Where To Go When Your Child Needs Help
Summer is a fading memory and the clouds have returned. School is in full gear, and progress reports are in the mail. The pressure is on and some children (and their parents) struggle with school concerns (poor performance), behavioral issues (meltdowns), or emotional problems (worry or depression). What should parents do? How can we help our children?
When my youngest daughter was 7 years old she went through a period of frequent meltdowns. Diane and I were at wits end as to what to do to help her maintain better control and how to respond to her frequent fits (tears, yelling, and defiance).
We decided to consult a family psychologist. The four of us sat in Dr. Mueller’s office. Our youngest sat sullenly on the sofa, looking angry and annoyed. The psychologist asked each one of us what we thought was going on. Maya, our oldest, in more ways than one, piped in “It’s simple. My parents can’t agree on anything when it comes to my sister!” Diane and I looked at each other, and in that moment, we realized what the problem was---it was us! The family therapist asked the kids to sit in the waiting room, while Diane and I worked on how to collaborate more effectively. We arrived on the same page after a couple of visits. And guess what, Naomi’s behavior improved dramatically. Duh!
Despite my years of experiences as a psychologist, I am just as blind as any other parent when it comes to my own family. As parents, intense love and fear prevent us from seeing the trees from the forest. It is impossible to see your children, yourself, or your spouse in an objective light. This is just a fact of life.
So realizing this, why is it so hard for us to recognize that we need help when our kids are struggling?
For one, we live in a time where we like to think that all problems can be fixed with a pill or a potion. There is no doubt that we have made huge advances in technology, including biochemical innovations (medications). But it is impossible to reduce all human behavior to biology alone. We also have personality (partly inherited and learned), a culture that teaches us customs, motivation (now that is complex too!), and a family. Today, we like to employ a bio-psycho-social model to understand the human experience. While we may not fully comprehend the exact contributions of our biology, our psychology, and the social context of human behavior, this is the starting point for helping kids with problems of living. There is rarely a quick fix.
When our youngsters are hurting, parents feel like we are pulling straight F’s in “Parenting 101”! When our daughter was struggling, we tried everything we could think of to help her, without much success. So, at the time, we were feeling pretty much like failures in the parental department. This is a terrible feeling! Moms and dads blame themselves for all of their kid’s failings and give them all the credit for their successes. This common parental characteristic (e.g. guilt) can make us defensive. We can feel very fragile during tough times.
Family counseling, in addition to individual therapy (helping kids improve their coping skills) or medication when indicated assists parents in developing more effective strategies for helping children handle the stresses and strains of childhood that may be pushing them over the behavioral or emotional ledge.
Let’s face it. Our kids aren’t born with manuals that tell us how to be their parents. And, in a changing society, we can’t always effectively use what we learned from our parents 20 years ago. And we can’t always depend on an internet search to tell us what to do. Sometimes we need the objective eye of a specialist to help us find our way.
There is no shame in that.
If your child seems to be struggling, talk to your child’s health care provider first. They can often give you an objective appraisal of what might be going on and how to help your youngster. Don’t be afraid to consult with a counselor that specializes in working with children and families.
Share your experiences? What has helped you when your children have struggled?