Someone once related to me the following quote:
“Little children, little problems. Big children, big problems”
As parents, we need to help our children deal with challenging situations. These situations will change based on age, situation and the nature of the problem. A younger child may struggle with sharing and developing friendships, while older children may struggle with family conflict, peer pressure and academic stress. While the specific problem may be different, the approach of parents to helping their children needs to take into account the following three ideas:
1) Do I fully understand the problem that my child has expressed to me?
2) Do I need assistance or guidance as to how to proceed with the issue?
3) How do I empower my child to work through the issue on his/her own?
Let’s say that your 10-year-old son shares with you a problem that is happening in school. Parents may need to probe deeper to get more information or need to check in with the teacher or school for information as well. Parents should not be afraid to call other parents should their child mention a conflict with another child. Even if this particular parent is your best friend and you are fearful that the phone call will “ruin your friendship” (which in itself is a cognitive distortion because it is most probably not going to happen), it is important to remember that you are calling on behalf of your child as a parent, not as a personal friend. Advocating for your child is crucial, especially with children who are a little more reserved or shy.
While some issues are time sensitive, most issues can be revisited at a later time. Modeling for our children that we want to process the issue or “speak to Daddy about the issue when he comes home from work” is a great lesson for children and adolescents. It can begin to lay the building blocks of patience, becoming less reactive and developing stress management skills. However, in order for this to happen, parents themselves need to understand the importance of thinking things through and not being overly reactive. Co-parenting and working together on specific child developmental issues is best done when everyone has had time to come home from work, unwind, relax and focus on each other without any distractions (yes, this does mean that I am saying that spouses should not speak to each other on important matters while one or the other is on their smartphone).
A little adversity does not hurt children. Parents watch their children struggle and then subsequently watch them develop resiliency due to the nature of the challenge. It is often a myth that parents have when they feel that they need to solve all of their child’s problems or that they need to “run and swoop in” when a problem arises. Let’s discuss this on a practical level with three points:
1) If a child comes home from school with a school-related issue, the parent can role play with the child or provide pointers with how the child could solve a particular issue. Parents need to assess what message they are sending their children if every potential problem needs to be adjusted or shifted to fit the child’s specific complaint.
2) Problems in school that cannot be solved are often things that build resiliency and strength. More often than not, children who are not placed in the classes that they want will often work harder to make things work, find some new friends and enjoy teachers that they never thought they would enjoy.
3) Parents should always be asking their children the following question: “What do you think we should do? How do you think that we should handle this?” A younger child may have less to say and a teenager may say, “You just don’t get it,” but the question needs to be asked in order to give our children the opportunity to develop problem solving skills. This can be done at any developmental level.
So when challenging things arise, let’s remember the three E’s: Empower, Engage and Educate. These three things will help our children conquer any adversity!
By Mark Staum, LCSW