As my kids ran to their bus on that first day of school there was always a mixture of relief and dread- relief that they'd worked hard to move forward into another school year, and dread over seeing them off to that new phase. At these points each year I grew more and more aware of time pushing us apart. As my children grew from toddlers in pre-k to teenagers in high school and into adults in college, there I was left waving them off.
Perhaps you are a parent like me and experience these mixed emotions of pride, fear, relief, and dread; and wonder how to handle it all.
In my personal experience as a father I've learned that children must grow, and of course, they need to do so-but how did I as a parent let them grow without letting them go? For this I relied on some of my expertise as a licensed clinical social worker.
The key is balance-because if you do not obtain it you run a few common risks here: Risk 1: you will give them so much freedom and indulge them so much in their "leave me alone" attitude that they feel isolated and get themselves into trouble with grades, the opposite sex, cyber bullying, vandalism, smoking cigarettes, violence, drugs--you name it and there'll be trouble. Or 2: you coddle them and they feel so suffocated that they hide themselves away from you, they run away because you run to them, and they are still left feeling alone and may act out with poor choices as well.
Here's an example of how to achieve the balancing act with a psychological explanation over how it works:
Say your kindergarten or high school aged son just got home from school. He wants to go play video games or go play outside- but you think that first he needs to do his homework, and maybe after he can go out and play outside or on the consol. Here's where you come in-ask him if he needs help with his homework, and make sure you are available when you ask. If, for instance, you are putting dishes away and stopping for one minute to ask, all he sees is you busy-of course he'll say no, and he will feel unimportant. Even if you said, "I'll stop doing this to help.." He'll say no, because he doesn't want to put you out. So instead of multi-tasking, stop, and give him one minute of one-on-one respect to ask.
What if the homework's done? Still take that five to twenty minutes to talk to him, put everything down that's a distraction and just talk-see what his day at school was really like, what he'd like to do that weekend, and if he won't give up more than two words ask leading questions like, "What'd you do in Math today? How was that teacher with the uni-brow?" Then you can tell him a little about your day at work or what you're thinking about lately, what book you read, etc.
This kind of one-on-one catch up time is important, and it only takes five minutes. If you're out of practice, don't fret, look at your clock and talk for five minutes. With our busy schedules working, cleaning, and cooking, it can feel like we can't possibly sit for five minutes to talk. Even your teenager would agree it could at first be like pulling teeth. But this short moment, taken each day, will create a trusting routine.
This will build trust on a much deeper level, so that they can talk to you about the truly important things when they're ready, such as peer pressure, how to handle bullies, drugs, violence, academic pressure, etc.
Give them their freedom, but stay involved from the sideline in small moments. This will not only make them feel important but will impact their self-esteem, which is prominent in all decision making, especially when they are young.
Helpful Video: "Soothe Separation Anxiety:" In this video Mark Dworkin, LCSW talks to parents, helping them overcome their own anxiety over their children's fits of anxiety.
Now available for only $3,99 as an Mp3 audio!
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All the best,
Mark Dworkin LCSW, P.C.