7 steps to care for the emotional wellbeing of your children

 ‘There is an invisible community that deserves our attention.  It’s a community that can’t fight for their rights; a community that suffers from the actions of others, and yet must adjust, sometimes radically, both for the good and for the bad.’1

That’s a tough statement by Mark Banschick, the founder of ‘Intelligent Divorce’, for a divorced single parent to hear.

As said in the last blog, most parents want the best for their children and are willing to invest in them. As a single parent, the investment can be harder due to the increased demands on you and the difficulties experienced by single parent homes. The blog gave 4 ways to lay a foundation in your children as a long-term investment. Step 4 was ‘Meet their emotional needs’.

As a parent, you don’t deliberately set out to hurt your children. But unfortunately there are times when life will confront you and your children with difficulties. Your children may experience many of the same emotions you are feeling yourself, including grief, anger, anxiety, fear, rejection and even depression.

It can be hard as a parent, to care for the emotional health of your children when you too are caught in your emotions and dealing with life as best you can. For single parents this can be even more difficult, as you have less support for yourself and you may be the only one supporting your children.

Sometimes the formation of a single parent family is the cause for grief and emotional turmoil in your children.  At the end of my marriage, my son used to appear beside my bed in the middle of the night, poking me and asking, ‘Are you still there, Mummy?’ It can tear you up inside knowing you are the cause of your child’s pain, which can make you feel more guilt and pain. In your hurt you can’t help your children, creating a vicious cycle.

Dr Hart, a child psychologist, in his book, ‘Helping children survive divorce’, counsels that parents need to face their children’s pain to help them find healing. He challenges that it’s not about your comfort level2. That stings!

So, what to do? Here’s 7 steps to care for the emotional wellbeing of your children. Note: you can’t do everything on the list. You need the support of others and you need to facilitate others to support your children. See increasing your support and love tanks for more information on this.

Children’s emotional needs

To help children deal with their emotions, they need us to:

  1. Spend time with them to find out what concerns them

As a time poor single parent this can be difficult, buts it’s necessary to create an opportunity for your children to share with you. Often children open up when you are alongside them rather than  having a face to face conversation. This could be playing or even doing chores together. We used to have our deep and meaningful conversations in the car – sometimes I kept driving to keep the conversation going!

  1. Reassure them of your unconditional love

Your kids need to know you love them with love that is not based on their behaviour. Sometimes they might not be receiving your love because of differences in your love languages. You can learn to speak their love language. Click here for blog on love langauges

  1. Provide as stable an environment as possible

Work with the other parent for the children’s best interest. Don’t use them as pawns. Develop routines and ways to make changing houses as easy as possible for them.  Work on having positive communication with your ex – see the one step in dealing with the other parent

  1. Avoid communicating your own fears to the children

Especially with money worries or noises in the night, be brave. Find an adult to discuss your fears with and have the conversation away from your children. My daughter had overheard my repeated wailing to a friend about my money woes, and refused to tell me when she needed a new jacket in winter as she had taken on the worry about money.

  1. Boost their self-esteem and resilience

Click here for a great guide on how to do this

  1. Consider professional counselling

As said before when you’re in the middle of your emotional turmoil it can be hard to help your children through theirs. So, find someone who can help your child. The Children’s mental health resource below shows where to get help in South Australia.

  1. Look after yourself

You can’t care for your kids emotionally if you are burdened and overwhelmed yourself. Establish your own support network which may include professional help. Ensure that you balance caring for others with caring for yourself  – see blog 10 strategies to practice balance.

Resources

Parenting easy guides:

Sign up to the newsletter at ”The Intelligent Divorce’  and you will receive a mini book called the ‘Intelligent Divorce’ which covers: ‘How To Tell Your Kids About Divorce’, ‘A Child’s Bill Of Rights’ and ‘Creating A Healthy Family Going Forward’

Psychology today: ‘The children of divorce’

 

References

  1. M Banschick, ‘The children of divorce’, Psychology today, 8 July 2017, viewed 8 August 2017, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-intelligent-divorce/201707/the-children-divorce
  2. Hart, A.D. (1996) Helping children survive divorce. Word Publishing, U.S.A, p65

How to use the 5 love languages to better fill your child’s love tank

There’s someone in my family who loves me dearly. They show it to me with little surprise presents like a treat from the shop or doing things for me. I know they love me but I don’t feel it. I tell my kids all the time I love them, I build them up with words to inspire them. One of my kids often remarks, ‘You never spend time with me.’ They know I love them but they don’t feel it. Knowing and feeling love can be different things.

In the blog and video on filling your child’s love tank I mention that while you may think you are giving love, your child may not be receiving it. To fill their love tanks with unconditional love, you need to do your homework to find out how best to reach them. This means detecting how you can best convey your love and how they best receive it.

london-scout-unsplash ballet dress

The five love languages

Dr Ross Campbell (an Associate Professor of Paediatrics and Psychiatry)  and Gary Chapman (a Relationship Counsellor), in The Five Love Languages of Children1 discuss how few children feel unconditionally loved by their parents even though the parents may say ‘I love you’ and genuinely mean it. They say to fill children’s love tanks you can express love in five different languages:

  • physical touch
  • quality time
  • gifts
  • acts of service – actions speak louder than words
  • words of affirmation – using words to affirm a person

The authors comment that although we need and use all five languages of love, we have a primary language that we use.

As a parent you may speak one love language but your child may hear best in a different love language. Learning to speak the child’s primary language increases the chance of the child knowing they are unconditionally loved.

