Staying Connected to Your Child
“The greatest gift you can give your child is a strong relationship
between the two of you.” John Gottman
I’ve been thinking a great deal this week about how to maintain connection with my children, 11 and twins who are 8…
The morning starts with nagging about what needs to be done, followed by more demanding nagging … compounding this is time pressure to get them to early morning activities while they are in ‘go slow mode’!
From the moment I wake up there is a feeling of being stressed, if I were looking in from the outside I would be able to see – my frustration, my anxiety and my exhaustion (and its only 7:45am!)
We finally get out the door and to the car and make it to school with no time to spare. The boys jump out the car, blow me a kiss and then they’re off… as I drive away I experience a feeling of sadness and emptiness … I reflect on these feelings later in the day and realize that there has been no ‘connection; with my children this morning. I didn’t have time to check in and see how they slept, what they dreamt about, or ask what they were looking forward to about school or perhaps what they were dreading or worried about. This is the way it is in the busy lives we lead. How do we balance the balls we are juggling? How do we stay true to what we value as our role as parents? And not get caught up in “what our peers or society” are expecting of us?
I decide and make a little pact with myself that when I pick my boys up from school today I’m going to STOP, I’m going to sit next to them and have some afternoon tea together (with no distractions from TV or mobile phones) just chatting about their day, being a bit silly and not rushing… or I may attempt some “love bombing” *, create special time/ mummy time for each child1:1, it only needs to be 15 minutes but is very powerful – it may be reading a story, sitting on their bed chatting, playing a game, kicking a ball outside. But ultimately I’m going to make sure I’m not nagging about homework or chores that need to be done… I’ve come to realize too that my children need to take responsibility for themselves and what needs to be done – the more I overwork and over function for them the less thoughtful they have to be. I strongly believe that part of my parenting role is to create self sufficient and competent children, not children who are dependent and needy. I am curious about how the more I ‘connect’ with my children by just ‘being’ the more they want to do the right thing.
Over the last few weeks I seem to have heard similar stories of the balance between growing up and growing adult relationships … There are so many pressures that compound this already challenging situation. We are often up against much – financial pressures, changes in the family dynamics – births or deaths, moving house or loss of employment. This has an impact on ‘self’ and of course other relationships with partners or children.
The affect seems to be on the relationship often with the person closest to you, your partner. It is not uncommon for clients to talk about their experience of their relationship as being like “ships passing through the night”. They go on to explain, “We don’t have time for each other and when we do have time together we just argue. It’s causing me much distress and I’m finding it hard to concentrate on work, I’m drained and I can’t give much to anyone at the moment”.
Relationships can provide us with some of the most rewardingand positive experiences in our lives. They can at times, however, present us with our greatest challenges and can become a source of anxiety. It is useful to step back as if you were looking in on a painting and see how this came to be this way? Are these patterns played out in other relationships (family of origin)? What’s going on for you? What needs to change within yourself in order for the pattern of interaction to be different? Victor Frankl suggests, “when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”… it is much easier to point the finger at someone else and blame them for the distance or conflict in the relationship. In my experience the power and process of change lies within each of us. It is fascinating to watch as clients start to increase their self awareness and take responsibility for their actions and reactions to others …. the ‘dance’ (pattern of interactions) between the couple starts to change. This is consistent with my understanding of a clients presenting ‘symptom’; the symptoms I believe are connected to the big picture of a person’s life and relationships.
Just like everything else in your life that is important, relationships require work and attention to keep them healthy and functioning. But mostly self-awareness and self-regulation are the keys to better functioning relationships. I encourage clients to experiment with these ideas by noticing and observing the things learned about self in counseling process in the systems of real life and relationships.
Some practical tips:
1. Manage your own stress levels by learning techniques to reduce your physiological and psychological symptoms of stress and anxiety (such as increased heart rate, tightness in the body and narrowing in thinking), for example exercise, meditation, listening to music
2.Catch your partner doing good things and let them know – build a culture of appreciation and fondness.
3. Build up the emotional bank account;
• Five compliments for each non-committal answer or complaint.
• Five expressions of affection for each outburst of anger or blame.
• Five good things for every bad.
4. Start really listening to what your partner is saying. Suspend your judgments and invest in understanding their ‘position’, whilst being clear about your position.
5. Avoid the use of contempt, criticism, stonewalling and defensiveness in conflict as it can be highly destructive.
If you are concerned or finding one or more of the relationships in your life difficult, invest the time to improve/ rebuild the relationships in your life that matter through Relationship Counselling:
• Strengthen your own well being
• Gain greater insight and understanding of the concerns that led to seeking therapy
• Attain a better understanding of yourself, your goals and values
• Explore relationships and identify ways in which established patterns of relating may be affecting how you feel about yourself, giving you the opportunity to decide which of these patterns you may like to change
• Learn new ways to cope with stress and anxiety
• Manage anger, grief, depression, and other emotional pressures
• Improve communication and listening skills in all your relationships
Grief and Bereavement
Grief is the normal reaction we experience following a loss, change and or death.
