“What should we be doing at home?- Every single parent ever
That is the most common question that I’m asked during parent meetings. Parents are the most important people in a child’s life, and you are pivotal in ensuring that the skills and gains made in therapy are generalized into your child’s everyday life. Of course, each child and family are different, and suggestions will vary from family to family, but below are five ideas to encourage change in your relationship with your child, and practice skills that we’re working on in therapy:
- Have fun! Simple, right? Not always. It is so important for kids and adults to play every day. What does your child like to do? Pretend play? Board games? Building legos? Set aside some time (even 10 minutes can make a big difference!), turn off your phone, and let your child pick out something to play together. Even watching your child play video games (or playing with them!) can be fun and connecting. The reason that your child loves coming to therapy every week is that they’re getting uninterrupted time to play with an accepting adult. You can be that adult for them, too.
- Pay attention. Be a detective. What makes your child light up? Laugh hysterically? Make them frustrated? Lead to meltdowns? What are your child’s needs? When do they need a snack? When are they primed for active play, and when is it better to slow things down? Feelings can be predicted, and paying attention will help you start to predict when your child’s easier and more challenging times will be, and adjust accordingly.
- Label feelings. I cannot emphasize this enough. Label your child’s feelings. Label your own feelings. All the time. All-day. Start with the four basics (happy, sad, mad, scared), and then add others (excited, frustrated, disappointed, worried, etc). A lot of families try to rush through this (“I see that you’re angry, but…”). Just label. No judgment. No “but” or attempt at problem-solving. Just label and soothe and empathize.
- Check-in with yourself. How are you feeling? What do you want to model for your child at this moment? Your child is learning from you all the time. Who do you want to be for them? Being aware of your own feelings and needs will go a long way to coaching your child with theirs.
- Engage in problem-solving. Not while you’re labeling your child’s feelings, but afterward, when everyone is calm. Saying something like “Phew! Last night you were really upset because you wanted to watch one more show, and I was upset because I wanted you to get enough sleep. I don’t like arguing with you. What can we do next time so that we don’t have to argue?” Give your child the first attempt to solve the problem, and be prepared to be flexible and negotiate. This models a different way of managing disagreements and strengthens your relationship with your child.
Parent carry-over is the most important part of child therapy. Although I’ve spent years studying how to help children and families, I cannot do my job on my own. It is only through a strong partnership with a family when we see the most success happen.
“Children learn what they live and live what they learn.”
- L.R. Knost