People usually wonder what their therapist is really thinking. This is especially true for parents, who already feel pressure from all directions about how they raise their kids. Simply put, being a parent adds another dynamic to therapy.
When therapists work with parents, whether in individual therapy unrelated to parenting or in family therapy, they have to consider factors related to both the parent and the child.
Therapists’ Thoughts About Parents
As a therapist, I definitely have things I wish clients’ parents knew, not only about how to raise the kids, but about how they view themselves as parents.
You must take care of yourself to take care of others
From the moment a baby enters your life, you take a back seat to the child’s needs. In those early days especially, infants need round-the-clock care for absolutely everything. Unfortunately, the habits we develop in the first year carry over even as children gain independence. Parents tend to ignore their own needs or feel guilty if they put themselves first. The fact is, you have to be healthy to take care of children, so your needs are an equal priority.
You’re doing a good job
Although child abuse and neglect are real problems, most parents are good parents. Even taking the time to read an article on this topic, shows you care. Parents often don’t give themselves enough credit for what they do right. When someone else’s well-being depends solely on you, it’s natural to second guess your decisions. In addition, those decisions happen on the fly, without much time to plan or think through options. You feel like you’re making things up as you go along. The odds are good, however, that you’re doing just fine most of the time, so don’t be too hard on yourself.
You can ask for help
Most of us don’t think twice about asking for help with our cars or our computers, but we assume only “bad parents” need help with parenting. In fact, parents who recognize when they’re in over their heads are in a better position to improve their parenting. You can’t expect to know everything there is to know about kids just because you had one. Getting advice from trusted loved ones is great, but professional help can be even better.
Therapists’ Thoughts About Kids
If you seek help from a professional, they’re better able to individualize their guidance and advice for your family. No two kids are identical, so remember to trust your gut! Here are a few general thoughts on raising kids, from a therapist’s perspective.
Instruction manuals exist
An old cliché says babies don’t emerge holding instructions in their tiny fists — but don’t worry, there are plenty of good resources available. While each child is unique, there is a typical developmental course that applies to most of them. Even if a child has special needs altering their developmental path, there are still numerous helpful resources. Kids aren’t necessarily the mysteries we imagine them to be. Understanding development makes parenting much easier.
Kids need consistency
No matter what the clinician’s training, virtually anyone who works with children in a professional context recognizes that consistency is essential for a child’s well-being. Children want to know what’s coming next and that they can count on parents to keep them safe and healthy. For example, even when they fight you over bedtime, they’ll suffer without one. It’s up to you to maintain rules and routines, even if your child disagrees.
Children need you to separate behavior from love
Children evolve constantly, learning and growing every day. They make mistakes and test limits as they learn to navigate the boundaries of the world you’ve set up for them. It’s essential that they know you love them no matter what their behavior is. Love must be unconditional, even if you have to punish a specific action. Children need to know that “bad behavior” doesn’t make them a bad person in your eyes.
Your children love you
Most parents take their kids’ love for granted, but don’t really understand what a child’s love means. While we’re beating ourselves up for yelling at them, our children still see us as the center of their universe. In my experience, even children who have suffered neglect or abuse still love the parent who abused them. In fact, they often long to be with that parent, even if it’s not in their best interest. If you’re treating your child well, meeting his or her needs, and showing love daily, then take some comfort in the fact that your child loves and accepts you, warts and all.
Therapists’ Thoughts About Parent Training
Most parents have pretty good instincts, but any parent can benefit from professional guidance. Therapists offer clear guidelines about common behaviors at each developmental phase. Your parenting will be more effective if you understand the subtle, but important ways your child changes over time.
In addition, a therapist can point out family dynamics or patterns of behavior that you might be blind to in the middle of it all. This allows the therapist to observe strategies that aren’t working well, then help you explore something different. In the process, a therapist provides support as you navigate these challenges.
One of the most challenging tasks of adulthood is raising someone to follow in your footsteps. You’re not alone in this challenge, so don’t be afraid to ask for help! No one is born an expert on raising kids, we’re all learning from those around us. Always, always remember to not be too hard on yourself.