We all haven’t faced the easiest of lives. Unfortunately along for the ride are our little ones. As much as we try to protect them, their experience is undeniably different from that of their friends. It isn’t your fault. You might be able to look back and see things you could have done better, but isn’t that true of everyone? You do the best you can with the hand you’re dealt. As a result, your child may start to display some poor coping strategies and behaviors. There are positive methods that you can do that support your child.
The first step is Acceptance. Accept the idea that your child is acting out because they are getting attention. This is true for many if not most people. During times of trauma, it is easy to overlook everyday events. Traumatic experiences take precedence and events like growing up get overlooked. The need for attention is a result. For some people, this may only go on for a short time and long-term behaviors never emerge. For the child who experienced traumatic events over a longer period of time, they may have started to accept the role that is assigned by adults and peers, i.e., troublemaker, class clown, bully…, etc.
The second step is to be Available. Now its time for the parent(s) to be available and figure out what activities to do together. It could be something as simple as a card game or making dinner together. Don’t just try to be part of their lives…let them be part of yours. I’m not under any assumption that life has changed for you so dramatically that your calendar has opened up. As your child ages, they are more interested in what you do with your time. Things that you wouldn’t think of might appeal to them, i.e., the gym, your friends, your work. The trip to the grocery store could include a quick stop at the ice cream parlor. A long wait at the DMV could be a chance for them to show you their favorite YouTube video. The point is you have to make time even if it overlaps with your busy day.
The third step is Identity. You can’t shake a role assignment that your child has taken on, it is now part of their identity. However, you can add extracurricular activities to their agenda to help them discover different facets of who they are. Provide them with different groups to support a different role opportunity. Leave leaflets around the house and see which one sparks their interest. No point in pressuring them. Try to make it their idea. Some ideas are art, photography, sports, volunteering, coding, dance…, etc. Your child shouldn’t get the idea that you don’t like their identity or that you want to change them. Remember these steps are taking care to help your relationship and grow as parent and child. Change is inevitable.
The fourth step is the Reward. Communicate with your child and discover some trouble areas. Identify them and write down positive alternatives to replace negative behaviors. Reward when they are completed. Best to identify the poor coping strategies that have been used such as yelling, hitting, ignoring, slamming, lying…, etc. If your child has experienced a lot of trauma it is best for them to experience reward on a more frequent basis until there is a level of trust. (Using a game like Breakthrough, www.breakthroughparenting.rocks is helpful in having some consistency and structure in your reward system.)
The fifth step is Celebrate. Look back at all you have accomplished. Go out to dinner and celebrate that you are working on your relationship and that you have made it all the way through the five steps! Think about how far you have come. Before you started you hadn’t accepted that your child needed attention and you weren’t looking at being available in a way that involved you both opening up your lives to one another. By recognizing your child’s assigned identity you opened up avenues for your child to re-invent themselves. Finally by talking about your child’s problem areas and rewarding positive behaviors you have reinforced your expectations.
These steps should not take the place of counseling or medical attention if needed. There are different levels of trauma and we all experience them differently. I advocate for families that want to work on their family relationships and provide many tools to help them do so including a parenting series and consultations.