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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Parents: Be Kind and Compassionate to Yourself

From Allison Andrews, Psy.D.
Practical Strategies and Emotional Support for the Parents of Quirky Kids

October 21, 2013

Do any parents here have children living in meltdown city?

All children go there. And parents are definitely along for the ride. Some of us live there (at least temporarily). Some of us are frequent guests.

Some of us have moved away, but every once in a while we take an unexpected and unwanted detour.

We can spend a lot of time talking about different strategies and different approaches for supporting children when they are in distress.

Parents of children with special needs NEED a lot of strategies. We need the latest and greatest of approaches. We need a team full of people at their tip-top best thinking about how to help our children.

We can talk about structure and routine, sensory issues and social pragmatics and social thinking. We can talk about how anxiety gets into the mix. We can and need to talk about learning styles and learning differences and executive functioning. All of this is important and all of it matters. All of it makes a big difference for our children.

I have talked about some of this in the past and I plan to be talking a lot about practicalities and strategies in the future.

This post does not imply in any way that those things are not important. They are extremely important.

But what we do not often talk about is how we feel and what we think when our children get upset.

Often, we do not talk about how to treat ourselves with kindness when things are falling apart. And when things fall apart, kindness is often in short supply.

It is easy to be good and kind to ourselves when everyone is on his or her best behavior. When the proverbial sh*t hits the proverbial fan, well, that is when we need kindness the most. That is when we most need to generate compassion for ourselves because that is when we feel like we are doing everything wrong.

There is not a mother or father in the world who has not experienced shame and anger when their child meltdowns in private or in public.

Many of us, having been there ourselves, try and offer a kind word or a warm smile when we see a mom or dad out in the world trying to navigate a child who is in distress. I always want another parent to know that I am not judging them and that I have been in their shoes. I want that parent to know that a screaming child does not mean they are a bad parent.

Allison Andrews, Psy.D.
But then, when I am in those shoes I am extremely hard on myself. When I have a child in distress I am very judgmental of myself. It does not matter that I am a psychologist or that I work with parents. It does not matter that I know that, in the end, it does not help matters to be so judgmental toward myself. It does not help me be more flexible or more creative. It does not help me stick to a plan. I know from my friends and from my work that most of us are hard on ourselves in ways we would never be toward other people.

Why are we able to show compassion to others, but then turn around and be so hard on our own selves?

Do we say to ourselves: I am providing such a safe and comfortable home that my child can express his distress to me?

Do we say to ourselves: No matter how my child struggles, I am a good parent and a good person?

Do we say to ourselves: It is ok or it will be ok even though it is hard right now?

Do we say to ourselves: Whatever feelings and thoughts are coming up now are ok. I have every right to be frustrated or upset. I will feel it and then let it go so I can figure out what to do next?

Do we say to ourselves: All kids get upset, not just kids with special needs?

Do we give ourselves a break when things are hard?

What does self-compassion look like for you?

It may not seem like this is important, but in my opinion, it is one of the foundations of being a parent. In the end our children need to learn a lot about being kind and nonjudgmental and compassionate toward others and most importantly toward themselves.

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