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Making Things Better for Your Family

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Survival Guide by Ann Douglas

Part 1

You Are Not Alone

Part 2

Managing Your Emotions

Part 4

Advocating for Your Child

Making Things Better for Your Family

Looking for ways to start making life easier and less stressful for your family? That’s what this section of the guide is all about. You’ll learn about parenting strategies that tend to bring out the best—as opposed to the worst—in children who are struggling; ways of improving your ability to cope with stress; why it’s so important to take good care of yourself; and how learning to treat yourself with self-compassion can be a complete game changer for yourself and your child.

Parenting strategies to bring out the best in your child.

Choosing effective parenting strategies

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Identifying the coping strategies that work for you

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Safeguarding your physical and emotional health

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Practicing self-compassion

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Choosing effective parenting strategies

Parenting can be exhausting at the best of times and it’s particularly exhausting if you’re the parent of a child who is struggling. Meeting the needs of a child who is angry, upset, or afraid requires an extraordinary amount of patience. One way to tap into that patience is by learning about parenting strategies that tend to bring out the best (as opposed to the worst) in parents and kids alike. Here are a few simple-yet-powerful strategies that have worked well for other families and that might be helpful for yours, too.

  • Ask yourself, “What does my child need from me right now?” Asking yourself this simple yet all-important question will help you to focus less on what you are feeling (something that can quickly cause your brain to become flooded with emotion) and more on what you can actually do to help your child in this moment (a powerful way of switching your brain into problem-solving mode).
  • Validate your child’s feelings. When you let your child know that her feelings make sense, you make it possible for her to let go of some of the emotion that she’s carrying and to begin to think about what might actually help to make things better. It’s an effective way to help a child to process a lot of big emotions and to ensure that she feels seen, heard, and understood at the same time. She will find that comforting and calming. And speaking of calming….
  • Be a calming presence. One of the most powerful things you can do to help your child to rein in her out-of-control emotions is by remaining calm yourself. Admittedly, this is much easier said than done, but it can make a world of difference for a child who desperately craves an emotional anchor in what feels like a stormy sea. You have the opportunity to be that anchor.

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Come up with a simple script that you can play in your head at times when you and your child might benefit from some added calm. It could be something as simple as saying to yourself, “I just need to remember to be calm and to be kind.”  

Identifying the coping strategies that work for you

Our brains don’t function at their best when we’re under a lot of stress; and yet stress is pretty much a given if you’re the parent of a child who is struggling. Fortunately, it is possible to learn how to deal with the stress in your life without allowing it to completely overwhelm you. Here are some strategies that have proven helpful for other parents.

Learn how to spot the early warning signs that you’re becoming stressed. The idea here is to acknowledge and respond to those feelings of stress before they start to feel huge and unmanageable. Once you’re completely flooded with emotion, it becomes much more difficult to respond calmly and rationally and in a way you can feel good about.

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The warning signs of stress are unique to each person, but you should be on the lookout for a mix of behavioural changes (for example, difficult sleeping or increased or decreased appetite) and bodily sensations (for example, tightness in the chest, headaches, or stomachaches).

Resist the temptation to try to run from your feelings. Your brain has to work surprisingly hard to repress unwanted emotions. It’s a major cognitive drain. A better alternative is to simply acknowledge whatever it is that you’re feeling and to allow those feelings to flow through you. You might find it reassuring to remind yourself that feelings come and go, because they do.

Switch into action mode. Now that you’ve acknowledged how stressed you are feeling, it’s time to take action to start alleviating some of that stress. You will probably want to experiment with a variety of different techniques and activities in order you figure out which strategies work best for you. Here are some things you might wish to try: relaxation breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, positive visualization, positive reappraisal, mindfulness meditation, exercise, calling a friend, doing something creative like knitting, or solving a puzzle.

 

Safeguarding your physical and emotional health

It can be easy to ignore your own physical and emotional health when your child is struggling. And there may be times—like when a child is in crisis—when it is almost impossible to practice anything even remotely resembling “self care.” But allowing yourself to become too depleted over the long-term increases your likelihood of experiencing burnout or serious illness. That’s why you owe it to yourself and your child to safeguard the precious resource that is you.

Not sure what that looks like or how to get started? Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you start to consider what’s realistic and possible for you right now.

Don’t overlook the health fundamentals. When we’re able to give our bodies what they need—adequate sleep, regular movement, and healthy food—they tend to reward us by functioning at their best, both physically and mentally. If your situation is really challenging right now, see if you can identify one small thing you could do to take good care of yourself today—perhaps tucking yourself into bed a few minutes sooner. Small, sustainable changes can reap really big dividends over time.

Give yourself permission to take a mini-vacation from the worry. Instead of feeling guilty for giving yourself a break—whether that means for a day, an hour, or a couple of minutes—understand that taking the best possible care of yourself is actually an act of kindness toward your child. No one needs a happy and healthy parent more than a child who is struggling.

Reach out for support from other parents who truly understand. Connect with other parents who’ve weathered (or who are weathering) similar storms. You don’t have to do this on your own. Tapping into support from others can be a powerful form of self-care.

 

Practicing self-compassion

Self-compassion simply means “compassion toward the self.” It is a simple concept but it can be life changing. Instead of putting up with an inner voice that is harsh and belittling, you start tuning into one that is gentle and encouraging.

Self-compassion is good for your mental health. You feel less anxious and more supported. Instead of focusing on all the things you’re doing wrong, you’re able to shine a spotlight on everything you’re doing right. Not surprisingly, that can deliver a significant mental health boost.

Self-compassion is good for your parenting. It makes parenting so much easier and less stressful. You find it easier to be a kinder and a more compassionate parent—to accept your child’s struggles and shortcomings, just as you are learning to accept your own. Instead of asking yourself to be perfect and insisting that your child be perfect as well, you recognize that you’re both doing the best that you can with the strengths and abilities that you have right now—and you celebrate that you can build on those strengths and abilities over time. 

 

You Don’t Have to Do This Alone.

If you are a parent/caregiver worried about your child, or a young person looking for help yourself – please reach out. Our network of child and youth mental health centres have 4,000 professionals ready to help children, youth and families with free counselling and treatment. We provide care in person, on the phone and virtually. No problem is too big or small.

Find your closest child and youth mental health centre.

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