We are all human and there is no such thing as a perfect parent.
If you’re wondering how you can help strengthen your relationship with your children, keep on reading.
Model Healthy Behaviors:
You are your child’s biggest role model. Your thoughts and actions impact them in so many ways! If your child sees you remaining calm during family disagreements, chances are they will mimic those actions.
Of course, none of us are perfect. If you ever catch yourself getting frustrated with your child, take a deep breath and step away from the situation. Once you’ve had some time to cool down, you and your child can calmly come up with a solution.
Hold Family Meetings:
One of the best ways to handle family conflicts is to prevent them before they even arise.
Of course, there will always be times where family members don’t see eye-eye, and that is entirely okay.
However, organizing family meetings can help ensure everyone in the household is on the same page.
Whether you have a large or small family, open communication is key.
Put Down The Phones:
Be honest. When was the last time your entire family spent the day together without checking your phones?
Especially now that most of us are working from home, it’s rare to go more than a few hours without checking email.
Even though technology does have its benefits, we can’t let it get in the way of family time.
It’s very difficult to be present in the moment when our phones keep ringing. That’s where unplugging comes in.
Unplugging does not have to be an all or nothing thing. Simply making the kitchen table a phone-free zone can help encourage conversation.Learn More
Boredom isn’t always a bad thing. It can teach us patience and encourage creative thinking. However, like most things in life, too much of anything is not healthy. For many months now, children have been learning at home and seeing their friends virtually.
Even though staying at home is keeping us safe, the truth is some days can be a little boring. If your children have been complaining of boredom lately, here are some tips that can help.
So many children miss seeing their friends at school, going on playdates and participating in after-school activities.
Even though we are spending the vast majority at home, that doesn’t mean we can’t spend time with the people we love.
Get-togethers will just have to take place over Zoom.
Weekly Zoom calls with friends can boost your child’s mood and give them something to look forward to every week. Work with your children to create a game, fun questions or activity they can do in order to create engagement while on Zoom with friends.
Looking at the same four walls every day can be tough. It’s always nice to get a change of scenery and spend time in nature. Even if it is a little chilly outside, spending as little as 10 minutes a day outdoors can boost your child’s mood and increase their energy levels.
You can take family walks around the block, or your child can play or read in the backyard. To make sure each walk looks and feels different, always go a different route or direction. Anything different is good to help being present.
Preplan with a word game, a guessing game such as “eye spy with my little eye”, or fun questions. That can help keep the walk more interesting and engaging.
Listen To Upbeat Music:
Music is a wonderful thing. It can energize, motivate and inspire us.
Now, tasks like homework and reading should be completed in silence with minimal distractions. However, more mundane tasks like chores can easily be completed with fun music playing in the background.
Not only will it help pass the time, but it’ll also make chores more fun.Learn More
As a parent, you probably woke up one morning and realized your child has become a teenager. This is a big change. Yet, while this is a new challenge for you, at least you were a teen once. It’s important to remember your teen is going through changes too, for the first time. So things seem bigger for them.
If you remember, being a teenager is not easy. Everything from homework to friends to wanting to fit in can be very stressful. Teens need to be able to talk and share to help manage that stress.
Your teen will only talk and share if you have a good relationship with them. Unfortunately, most teens prefer to talk to their friends because their friends will listen versus lecture.
Here are a few tips that can help you better communicate with them and keep your relationship strong. Getting out of that parent/teacher/lecturer role is critical. Here’s how you can do that.
Validate Their Feelings
It’s normal for parents to want to jump in and solve all their children’s problems and worries. You know the answers, right? However, when you do that you communicate to them that they aren’t capable, which hurts their self-esteem. Instead, focus on validating their feelings first.
You may not always agree with how your teen reacts or feels, but that doesn’t mean their feelings aren’t valid. Validating their feelings has nothing to do with agreeing with the facts. “I can see this is hard for you.” Or, “I don’t blame you for feeling this way.” Statements like this communicate acceptance. Acceptance strengthens the relationship.
The next time your teen is upset, don’t fix anything. Instead, be there and listen without judgement and validate their feelings. Then you can ask them what they think might help or work for them? Now you can brainstorm – do not solve it for them!
Sometimes all we need is someone to listen to us.
Control Your Emotions
Almost every single teen experiences mood swings.