Anxiety and Depression
It is not uncommon for anxiety and depression to occur together.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal emotional and physiological response to feeling threatened. People differ as to how vulnerable they feel in different situations: this can be influenced by past experiences, family of origin, as well as beliefs and attitudes they hold.
What causes anxiety?
Some general situations that could cause anxiety include:
A combination of factors can lead to a person developing anxiety. It is useful to look at your family of origin and other stressful life events (moving house, job loss or other losses, illness, pregnancy or giving birth, work stress or exams, family and relationship problems, death, major emotional shock following a stressful or traumatic event), all of which play a part in the development of anxiety.
Sometimes specific situations can also be anxiety provoking
• apprehension about entering new situations
• worrying about having to deal with a relationship that is problematic – family, friend, work situation
• panic about giving a presentation
• worrying about whether you have made the right decision
• worrying about social acceptance and approval or about failure, criticism or rejection form others
• fears about health and safety
The experience of anxiety can range from mild uneasiness and worry to severe panic. At a reasonable level anxiety can motivate us and enhance our performance, but if anxiety becomes too severe or chronic is can become debilitating.
Some common symptoms of anxiety
Anxiety typically involves an emotion component, a physiological component and a cognitive component
• fear, nervousness, worry
• withdrawing from, avoiding or enduring with fear situations that may cause anxiety
• difficulty making decisions
• being startled easily
• urges to perform certain rituals to try and relieve anxiety
• finding it hard to stop worrying
• unwanted or intrusive thoughts
• shortness of breathe
• racing heart
• dry mouth, trembling
• sleep difficulties
• feeling overwhelmed, constantly tense or on edge
• negative thoughts
These can have an affect on your behaviour, for example putting off things, procrastinating, avoiding people or situations, not sleeping or even drinking too much.
Symptoms may not go away by themselves. If they are left untreated, they can start to make it hard to cope with daily life. Anxiety affects the person experiencing it, but it can also affect the people close to you. If you are uncertain about what is making you anxious it may be useful to seek counselling to gain a better understanding of your anxiety.
Life can often present us with challenges, at times we may feel overwhelmed and stuck. Here are some thoughts about ways to maintain a healthy ‘headspace’ and manage these challenges.
• We all have coping strategies – some better ones than others.
• Reflect on the strategies that have helped you through tough times in the past. Some of these challenges may have been with friends, experiencing peer pressure or bullying, relationship break ups or difficulties or dealing with a diagnosis of an illness or just generally feeling bad about yourself.
• Some positive coping strategies you can try; exercise, relaxation techniques, talking to a friend/ relative orcounsellor, journaling or doing art.
• Experiment with what works best for you!
• Understanding more about what you’re going through can help make sense of things.
• Gaining information and getting clear can help you make better decisions about relationships, career paths or how you want to live your life.
• Some ways to get better informed – reading information on websites or articles, listening to podcasts, talk to others who have had similar experiences, or ask a trusted adult or counsellor for advice.
Looking after yourself and your health
• Being responsible and reducing the use of drugs and alcohol can improve your overall health and wellbeing.
• Eating well can reduce the risk of physical health problems, but it can also help with your sleeping patterns, energy levels, and your general health and wellbeing.
• Spending time doing the things you love – reading, walking, paining, being with friends, playing sport or an instrument.
• Getting a good night’s sleep can help you feel energised, focused and motivated.
• Physical activity is important for everyone’s health and wellbeing. Any form of physical activity (a swim in the ocean, bike riding, kicking a ball with a friend at the park, or even walking around the block) can help relieve stress.
• Getting involved with volunteer work, hobbies, clubs or committees, or sports can help you feel connected to your wider community and you meet new people.
Find your way that helps you to relax
• Listening or playing music
• Remembering to breathe! Breathing in slowly for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 2 seconds and breathing out slowly for 6 seconds.
• Yoga and meditation
• Progressive muscle relaxation
• Mindfulness techniques
When it may be useful to seek help from a counsellor?
• Sometimes you may have a problem that seems too hard to solve alone, even with support from friends and family.
• Be honest with yourself about when you may need support and get professional help.
• Getting help from a cousnellor might feel scary at the start but it gets easier over time.
• Counseling provides a non-judgmental and confidential space, to get clearer about ones goals, purpose and options for managing challenges.
Counseling may help you?
• Gain greater insight, awareness and understanding of ‘self’
• To become clearer about the values and principles that are important to you.
• To be less reactive, more thoughtful and calmer.
• Develop assertiveness skills
• Improve self-esteem and self-respect.
• Develop conflict resolution skills.
• To work on your self-talk.
• Develop strategies for managing and understanding overwhelming feelings of anxiety and depression.