It's been said that the most unlovable need the most love.
Here are some ideas that may help parents get their children the support they may need.
Avoid the Perfection Trap: One of the worse things a parent can try to do is be the perfect parent. Pursuing this kind of perfection in my opinion is akin to the punishment of Sisyphus, an ancient Greek king who was eternally condemned to rolling a stone up a steep hill only to watch it roll down again. We can demonstrate integrity in parenting, but it seems that trying to be the perfect parent with perfect kids only creates anxiety for the entire family.
D.W. Winnicott, a British pediatrician and psychoanalyst coined the term “good enough mother” in 1953. This term, which should be expanded to “good enough parent” to include fathers, focused on the fact that perfectionism is impossible and can result in an unhappy family. The goal instead should be to provide a space where failing is considered an important part of the learning process and where a safe holding space is provided so that young people are free to learn how to solve problems and retreat when the world is too much.
One of my concerns in this area is that parents can actually make a child in treatment feel unsafe in the sense that they may not want the child to disclose certain things. Unfortunately, I usually find out about the perfection trap when a client reports back that their parent yelled at them for making them look bad to the therapist.
Know this: most therapists are very aware that a parent is likely to have made mistakes in their parenting. It’s standard as all humans fail as some point in some way. Yes, you screwed up. Sure, you could have done something better. Please don’t let the shame of not being the perfect parent prevent you from getting help for yourself or for your child. Unless you are directly or indirectly harming your child, your therapist can help you improve your skills and be present for your children.
Be Attune to Your Fears: One of the hardest things for a parent to be confronted with is that their child will be in need of special care and services for possibly the remainder of their lives. When that issue is a mental health need such as depression with indicators that your child is self-harming or thinking of suicide that can be incredibly overwhelming.
Many parents I have worked with have either tried minimizing, denial of a problem, blaming the child for being bad, or blaming themselves for perceived failures. None of these are helpful. Instead, make efforts to confront your fears and disappointments. Get your own therapy so that you can be in a head and heart space to help your child.
Understand Child Development: In my Instagram post from 2/7/19, I wrote that there should be an “asshole phase” listed as formal developmental phase in addition to the others. Well, of course I said this in a tongue in cheek manner, but if we’re honest while kids can be adorable and amazing wonders to behold, they can also be destructive and rather egocentric. In the child’s mind the only thing that matters is them, and you are for a while anyway, merely an extension of their person.
Understanding child development will help you gain a better understanding of what you can expect at certain developmental milestones. This will enable you to possibly protect your own mental and emotional health while dealing with your child’s.
Get Your Kid Help as Early as Possible: I can’t say this one loud enough. The longer you delay getting care for your child, the more likely symptoms will increase. Depression and other mental health concerns are not phases that children will grow out of. They need help and support and generally the best support is from a consistent, objective outsider who is not emotionally invested in the family dynamic.
It’s also important to keep in mind that children and teens express their mental health needs differently from adults. They don’t have the social/emotional language or intelligence that adults should have and therefore may become incredibly aggressive, rather passive and fail classes they could easily pass, or they may be very compliant and excelling in every area in order to hide how broken they are on the inside. Communication is therefore critical to helping your children.
Finally, while you may want to respect your child’s privacy it is extremely important to be aware of what they are doing in social media. There are hosts of predators who are creating videos, games, challenges, etc. that can put children at risk. If you do a search of “social media resources for parents” you’ll find a plethora of resources to help you keep up with the latest thing. I want you to be especially aware of sites that promote self-harm and/or suicide. You might be tempted to think that your child or teen has better sense to engage dangerous behaviors and that may be true. However, be aware that kids are prone to being impulsive and may not see danger in the same way as you. One of my sisters put it this way to one of her darlings: “Your conscious has not fully developed yet so I will help it out.”
Parenting is a tough responsibility and can feel thankless. This is again why I think parents should attend to their own mental health needs so that they can be more available for their children.
Peace & Blessings!