It’s normal for them to say things they don’t mean or be reactive to their emotions. When we’re upset, we can’t always think clearly and look at things logically. If you have trouble with that, don’t expect them to do what you can’t. This is a key area that we work with in therapy – emotional regulation.
Even though it may be hard at times, the next time your teen loses their temper, try your best to stay calm and be validating and empathetic. “I know you’re upset right now.” Or, “I can see this really frustrates you.” Statements like these lower the fight/flight response and help get them into their thinking and reasoning brain.
Once your teen has calmed down, the two of you can discuss the situation and come up with a game plan.
Do Fun Things Together
Sitting down and having a conversation isn’t the only way to communicate. Doing activities together you both enjoy can strengthen your relationship.
You can go to the movies, hike, or take a cooking class. It’s completely up to you. You might be surprised how much they talk and share while doing activities with you.
The more positive experiences you share, the deeper your bond will become.
Eat Dinner Together
When teens have a lot going on, it isn’t always easy to participate in family time. Having consistent family dinners is a great way for families to connect.
Your dinners don’t have to fancy. All you need is good food and good conversation.
Spending time letting your teen drive the conversation, talking about what interests them, and keep getting to know them. Be validating of their feelings and try to coach them instead of lecture and “fix” their problems. Do these things and you’ll improve your communication and relationship with your teen.Learn More
Going through a breakup is never easy – even if you were the one who initiated it.
The first step is working to disconnect emotionally from the relationship. This will help you be more emotionally available to date. The loss of the other relationship is going to involve grief to work through. Forget about the old, “just let it go”. Recovery involves accepting whatever loss there is and finding an area of personal growth to embrace. These will help you make a good next choice. This process can be very therapeutic.
Then, take your time to think about how you contributed to the relationship not working. This is your learning to not carry forward. For sure, also think about how the relationship made you a better person.
When To Start Dating Again
When you start thinking you’re ready to jump back into the dating pool, consider the following questions. You may be ready in a week, a month, or a year. It is completely up to you. You may not know the answer right now, and that’s okay! Take your time, this is a process.
How Does The Thought of Going On a Date Make You Feel?
It’s very normal to feel nervous before going on a first date. But there are two types of nerves:
There are excited nerves that often feel like butterflies – which is generally a good sign.
There are anxious nerves too, which may be a sign you’re not quite ready. If the thought of going on a date makes you feel uneasy, your body might be telling you, you’re not ready yet, or the person isn’t right.
Ironically the body sensations of anxiety and excitement are very close! Take time to be clear about which one you are actually experiencing.
Why Am I Going On This Date?
That void you feel after a breakup can be quite painful. It is helpful to engage in solo activities and do things you love. This can help you find your independent self and be in a position where you want someone versus needing them. Get back into older hobbies, discover new ones, or spend time with friends and family.
If you are going on a date because you genuinely want to get to know a person, that’s great!
If you are going on a date because you feel obligated, you may not be ready.
Are You Looking For Validation?
Relationships deliver comfort, connection, belongingness, and support. It’s normal for our partner to feel like our other half.
Once that honeymoon ends, it’s common to believe you need to date someone else in order to feel attractive. If you’re only looking to date to get validation, you may not be ready to open your heart to someone.
Take time to understand your thoughts and feelings. Getting clear about yourself and what you want or need will help you make better decisions when you work to pick a new partner worthy of you!Learn More
It’s recommended that teens get around 8 – 9.5 hours of sleep each night. However, the vast majority of teens end up getting much less.
Sleep deprivation in teens can impact their grades, weaken their immune system, and even bring on depression or anxiety.
If you’re worried your teen isn’t getting enough sleep, here’s what to do!
Make Their Bedroom a Tech-Free Zone:
It’s not uncommon for teens to check their phone or social media accounts in the middle of the night when they can’t sleep. It may feel like the best idea at the moment, but that is far from the truth.
Eventually, they’ll need to learn how to wind down and fall back asleep on their own. If their devices are too distracting, encourage them to turn them off before bed, or even place them in a different room.
Stay Away From The Caffeine:
We all respond to caffeine slightly differently. However, a good rule of thumb is to avoid caffeine after 3 PM. The effects of caffeine can last for many hours and make it that much harder for your teen to fall asleep.
Of course, we’re all human, and things do pop up from time to time. But maintaining a consistent bedtime routine can be very helpful.
