Do you know someone whose is concerned about their child? Here’s how you can help them, you do not need to know the answer to their problem but your emotional support will be appreciated.
One of the rewarding aspects of being an experienced Child Psychologist is hearing news from past clients as their children mature and launch into the world. They are not only proud of their child but aware that there was a time in the past when they were having bleak and pessimistic thoughts. Fear and anxiety ruled, rather than the joy and anticipation they are feeling now. Fortunately for most of the children I have met down the years, their parents have found a way forward and have taken the help they need to find a solution and make a good life for their child and the family.
Before families can seek help, they need to reach an acceptance that there is a problem and have the confidence and optimism to seek a solution. Knowing that all is not well for your child is painful, and the emotional avalanche of feelings is a type of grief which cannot be hurried. Most people think of the grief process in relation to bereavement, but it also accompanies loss or the fear of loss. If your child is unhappy or lacks confidence in themselves this triggers all sorts of worries about what the future might hold.
There are 5 stages in the grief process and people progress through them at different rates.
- First, you cannot believe it is happening and you are too numb to act
- Denial soon follows while you convince yourself that this may not really be happening
- Anger comes next: why me, what did I do to deserve this. Often people cast around to see who they can blame for not doing enough to resolve the situation.
- Acceptance eventually finds it’s way to you. You know you have to make changes
- Resolution is the final stage when you find a way of dealing with and adapting to changed circumstances.
Over the years, I have met many families and know the importance of parents reaching the acceptance stage, ready to explore how to adapt and resolve their child’s situation. When parents come to me earlier on in the grief process, they are highly stressed, emotional pre occupied and either defensive or aggressive. They hold others responsible for either causing the difficulties or not doing enough to resolve things. They are not ready to look at the situation objectively or make changes.
When people are still in pain they need a combination of support, understanding and gentle encouragement to look and see what is happening. Ideally the school can start the programme while I encourage parents to observe and report on something which will help them see the world through their child’s eyes.
Some parents in the anger stage are on the defensive, they are likely to swing back into denial and either refuse help or look for an alternative view which matches theirs. Moving schools is sometimes seen as the solution, and the hard pressed school often keeps silent although they suspect a change of school won’t be the answer. We can wait until they have the resilience to take on a more active role.
How can you help someone you know who is concerned about their child? Here are some ideas of support which parents tell me they have found useful when they were unsure what to do.
- Listen to their concerns and offer emotional support. Most parents aren’t expecting you to have the answer and sometimes well meaning advice backfires as it is received as an implied criticism “why don’t you do something about it?”
- If they want to talk about what to do, then you can help them explore options by asking open questions rather than giving answers. “What would make a difference?” “What are you most concerned about” “who might help you with this?”
- Offer practical help if you can, which may be sharing the school run or helping out with chores so they feel less over whelmed.
- If they are a friend who has dropped out of shared social activities, explore how they could get out occasionally. The change might just help them feel less pre occupied
- If they show no interest in going out, could you come to them bringing wine, snacks and a DVD to watch after helping to get the children settled?
- Watch and wait: parents need time and space to be ready to seek help. Don’t give up if they seem stuck right now, the time will come when they want to dip a toe in the water and seek professional help. Your support will be much appreciated so don’t worry about not having the answers.