Using love languages in practice

In my example at the beginning can you identify my primary love language? My child’s language? The person who loves me? Did you say – words of affirmation, quality time, gifts and acts of service?

Once I understood the concept and worked out who ‘spoke ‘ which language I realised why I struggled to feel  loved and why no matter how many times I told my child how much I loved them, they complained I didn’t because I didn’t spend time with them. It eased my frustration and helped me to consciously speak other love languages back to the person who loves me even though it feels weird, and to speak love to my child with less words and more time.

Where can you learn yours and your child’s love languages?

You can observe your actions and your children. What do they ask of you: a back rub, to sit and play with them, to listen to them, for a present, or do they try to make your breakfast?

How about you? Do you use words or  buy little treats for them, or prefer a snuggle?

You can use the quizzes as I did the old fashioned way – before the days of the internet – using tests in The love language books or check out the website:   Five languages of love. Take the quizzes today and discover your love language and your child’s love language.

Read more on love languages and learn how to speak the languages that are not natural to you by looking at the resources below and clicking here

Once you know the languages and how to speak them then you have to work out ways to bridge the gaps between you.  It’s helpful to recognise when others are speaking love to you in a language you don’t readily use, to affirm that you are loved. It may feel awkward at first but I found it has improved my relationships with both my kids and others.

Putting legs on it

Do some research and detective work. How do you show love? How does your child receive it? What strategies can you use to bridge any gaps between you?

Do you want more than just to survive single parenting? Do you want to be your best and flourish as a family? Click here for ‘Successful Single Parenting’ chapter
Resources

Gary Chapman: Keeping the love tank full

Gary Chapman: The 5 love languages profile for children

busykidshappymom: Five languages of love – love tank

motherhow.com: How to love your child? Inspired by Ross Campbell

 References

  1. Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell. The Five Love Languages of Children S.A: Northfield Publishing, 1997.

Photo credit London Scout unsplash,com

3 steps to take when you get it wrong as a parent

Parents are human. We are not perfect and sometimes we get it wrong. The added stressors of single parenting will increase the chance of getting it wrong. But all is not lost! There are 3 steps we can take to limit the fallout and be better role models to our kids.

dunklings

As parents we will inevitably get it wrong occasionally. We speak hurtfully to our kids both accidentally and purposefully. We act the opposite of what we teach, we lack patience, we don’t listen, we make decisions to suit our own interests and not for the benefit of our kids. We fail! If I was to list every time I have got it wrong as a parent you’d be reading an encyclopedia not a blog. For me, being a single parent increased the potential to get it wrong because tiredness, lack of support and overload infringed my abilities. That’s why as single parents we need to find a balance between caring for others and caring for ourselves.

Prevention strategies

We need to practice self-care so we don’t overload and burn out. I found when I was tired the smallest annoyance would create an explosion of anger. Fatigue generated an over-reaction and my kids bore the brunt of it.

It’s important that we have the support of others who we can bounce parenting strategies off. They may not live in the house but they can be our coach on the side-lines giving valuable input and a listening ear. We simply cannot parent alone.

However, even with the best prevention methods there are times when you will just not parent well. What do you do when you get it wrong?

3 steps to take when you get wrong as parent

  1. Apologise
  2. Repair any damage or limit the fallout
  3. Forgive ourselves

Step 1 Apologise

Making an apology is a humbling experience. When you apologise you acknowledge that your actions or words have hurt the other person. You confess that what you did or what you said was wrong. For some of us who try to be perfect (me!) this is a confronting experience. To admit to another person that I am not perfect challenges my self-worth.

Saying the word ‘sorry’ can be very difficult. You might need to write your apology out first, choosing what you will say and even rehearsing it. I often had to practice my apology so I didn’t revert back to blaming the other person mid speech. E.g. I might start with ‘I am sorry I went ballistic about the toys being left on the floor,’ and end up with, ‘but how many times have I asked you not to leave them there, and now I’ve stepped on one and broken it. That’s going to cost so much money that we don’t have and it’s all your fault…blah blah blah.’ A clue you have switched from apology to blaming is when you use the word ‘you’.

Apologising when you get it wrong shows your kids how to be humble.  They will learn the need for apologising when they hurt or offend someone. You are being a good role model.

Step 2 Repair damage or limit the fallout

To understand what you will need to do to repair the damage or limit the fallout you will need to listen – really listen to how your kids describe their hurt. This requires focused attention, not thinking about your ‘to do’ list or what to cook for tea. It will be uncomfortable as you are aware that you are the cause of their pain.  Listening helps you to find ways to help them with their hurt. This takes time and energy.

I snapped hope destroying words at my kids many years ago and even now we still talk about this hurt and how to remedy it. As the kids have grown we have explored the impact of the words as their understanding of life developed. It’s a long term reminder of a time I got it really wrong. Hence the need to forgive yourself.

Step 3 Forgive ourselves

Forgiving yourself frees you from the constant regurgitation of getting it wrong. It allows you to leave the past behind and let go of the guilt and shame of what you did.

To forgive yourself simply say, ‘I forgive myself for….’. By the way, it’s normal for your feelings not to match your declaration, so ignore them.

Putting legs on it

Is there something you need to apologise for?

Do you need to listen to how you have hurt your kids and find a remedy for it?

Do you need to forgive yourself for not being the perfect parent?

Resources

Psychology today: When parents say ‘I’m sorry’, they are saying so much more

Positive Parenting Solutions: 7 steps for apologizing to your child

Parenting: 5 reasons why you should apologize to your kids

References

Photo credit: Roksolana Zasiadko www.stocksnap.io