Encourage your teen to step away from the television and get ready for bed around the same time every night. Several studies have shown that going to sleep at the same time every night can help us fall asleep faster and prevent tossing and turning.Learn More
If you want your child to eat their vegetables, guess what? You have to eat your vegetables first. As a parent, what you model is 10,000 times more powerful than what you say. Want respect? Give respect. Yes, it is so much faster and easier to tell your child what to do. Yet, if you expect them to “do as you say, not as you do”, what you might actually be teaching them is how to be hypocritical.
Of course, you want to raise respectful children who become respectful teens who become respectful adults. Respectful children and teens are a joy to have around! To foster this in your child, work on offering respect to them and to others (they’ll notice), this allows you to expect it in return.
Respect Raises Self-Esteem
Being respectful to your child builds a sense of self-value and raises their self-esteem. When they feel worthy of being treated fairly, when they feel worthy of being respected, they want that for you and others around them.
Model what you want to see from them
- Say “please” and “thank you” your child will
- Keep your promises, they will learn to keep their promises
- When you are upset, yet keep your voice calm, your child will learn to do the same
A child will only give you the same level of respect you give them.
If you’re trying to navigate a problem, ask yourself, “what is it that I want to model?” You’ll find this is a great way to teach them your values and to be respectful to you and others.
As a parent, if you’re finding it difficult to model your values, or are unsure about your techniques, parenting coaching might help. If your child needs some extra help, child therapy might be the ticket. If they’re an adolescent, teen counseling might get you and them on track.
For teen counseling, Erin Manhardt is a Youth & Family therapist at Bellevue Family Counseling. Erin is passionate about working with youths who are struggling in relationships and school. Contact Erin at Bellevue Counseling in Bellevue Washington.Learn More
Any child loves attention. Dramatic children know how to get it. Some are born into that role by coming out of the womb with a roar! These vibrant little personalities are great charmers yet can also wear down their parents since they seem to have a huge need to be the center of the show. The dramatic child does this by having big emotions that seem out of proportion to the actual event.
What Can Parents Do?
1. Avoid the meltdown by giving choices
These sensitive personalities tend to feel more empowered when they have just a bit more control in their lives. To do this, they need lots of small choices. If you don’t share a bit of power through choices be warned – they will take the power! The key is to give choices throughout the day on your terms, filling up their need for control. When your children are younger the choices can be incredibly small yet fills up their need for control. Choices for simple things that don’t matter to you make this easy. “Do you want your milk in a mug or in a glass?” “Do you want to put your left shoe on first, or the right one?”
Where this can go wrong
Don’t give big choices such as, “What restaurant do you want to go to?” Keep them almost inconsequential to you. If you can’t accept the choice they might make, don’t offer it or you’ll have a mutiny on your hands!
2. Build emotional intelligence by reflecting their feelings
When the inevitable meltdown does occur, it is time for you to reflect their feelings. This is the exact moment you are either training your child to use drama or you are diffusing drama. When you reflect your child’s feelings, they are immediately calmer because they feel that someone understands what they are experiencing.
As an adult, you have many years on this planet and will have a perspective on tough moments. What is small for you might seem like a fire alarm for your child. Dig down and accept that for your child this is a new and difficult moment and they need you! When you acknowledge that you know how it feels and that it makes sense to be upset, your child will no longer need to SHOW how frustrated they are. The desire to act out the feeling disappears, and therefore the undesirable behavior stops as well.
Where this can go wrong
If you instead choose to correct or admonish your child when they start to be emotional or try to get them to see your point of view this will create a feeling in your child of being dismissed. Some children will shut down in this moment and go silent. However, the drama kings and queens will amp up this moment. They will intensify their emotions because they desperately want to feel understood. If you continually dismiss your child’s feelings during these moments, you are training them to need to have bigger and bigger reactions to be “heard”. You will have plenty of time once emotions have simmered down to help your child see things from a different perspective.
3. Dramatic language to reduce dramatic reactions – build an emotion vocabulary
When you reflect your child’s feelings, such as in “Oh, I can see you look sad right now.” They learn to connect their internal body sensations to words. In the future when they feel the same sensations and emotions again, they will connect it to those words and communicate verbally instead of acting out. Your child will learn to regulate their emotions because they understand those feelings and now have a way to appropriately express them.
