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Connecting With Your Kids

Lauren Nelson, MSS, LCSW
September 10, 2012connect-kids

Summer's over and children and teens are back off to school. On one hand, this is a relief from children and teens having less structure than the school year..messing up the kitchen and living room.it's not really a parent's summer. So now that your kids are back to school it's a whole new set of issues to worry about. Getting up earlier if need be to get the kids situated, lunch made, and off to school. Did you pack your lunch?

Then while you're at work you get a call from the principal's office, your child has been "disruptive" in class. First reactions can include something like "What is he/she up to now! I am so sorry". Or, "Its not my child's fault, is their friend in there too, you know their trouble maker friend?" But what if you came to the school and truly looked at your child, listened, and saw what he/she is telling you verbally and physically. What if your child was acting out in school to send you a message indirectly? I know. I know."why can't they just tell me" and "they need to use their words." Yes, you are absolutely right, but it takes time to express emotions in appropriate ways. This is a process and adults continue to work on this.

So, the challenge is to not "react" to your child. Reacting is an initial response that often includes feeling anger and not processing it before responding. So it is telling the teacher how angry you are, or apologizing for your child, and then when you see your child reacting to your anger about what they have done. Pause! Did you ask your child their side of the story? Can you check in with your own emotional reaction to your child disobeying adults? What are you feeling? A lot of the time its anger and feeling disrespected, and thinking that this reflects upon your parenting..so if you react from this place most of the time you are missing your child's message to you!

Underneath acting out behaviors in school and/or at home there is a strong message that a child is trying to send you. It is a message that lets you know something is not right and they are screaming out to be seen and heard. The message could entail anger and hurt feelings in regards to what is going on in the family whether there is a divorce going on, or there is a disconnect between parent-child. Maybe they did not get to process the death of a loved one fully, or maybe they are reacting to a feeling that a sibling is getting more attention and they want more attention. Or maybe they are acting out because they feel they can get away with it. This may be one of the more difficult messages that your child sends you, and it's good to learn how to respond without dominating the child.

Children are not complicated. If you look and listen closely, they will tell you what is going on and what they need. Albeit, not always directly, but they will tell you. And sometimes a therapist is needed to guide parent and child interaction to help understand the disconnect and foster healthy connection to meet both parent and child's needs. Often, parents get the idea that they should meet their child's needs and that theirs do not matter anymore. This thought process can lead to a child in distress, because if your needs are not met as a parent then you are not going to be fully present to meet your child's emotional needs.

Here are some suggestions:

  • When your child acts out in school or at home, pause for a few moments and stay present with your own feelings,
  • Don't be afraid to give yourself a few minutes to connect with yourself and see what this acting out is bringing up in you, the parent. You can even remove yourself or child briefly so you can process this.
  • Ask yourself what is going on in your child's environment. How is your relationship? Have there been any changes?
  • When you feel you are connected to yourself, then you can be emotionally present with your child. It's ok to express emotion to your child. After all, they do learn how to communicate thoughts and feelings by watching adults. So if we don't show them emotions, how will they learn how to express them in a healthy way?
  • Look at him/her, listen, do not interrupt, notice any emotional reactions and reflect them back.
  • Don't be afraid to reach out to a therapist. You are not alone, and it takes time, skill and patience.

Lauren Nelson, MSS, LCSW is a Senior Staff Therapist in CFR's Bryn Mawr & Wynnewood offices. She can be reached at 215-284-3028.

For more relationship advice, check out our Archive of Relationship Tips.

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