration): Safety, Trustworthiness, Peer Support, Collaboration, Empowerment, and Cultural Awareness.
Individual strengths of the survivor should be build on, expanded, and celebrated. Together the individual, organization, and community can heal together.
We must move beyond cultural stereotypes and biases and recognize and addresses historical trauma.
These principles lead to the development of the 4 R’s: Realize the impact of trauma, Recognize the signs of trauma, Respond in policies, practices and procedures, and ultimately, to Resist retraumatization.
What does this look like in your organization or business? Get helpful quizzes, handouts, checklists more at TraumaToolbox.com
PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.
It’s normal to have upsetting memories, feel on edge, or have trouble sleeping after a traumatic event. At first, it may be hard to do normal daily activities, like go to work, go to school, or spend time with people you care about. But most people start to feel better after a few weeks or months.
If it’s been longer than a few months and you’re still having symptoms, you may have PTSD. For some people, PTSD symptoms may start later on, or they may come and go over time.
Who Develops PTSD?
Anyone can develop PTSD at any age. A number of factors can increase the chance that someone will have PTSD, many of which are not under that person’s control. For example, having a very intense or long-lasting traumatic event or getting injured during the event can make it more likely that a person will develop PTSD. PTSD is also more common after certain types of trauma, like combat and sexual assault.
Personal factors, like previous traumatic exposure, age, and gender, can affect whether or not a person will develop PTSD. What happens after the traumatic event is also important. Stress can make PTSD more likely, while social support can make it less likely.
Although there are a core set of PTSD symptoms that are required for the diagnosis, PTSD does not look the same in everyone. In addition symptoms may come and go and may change over time from childhood to later adulthood.
Avoidance is a common reaction to trauma. It is natural to want to avoid thinking about or feeling emotions about a stressful event. But when avoidance is extreme, or when it’s the main way you cope, it can interfere with your emotional recovery and healing.
- Trauma Reminders: Anniversaries
On the anniversary of a traumatic event, some survivors have an increase in distress. These “anniversary reactions” can range from feeling mildly upset for a day or two to a more extreme reaction with more severe mental health or medical symptoms.
- Trauma Reminders: Triggers
People respond to traumatic events in a number of ways, such as feelings of concern, anger, fear, or helplessness. Research shows that people who have been through trauma, loss, or hardship in the past may be even more likely than others to be affected by new, potentially traumatic events.
- Aging Veterans and Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms
For many Veterans, memories of their wartime experiences can still be upsetting long after they served in combat. Even if they served many years ago, military experience can still affect the lives of Veterans today.
- Very Young Trauma Survivors
Trauma and abuse can have grave impact on the very young. The attachment or bond between a child and parent matters as a young child grows. This bond can make a difference in how a child responds to trauma.
- PTSD in Children and Teens
Trauma affects school-aged children and teenagers differently than adults. If diagnosed with PTSD, the symptoms in children and teens can also look different. For many children, PTSD symptoms go away on their own after a few months. Yet some children show symptoms for years if they do not get treatment. There are many treatment options available including talk and play therapy.
- History of PTSD in Veterans: Civil War to DSM-5
PTSD became a diagnosis with influence from a number of social movements, such as Veteran, feminist, and Holocaust survivor advocacy groups. Research about Veterans returning from combat was a critical piece to the creation of the diagnosis. So, the history of what is now known as PTSD often references combat history. * Source:
- SOURCE: https://www.ptsd.va.gov/
While most children were anxiously waiting for the school year to end, Jonathan was simply anxious. Although most boys loved traveling across the country during vacation, Jonathan dreaded the annual trek to see his father. It wasn’t that he didn’t love his father or enjoy being with him. It was the children from his father’s new marriage that he didn’t like. He felt like he was no longer his father’s son and that his dad loved them more than him. To top it off, he wouldn’t get to see his friends or his mother for almost ten weeks.
Jonathan’s parents had divorced, and his father had moved to another state. He only saw his father during Christmas and summer vacations. His father would send birthday cards and occasional letters, and with the invention of email, he could type off a quick note anytime he or his dad wanted. But that didn’t make the situation easier for him. In some ways, it only made a hard situation harder.
It was no summer picnic for Jonathan’s father either. Instead of feeling excitement about seeing his son, he felt anger and resentment that was often channeled toward his ex-wife whom he blamed for the custody arrangements. “I never realized how hard divorce could be,” exclaimed Jonathan’s father, “and getting remarried has only made it worse. Now I am stuck in the middle of two sets of frustrated families.”
Wounds of Divorce
Regardless of the reasons, divorce hurts! Any separation between two connected people will cause emotional wounds when pulled apart. Like any wound, the traumatized area must be cleaned and cared for if healing is going to be possible. The more dirt slung between divorced parents, through verbal and physical fights or nasty legal battles, the more infection in the relationship between parent and child will develop.
Jonathan’s father moved across the country because of a great job offer…or at least, that was what he told everyone. The job was great, but the real reason was that he couldn’t get along with Jonathan’s mother and just needed to leave and start over again. Unfortunately, that left Jonathan behind. “In retrospect, I would have stayed, regardless of the situation,” admits Jonathan’s father. “At the time, the hurt was too much to stand. I didn’t want the divorce, and his mother’s new boyfriend was just salt in the wound. Rather than continue to argue and waste money on lawyers, I decided to leave.”
Parents who have a long-distance relationship must address the wounds of divorce. Cleaning out a wound is painful but necessary. Similarly, letting go of old hurts and memories is important for healing and growth. Jonathan relates that his first summer with his dad in his new home was fun: “We went out to eat, the movies, miniature golf, and then my dad started pumping me for information on my mom and her boyfriend, when I just wanted to be with my dad.”
