“I hope my kid ends up in therapy someday.”
That seems like a sentence no mother would ever say, right?
The details of our individual lives differ so much, but as mothers, we likely share many similar thoughts each day: “I hope he feels comfortable and safe in his new environment,” “I hope she understands what I mean,” “I hope he eats the carrots I packed,” “I hope this tantrum phase passes soon!”
But, “I hope they end up in therapy someday?” Probably not one of the top ten thoughts and hopes as mothers. If anything, many of us consciously strive for the opposite. We try to mother in such a way that we hope can keep our kids out of therapy. We may occasionally use the joke, “Well, I guess I’ll be paying for therapy!” but only as a sarcastic crack at deflecting a sense of our own shortcomings and our particular, of-the-moment mom-guilt.
I am Type-A, performance-oriented, intentional-within-an-inch-of-my-life, and far too precious about everything, parenting included. I am likely the last person you’d meet that would say, “I hope my kid ends up in therapy someday.” After all, therapy just seems like a plan for someone else to pick up the many balls I’ve dropped; the thought of a dropped ball of any important nature in regards to parenting my children frankly terrifies me and certainly offends my pride.
However, as a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor by training and trade, it hit me one day: I do hope my kid ends up in therapy.
What I mean is that the longer I’m alive, not to mention sit in the room with dozens of clients and sit as a client myself, the more I realize that being a citizen of our Earth doesn’t include a protection plan from hardship, pain, sickness, trauma, conflict, or loss. If you’ve ever held your newborn in your arms in the nursery in the dark of night and had this truth hit you in the gut, you’re not alone. It’s one of the most difficult parts of being a parent – this ultimate knowing.
What I mean is that the longer I’m alive, not to mention sit in the room with dozens of clients and sit as a client myself, the more I realize that being a citizen of our Earth doesn’t include a protection plan from hardship, pain, sickness, trauma, conflict, or loss.
So what do we do with this knowledge? There are countless strategies we can work on as parents in our temptation to try to outrun what we know is inevitable, not the least of which is helicopter parenting. Control, perfectionism (aimed at yourself, your child, or your environment), denial, worry, extravagance, fear, you name it – most of us have spent some time in one or more of these spaces. And who can blame us?
But, there are two main problems I see with these strategies to avoid the feelings we’re feeling. One, they don’t work. And two, they often create more problems than we started with.
Instead of hustling so hard to shield our children from trouble, what if we hustled to teach them the skills and sense of self-efficacy to understand when they need help and how to get it?
I want to stop the lie that life will always be kind to my children that they won’t ever find themselves suffering under any of the world’s various weights. Harder still, I want to stop the lie that I’ll always be enough, always get it right, or always be in control. I want to figure out how to teach them how to live well while standing on the secure knowledge that they know when and how to get help when the weights get too heavy.
Instead of hustling so hard to try to shield our children from trouble, what if we hustled to teach them the skills and sense of self-efficacy to understand when they need help and how to get it?
So I hope that I answer “yes” to the following questions:
- Do my children have a healthy self-awareness of their own mind and body – solid enough to know right away when something is not right and when a stressor pushes them beyond their own limits?
- Do my children have a healthy sense of self-efficacy and confidence in their ability to seek help from appropriate sources when needed?
Kids who grow into adults who face problems with solution-mindsets and feel empowered and worthy to seek help as needed (therapy or otherwise) will be the ones ready for all the obstacles that come their way, and will fly in all the ways we dreamt for them. Here are three simple, daily practices to work toward raising children who know what they’re feeling in their minds and bodies and learn who to reach out to for help.
Teach how to associate feelings with their body language
All three of my boys are currently under 5 years old, so teaching self-awareness for younger children involves putting words to their body language and emotions. This will help them learn to identify the various states of their physical and emotional health.
These are the types of things I try to say: “I see that your face is frowning, you seem sad.” “I see you’re stomping your feet, are you feeling angry?” “I noticed that you are acting grumpy with your brothers, and I remember that you did not eat much for breakfast. Do you need some food or water?”
Learn who are the helpers in the world
I like to point out helping professionals when we see them in our day-to-day life, like teachers, police, and parental figures. I matter-of-factly explain their positive role as helpers. I also try to validate ways I see my kids, albeit so very young, acting efficaciously: “That was really smart how you stayed visible and asked a teacher for help when you got lost in the school hallway.”
Your children will repeat what they see you do
The golden rule of parenting is that imitation speaks the loudest, so I aim to learn right alongside my kids. I practice checking in with my body and mind and verbalize this to them when appropriate.
Some examples include, “I notice that my body is feeling tense and I am frustrated; I’d like to get outside and get some fresh air,” “I feel so much joy, it’s like my heart is soaring!” “I’m not sure what to do – I think I’ll check in with Aunt Joy about that,” “I’m feeling sick, I’m going to call the doctor and make an appointment.”