Where this can go wrong
Reflecting your child’s emotions – emotion coaching – is different than diminishing, minimizing, criticizing or dismissing. “Honey, you seem very upset right now.” Is emotion coaching. “You’re too sensitive.” Or, “You’re always angry.” Is critical and dismissing. This will only lead to more drama. As a parent, part of your role in preparing your children to be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted teens and adults is teaching them how to regulate their emotions. This means you must be able to do that too. If you become frustrated and raise your voice, they will learn to raise theirs. If you are upset and are sarcastic or critical, they will learn to do that to you.
Need help parenting a drama king or queen? Parent coaching might be what you need to gain tools and feel confident in your parenting. If you want more support for your child, child/play therapy can help them gain new tools to manage their big feelings. Learn to be empathetic, stay emotionally calm, and coach them through their difficult emotions, and they can learn to do that too. That will make their teen and adults lives much happier, and yours!
by Csilla Vegvari, child therapist at Bellevue Family Counseling.
Spending Time with Your Children?
If you have children, getting yourself and them through the morning, afternoon and evening routine can be crazy hard! I bet you still find time to worry you’re not spending enough quality time with your children.
No doubt you go full throttle from the moment you wake until your head plops on the pillow, hardly having time to stop and smell the espresso. You’re doing the best you can, yet every once in a while do you ask yourself, “Am I giving them enough?”
We know that it is imperative for a child’s healthy development to experience emotional connection and presence from you, their parents. When you talk and interact in a way that allows them to direct the play, it contributes to healthy self-esteem and a sense of closeness with you. This creates an internal sense of safety and security because they experience you as accessible and available.
Will Children Ever Have Enough of Your Time?
From their perspective, no. Your children will almost always want more time then you could ever give them. They will almost always be disappointed when play time with you is over.
This is good news! It means you’re doing a good job somewhere because they want you.
However, when you’ve given all you can and they seem disappointed, what can you do?
20 Minutes: The Magic Number
There has been enough research into what creates a healthy internal sense of self for us to know the bottom line. The magic number is twenty. Twenty minutes per day of non-directed play. If you can deposit twenty minutes of your attention – that is twenty minutes of non-goal-oriented time every day, they will have a strong chance of developing that important internal sense of secure attachment.
Four Easy Ways to Find 20 Minutes a Day:
- Remember it is the process of play, not the product that is key. Adults commonly want an objective, a goal, to win or encourage the child to win. Forget about all that and focus on the process of the play. It’s about time together, not a goal or project.
- Make a big deal out of turning off your phone, laptop, tablet and the TV.
- Set an alarm for twenty minutes you both know it really is twenty minutes.
- When the time is over, transition into something else they will enjoy. Dinner time, movie time, storytime. Do this and the transition will be easier for everyone.
by Csilla Vegvari, child therapist at Bellevue Family Counseling.
Divorce is undeniably a social, emotional and financial upheaval for families. The time of divorce will almost always be held as an incredibly sad memory for children. Unfortunately, we cannot protect our children fully from the inevitable impact of this moment. This inevitably leads to the question, “How do I tell my child about my divorce?”
Fortunately, we can do a lot to help children attach this painful transition to a memory of parental unity and nurturing. The makes divorce merely a thing that happened, not a traumatic event they’ll never get over.
When is it Best to Tell Them?
It’s best if you and your spouse tell your child(ren) together and on a day where there will be enough time for them to process the information. Here are some key steps on how you can manage emotions, at the moment and afterward, in a way that will set them up to handle this successfully.
Prepare the Family Story
This first step is the hardest and requires that you come together, manage your emotions and practice restraint. Ideally, you and your spouse agree on a reason you are getting a divorce; a reason that can be shared with your child at an age appropriate level. The details of your divorce are private and not for the ears of your children. Keep your story very short, simple and honest.
Your Story Has Four Parts:
1. A general reason for your decision
2. The clear fact you are going to be living apart
3. Reassurance that the child plays no role in this dissolution
4. How you love your child, and this will not change
“You know how much mommy and daddy fight. It is really awful and sad for us. We have tried different ways to get along better but finally, have decided that we cannot live together anymore. It is hurting us too much. The reasons we fight have nothing to do with you; it is just about us. We love you, we love being your parents. Being your parents is the best thing that has ever happened to us. We will always together be your parents.”
