"Maintain A Healthy Relationship With Your Child"
This is the Title of the very First Lesson or chapter in Michelle's book 25 WAYS TO KEEP YOUR CHILD SAFE, HEALTHY AND SUCCESSFUL – Lessons from a School Counsellor. If I had to choose one of Michelle's Lessons to describe her work with parents and children over the past 20 years, I would say that this one says it all. It is the cornerstone to her work as presented in her book as well as on her website: found at www.ParentOnPurpose.com or www.SucceedInSchool.com.
Today Michelle and her husband Tom provide coaching, counselling, and educational services through their website and through teleseminars as well as other products aimed at helping individuals and families be the best they can be.
Back to the emphasis on Maintaining a Healthy Relationship with your child. Sounds simple right, but not always easy to do. Michelle emphasizes many of the basics and reminds us of the critical role we play in our children's lives, the development of who they are and will become, and their ultimate success not only in school but in life. And she comes at this from the unique vantage point of an experienced school counselor who has observed and worked with children in one of their primary settings – school.
Michelle begins by reaffirming for us that as parents, we are the most powerful influence in our child's life. This is a responsibility that cannot be taken lightly and it's important that we recognize that it does take a considerable amount of time and energy – as it should. For many of us in today's world, with the hectic pace, multiple jobs, commuting, endless activities and commitments, just making time is a big responsibility but it is absolutely critical.
Our children see the world through our eyes, at least for a time, and so we have the opportunity to help them experience a world in which they learn how to trust, feel safe, secure and good about themselves and others – in general optimistic about life and the possibilities it holds for them.
Michelle emphasizes the importance of inculcating trust in your child at a young age. By being present with them, both physically and emotionally, being consistent with our own behavior, by being available to them when they require help, comfort or safety and by giving them validation through positive feedback and recognition, they learn to trust that others around them can be relied on and can be sought out for help when they need it.
We are their introduction to the world, so by instilling confidence in them, by being in good relationships with them, we give them the skills and confidence to reach out to others and be in healthy relationships. Without that foundation of trust, kids learn early on that they world is an uncaring and unsafe place, they don't seek the support of others such as teachers that could support them in reaching their goals, and they have more difficulty in forming friendships and intimate relationships as they get older.
Another key area that Michelle touches on in her first Lesson is the importance of parents remembering that they are the parents, and that the children are the children. In a day when divorce and separation are so prevalent, not to mention parents who work long hours and don't have as much time with their children as they would like, we are also seeing an upswing in parental guilt and overcompensation, resulting in great numbers of parents relinquishing their parental roles in lieu of having more of a friend role with their children. This creates a great deal of confusion and a sense of being lost for children as the adults are no longer in charge and are often taking their cues from the children.
Although the child may appear to like this arrangement for what it can offer them in the short term, below the surface, they are needing and craving the structure and the reassurance that someone else is in charge, taking care of things and making sure they are safe. Allowing our children to be the children, requires us to set the limits, expectations, boundaries, and consequences, all of which convey to them a sense of security and takes the pressure off of them for being emotionally mature beyond their years.
I think for many families today who are either separated, divorced, remarried and blended or even just going through a tough time at home for any number of reasons, it is important that we remind ourselves continuously that our children are not mature enough to handle adult problems.
To the extent we can, we need to find ways of shielding them from the issues that we can shield them from. It is not unusual for parents who are going through a particularly tough time, to lean on or confide in their child when it would be more appropriate to find another adult, friend or counselor with whom to share those worries and concerns.
Depending on what is going on in your home and your family, it can also be good advice to seek out support or counselling for your child, to help reduce the emotional distress they are experiencing which can interfere with every other area of their life such as school, friends, etc. As one young person put it in Michelle's book "School seems so unimportant when your family is falling apart."
As strange as it seems, as adults we often overlook the impact that family issues can have on our children and are even sometimes surprised when they are not doing well because we think we've successfully shielded them from the adult problems. But what we can't underestimate is the intuitiveness of our children and the tremendous emotional impact on them when things in our families are not going well. Another key argument for staying close and dialed in with what our children are doing, experiencing, and feeling, particularly if your family is going through a period of crisis or transition.
And most importantly, your relationship with your children, helps them develop a healthy sense of themselves, and a positive set of beliefs about their potential and place in the world. Paying attention to the way we talk to them and the way in which we listen to them can convey a sense of worth which is the foundation of healthy self-acceptance.
It is a tremendous responsibility to be a parent to even one child but then again, no one ever said it was supposed to be easy. We can look upon it as a burden or as a privilege but we must recognize that even how we perceive our roles and our responsibilities in relation to them, will convey a message to our children about their worth, the place they have in our lives and eventually in the world.