When parents do not deal with their own issues, children suffer all over again and their wounds are not allowed to heal. “Summer time parents” need to take care of themselves throughout the entire year so that they can enjoy the time with their children. Parents can care for themselves by consulting with a professional, developing a strong network of friends, exercising regularly and eating right.
Reassurances and Permissions
Major changes are frightening to young children. The loss of a parent creates fears of loss of food and shelter, being forgotten, attacked, punished, or unloved. While this might seem irrational to a parent, it is a real concern for the child. Children need reassurances that these things will continue to
be in their lives and, most importantly, that they are loved. Don’t make promises that things will go back to the way they were or be just as good. That is one promise parents can’t deliver, and it breaks down a child’s trust. Simply offer a verbal hug of hopefulness that the future will be secure and safe. In addition to reassurance, children often need permission to let go of the guilt that attaches itself to living with the “school-year” parent and visiting the summer parent. Both parents need to tell the child that it is okay that he/she are going. Be honest about missing the child but save the wailing and cloth-ripping for another time and place.
Permission giving helps to untangle the loyalty binds that children get caught in after divorce. Don’t ask a lot of questions about the other parent and his/her life back home. If the child wants to talk, fine, but don’t start an investigation and definitely keep your opinion of the other parents life to
yourself. Children feel they are disloyal to one parent by staying with and loving another parent. This problem is rooted in the concrete thinking styles of school-aged children. It is a developmental issue that can’t be removed and everyone must learn to adjust.
The key to being a successful summer parent is to have regular communication during the other months of the year. Because it is difficult for the parent who moves away to watch the child grow up, predictable and consistent communication in the form of phone calls, letters, postcards, e-mails, photos, and tape recordings can help. There are many social media tools and apps that can also be used.
Too many parents spend their time on the phone or in letters mourning the time they are apart or how much they miss the child. This re-traumatizes the child and makes the parent look pathetic. If it has to be said, say it one time and move on. Focus the discourse on what is going on in your and your child’s life. Make plans for the upcoming visit and discuss emotional issues important to the child. Stay away from morbid meanderings.
Make the communications short and newsworthy. A one page letter talking about how the dog ate your favorite shoe or describing a beautiful sunset will make a better connection between parent and child than a long, boring letter that lists every detail of the week. E-mail is also a great way to communicate as the medium itself is geared toward brief, informal notes, and the instantaneous nature of the format makes frequent communication practical.
Try alternative mediums. If the parent or the child is not a “letter writer,” try using a tape recording. Buy a compact recorder or use your phone and walk around for a day recording various activities and thoughts. Capture
the sounds of the dog eating your shoe or describe the sunset as you look out the back window. Buy a Polaroid camera and take pictures of the new house and neighborhood and send those (by e-mail or snail mail) to the child. Alternative forms of communication can add a little more color and life to dry words on paper and bring the child and parent closer together emotionally.
If you like creative ideas, do a project or play a game across the time zones. Read a sport article or watch a favorite television program and then discuss it later on the phone or by e-mail. Keep separate journals that are exchanged during the visits. Create an online web page with both parent and child as co-webmasters. Play a game of checkers (with two sets) and give the moves to each other during your communications.
Make up a “sharing box” where you put mementos and little treasures for the other person to look at and discuss when together. Start a garden or acquire an aquarium and get advice on what to plant and how to care for the fish from the other person. Creative ideas, such as these, foster family solidarity despite time and place. It makes the relationship feel real and alive and that is important to parent and child.
Summer parents feel out of touch when it comes to the child’s life at school. Request to be put on the school’s mailing list or give the child’s teacher an e-mail address to update the distant parent on activities and progress. Many schools and teachers have web sites set up so parents can view their child’s itinerary and grades. Knowing what is going on at the child’s school allows parents to ask intelligent questions about upcoming field trips and school projects. The child will also feel that the parent cares about him or her. Parents can make similar connections with doctors, therapists, and coaches.
Jonathan and his father still miss each other, but their relationship has blossomed despite the distance. They are routing for the same baseball team and are working on a go-cart that Jonathan and his new siblings will race during the summer at a track near the father’s house. “I started taking
pictures of the engine as I dismantled it and I scan and send them out each week by e-mail to Jonathan. He told me last night that he has started a scrapbook with all the pictures in them. When he gets here, the go-cart should be all put together, and we can paint it together,” explains his father.
Geography doesn’t have to separate parents and children emotionally. Summer-time parents can keep the relationship alive during the school year so that they look forward to being together and can pick up where they left off. “Jonathan has excitement in his voice when we talk about our time together.That is the biggest gift I could ever receive!”
Ron Huxley is proud to present the “Healing The Hurt” series on Faith-Based Attachment Parenting starting March 1st, 2019 at Seneca Center for Children in Salinas California.
Healing the Hurt Child addresses relational trauma and the ways it affects the human spirit. A model for healing will be described that looks at old concepts, like attachment and loss, from new perspectives. It works to answer the question “Why do we suffer?” so that we are better equipped to RESTore children to love and trust others. The primary healing strategy will focus on the role and rebuilding of identity.
The goal of this seminar is to create new attitudes about trauma and loss in children in caregivers and professionals who work with them. Participants will learn mindfulness practices and positive psychology exercises that will increase resiliency and regulation skills.
- Define the concepts of spirit and faith-based as it applies to attachment and loss. List the 7 effects of trauma on the human spirit.
- Identity 2 ways children experience pain in their hearts.
- Discover 3 questions to help children address hurts.