Avoiding the Blame Game
Children can be very black and white thinkers and will be looking to assign blame and finding the “bad guy” where they can direct their anger. They can easily view one parent as the “bad” parent if you are not careful and give any reason for them to take sides. You may be emotionally driven to look good in your child’s eyes especially if you don’t want the divorce, but it actually does greater harm to your child if you put them in a position of splitting their loyalties between the two people they love the most in the world. You are divorcing to get them out of conflict not to place them in more conflict.
Your child will also look to themselves as the possible “bad guy”. Even if the situation appears self-evident that it is between the parents, every child will still think they play a role. Wipe this out of your child’s thoughts by making it clear that this is purely an adult issue and has nothing to do with children. Reassure them of your love.
Plan on communicating the idea that they play no part in the reason for the divorce. Repeat this periodically over the next few years. No child wants to hear that you are divorcing as some sort of gift to them; to get them out of conflict, to give them a more stable life etc. If you play it this way, they will carry that burden of being responsible for your divorce.
Try to own the divorce as your choice and what is best for you, as adults.
What to Say When They Ask, “Why?”
Your child may ask “why”. This again is not a time to air personal details. For most children what they want to know most is how this decision will affect them. Explain together how things will progress. If they persist in asking why – take that moment to reiterate that this is private between the adults and the reasons have nothing to do with the children.
Focus on explaining what does concern them which is the rearrangement of family life. Early in the process, keep the details general, because at this point you may not clearly know the structure of your divorce agreements. Children are going to want to know what directly affects them so focus your conversation on their stable life. Talk about where they will live, whether they will need to change schools, where they will sleep, where they get to keep their toys if they will have their own room.
Managing Your Emotions
Some parents believe that they need to be emotionless in order to create a sense of security for their child. Not only is this hard on your own body, but it also creates a lot of confusion for your child. A divorce is a crisis event and we feel emotions during a crisis. Children look to their parents as a model for how to be in the world. If they see no emotion from you, they may come to believe they are not allowed to express emotion and it is wrong for them to be sad or angry. Your child will feel confused if you tell them everything is fine yet they can see the red-rimmed watery eyes or the inexplicable angry outbursts.
Children will work to make sense of your emotional displays. Therefore, it is important that you are authentic, otherwise, they will make up a story in their own head and it may once again be self-blaming. How you create security for your children is by owning and naming the emotion they see on your face so they are not confused with mixed signals.
Modeling Emotional Leadership
Next, let your child experience how you are going to take care of your emotion. Label your emotion, demonstrate how you are going to take care of it, reconnect back with your child so they do not come to believe that emotions create distance.
I feel very angry right now. I even want to yell, but instead, I am going to use that energy to go for a run and that will make me feel better. When I come back how about you and I play a game? I am sad today, I feel like I am going to cry. I am going to go take a nice warm, bubble bath and that will make me feel better. When I come back you and I can read a story together.
Helping Your Child Manage Their Emotions
When your child feels anger or sadness, know that this is okay. Your job is to simply sit with them. Take the pressure off yourself to remove the pain and rescue them. Just sit with them in their feelings and be empathetic. “I know this is a really sad time right now.” “It must be hard to feel this way inside.
As parents, our job is to raise our children in a way that gives them the tools and skills to manage real life. In real life, there are situations that we encounter that are not solvable. This is one of them for your child. Divorce is out of your child’s control, so allowing those feelings to be expressed and flow through them will be an important way for them to gain their own resilience.
Don’t Rescue Them
You will be tempted to rescue them from their own emotions by distracting them, making promises, offering gifts, or pointing out solutions. That is not what they need. Right now your child needs to know it is safe to express emotions. They need to be able to feel their emotions let those emotions flow through their body and not get stuck inside. Your ability to be calm with them, to make sure they are not feeling alone is critical. To do this, you must control your own internal and external experience. If at all possible do not hijack this moment from your child by having your own emotions and anxiety overwhelm their moment.
You Can Do It
You and your family do not have to limp through a divorce. By modeling emotional leadership you and your children can do more than just survive, you can thrive and become closer.
by Leah Koenig MA, LMHC. Leah is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Family Therapist, and PCI Certified Parent Coach®. Leah specializes in working with children, teens, and parents on creating their best self and best family relationships.
Contact Leah at Bellevue Family Counseling in Bellevue Washington.Learn More