I’m going to start a new series here that is near and dear to my heart: how to keep your kids out of counseling. I think the title’s catchy, but really, it’s mental and emotional health for kids.
As mothers we are absolutely going to make mistakes. Most of those mistakes won’t scar our children for life or give them psychological issues that prevent them from coping as a normal adult. However, there are some things that are so detrimental to a young child’s development that, if done or left undone, will most definitely incapacitate.
Now, I went to bible school for a year learning about counselling and pastoral care in great detail so… I am obviously not against counseling. In fact I am heartily for it. I also majored in Criminology in college which is ultimately the study of why people become criminals.
Criminals usually have traumatic childhoods that have gone unprocessed or unhealed. Obviously not all people who need counseling are criminals, but the factors that drive people to act out in ways like crime are the same factors that lead teenagers to promiscuity, drug use and rebellion.
Having gotten all heavy about it, let me give some information up front about the series so no one is confused by my tongue-in-cheek title.
If you are out of depth with your children’s struggles, talk to someone
This is true for yourself and for your children. I cannot emphasize enough that “sleeping on” an issue or thinking “time will heal” does not work. Sleeping on something only means your child will file it away in their brain unprocessed and wake up trying to ignore it.
Thinking time will heal means they pour the pain and confusion into their emotional basement. It is not healed, it is buried. Do not, under any circumstances, let a major trauma/struggle/mental issue with your child go unchecked. If you know about it and are unable to help your child move past it, go see someone.
Everyone has an emotional basement. It is where emotions that we don’t quite know what to do with are placed. Emotional responses are based on both reality and perception of reality. Emotions that are difficult to process, confusing or traumatic for children will get stored in the emotional basement if they are not helped to work through them. If emotions continue to go unprocessed they will begin to pile up.
They’ll pile up until the junk has filled the basement and is coming out the doors and windows. An adult with a full emotional basement is one who, at the slightest provocation, unleashes strong pent-up emotional angst. “She always overreacts,” you think. That’s because emotionally she’s not only responding to the current situation but to multitudes of situations previously unprocessed.
If your child starts to ignore things that should hurt, refuses to talk about their feelings or seems unusually distant and aloof you need to start exploring their emotional basement. Don’t let them shove and shove and shove and shove out of sight until they explode with no warning.
I’ll hit the big ones
Of course there are millions of reasons someone needs to go to counseling. However, after having talked to many people looking for healing and closure in their lives I can safely say there are a few big issues that are the most common and highly damaging.
If I wrote on things that can mess a person up we’d be here for the next 30 years so I won’t do that, but I will highlight major areas that are good to be aware of in your own household and in your child’s environment.
Even if you are a perfect parent…
Even if you are the perfect specimen of a mother your child may end up needing counseling. Why? Because in this world they will find trouble and there is no getting around it. You can do everything absolutely right and trauma, tragedy or heartbreak can still happen to your children. In fact, you should count on it.
Part of this series will focus on helping train our children to properly manage their emotions, reactions and mindsets so that they’ll be able to live happy healthy functional adult lives. What you teach them now – the things you help become second nature to them – will stay with them in the long run.
As mothers we want to do the very best we can, pray God takes up the slack, and then train our children to do their part.
Stop caring what others think
I’m not sure when I really stopped caring what others thought, maybe sometime after college? Point is, being able to truly say that you are okay with who you are and not worrying about what others think is one of the single most influential things you can do for your mental health.
No more stress about keeping up with the Joneses or striving to seem cool or accepted. There are women I know who are desperate in their current situation and yet they don’t want to set foot in a counselor’s office. Why? Is admitting you need to talk to someone failure?
It is not. Is it better to keep stuffing it in the emotional basement and pretend to be something you’re not? It isn’t. That is neither emotionally mature or healthy.
If your child is exhibiting behaviors that worry you, talk to someone. If your child is asking questions that scare you and you don’t have answers to, talk to someone. If you are on the verge of a stress breakdown, talk to someone. Grow up and stop caring if someone else sees your car in the parking lot.
Get over yourself and make decisions for the good of you and your family without worrying that Mrs. So and So down the street will say you are crazy. Let her talk. She’s probably downing pills to make it through the day too.
You may be thinking “Yes, but kids are so resilient.” In response I say that yes, kids are resilient, but that’s because they have to be. Letting our children’s life experiences help build and shape our children’s characters is one very good thing. Letting traumatic, difficult or anxiety inducing experiences hold them back is another. The key is to know which is which. I’ll give you an example.
One day I had to put Pickles (2 years old) in time out for something and I was using her brother’s crib. I was holding her and then went to lay her down in the crib. As I was putting my hand towards her head she pushed her head forcefully upwards in protest and it meant that her fast moving head met my hand as resistance. She got scared and upset.
After all was calm I said I was sorry, tried to explain what happened and we hugged. She went on as normal, resilience personified. However, since that time she has had two (that she’s told me) nightmares of me “bouncing her head” and scaring her.
As of today I think we’ve finally gotten this incident processed with her and think this probably wouldn’t be enough reason to speak to someone, but you can see that this isolated accidental event caused enough trauma that she has had nightmares I am hurting her.
Even though I am extremely loving and affectionate towards her. Sure, she’ll “get over it” but personally I’d rather she process the incident and not grow up with a seed of doubt in her mind that I will hurt her.
I say all this to say, we need to guard against certain behaviors in our home. We need to practice certain behaviors in our home.
And we need to cultivate an environment that is honest, real and willing to ask the uncomfortable questions in the name of love and sanity.
I’ve created a free email series just for you! If you have a little one aged 1 to 8, this series will help transform your home environment. No, that is not a joke or false claim. You can let your kids express their emotions without raising back talkers who meltdown at the drop of a hat or throw a tantrum every time they are unhappy with something. After this free email series:
- your child will stop throwing tantrums for attention
- you’ll know how to validate and affirm your child’s emotions
- you’ll feel more in control of the atmosphere of your home and will be able to operate out of a place of love, not frustration
Click here to sign up for my free email series or simply click on the image below.
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