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Let Your Children Be the Bosses of You

Let Your Children Be the Bosses of You

We’re still in the time of year when many of us (in spite of ourselves) feel the temptation to make resolutions. If you’re like me, you’ve been pondering ways to become a better all-around person. In my case: more patient, attentive, and affectionate.

But I always grapple with the question of whether to broadcast my goals to anyone else. What if I fail? Better to keep my resolve quiet. On the other hand, if I tell someone I’ll probably feel obligated to try harder.

It might be better to go public, after all.

Common wisdom tells us that once you make your goals known, you’ll become more motivated to accomplish them. Aside from a couple of exceptions (including a 2009 study that found students acted less on their goals once they were shared because announcement gave them a false sense of completion), social scientists agree that external accountability helps.

And here’s something you may not know: it’s been proven that sharing your goal with a person whose opinion you value gives you a huge boost. Not only are you giving bigger life to your resolve, but you’re also now receiving implicit support and approval from someone who really matters to you. It’s almost like you’re doing it for them – like following through with your resolve is a gift.

So if your goals include being a better parent, like mine, I propose going straight to the source – your kids. Who better to share the gift of your resolve?

Let them know what you’re hoping to change, and why. Invite them into your heart and soul. They’ll feel the love conveyed in the message and probably be more than willing to hop on board to support you. You can be sure they’ll hold you accountable!

Little successes will become self-reinforcing – and you will have already taken the first step in your goal to become a better parent by simply telling your kids how much they matter to you.

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is the Clinical Director and a pediatric occupational therapist at Elmhurst Counseling. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning.

Double Vision

Double Vision

Among adults, the challenge of seeing a different point of view is an intellectual maneuver. If you lived in their circumstances, you would probably feel the same way. As parents, however, understanding your kid’s world requires a shift to a developmental lens that most of us find difficult.

The problem is that shifting developmental perspective triggers history. All at once, the clear picture becomes blurry. Simply, our kids’ stage of development stirs up issues from our own childhood struggles. Naturally, we apply our personal memories to our reactions.

Double vision requires the impossible task of letting go of your own perspective while placing yourself behind the eyes of another person simultaneously. That means you must be sufficiently comfortable and clear with your own life to be open to another view. Easier said than done – especially if your history includes unresolved stuff.

Literally everyone has unresolved stuff. Some people work on it and others unconsciously allow it to steer their narratives with messages that have long been obsolete. Take, for example, the memory of a parent being conditionally available. Whatever the parent’s reason may have been for being preoccupied, the child is extremely likely to grow up wondering whether they are worthy of love.

It’s nearly impossible to see a parent as flawed or broken from a young child’s angle. Instead, the child will see themself as the cause of the problem, even when there is zero evidence to support that conclusion. Kids don’t know any better. Growing up will inform different realities but, by then, the self-image die has been cast. Your parenting approach will inherit this context.

Be careful. Your child’s world view is blind to your history. Your interpretation of their struggle most likely has nothing to do with their context. Clean the slate. Do your best to imagine what the world must look like through their eyes, and stay  as free of bias as possible.

As caregivers, our goal is to help our kiddos feel understood. That doesn’t happen by thinking that we know how they feel or have been through what they’re going through. We don’t and we haven’t. Understanding comes from listening without judgement.

The greatest gift we can give our children is the deliberate effort not to pass our unresolved issues onto them. Think about whatever percentage of your own worries stem from historical extended family struggle. Then let the buck stop with you.  

About the Author

Steve Ritter, LCSW is the Founder and Executive Director of Elmhurst Counseling. He has served as a teacher, author, consultant, human resources director, health care administrator, and licensed clinical social worker since 1977. A fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, Steve has provided coaching, therapy and team development services to thriving schools, businesses and organizations.

Buffering Kids from Adult Business

Buffering Kids from Adult Business

We teach kids coping skills by exposing them to situations that require coping skills. However, care must be taken to remain within the limits of their developmental stage. Until the brain becomes capable of abstract thought, there’s a potential for them to misinterpret information in concrete terms.

A client once shared concern about her son who seemed unable to recover from the grief that set in after his grandmother’s funeral. The parent assumed her child was having difficulty processing the loss. It turned out that he had overheard the selection of a ‘walnut’ casket and had spent weeks wondering how grandma was going to get out of the walnut. Pretty typical mistake for a seven-year-old.

Before we share the gravity of adult business with our kids, it’s wise to get behind their eyes and imagine how they’ll interpret the data. In some situations, you simply edit the language of the information to match their developmental readiness. At other times, it’s better to buffer them completely.

When life appears normal in the day-to-day experience of a child, parents can attend to the complexities of the crisis without creating needless vulnerability in the family system. This results in a stabilization that enables a more measured form of sharing. Once the circumstances have settled, parents can evaluate how much information and in what language best fits each kid.

The goal is the wellness of the family system. Parents are at the nucleus and hold responsibility for filtering environmental stress in the best interests of their children. Sometimes, exposure is the path and the fallout triggers growth. Often, however, a more strategic approach promotes understanding that is aligned with each kid’s readiness.

When the crisis hits, take a moment to assess the wisdom of discussing the upset at the dinner table, or quietly after the kids have gone to bed. Whichever you decide, let the best interests of your children be the guide. A gentle buffer might enable the protection they are not yet able to provide for themselves.

About the Author

Steve Ritter, LCSW is the Founder and Executive Director of Elmhurst Counseling. He has served as a teacher, author, consultant, human resources director, health care administrator, and licensed clinical social worker since 1977. A fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, Steve has provided coaching, therapy and team development services to thriving schools, businesses and organizations.

Protecting the Bubble

Protecting the Bubble

Those of us who take care of kids professionally have a unique perspective. We see both the parenting strategies of the caregivers and the consequences on child development. Breaking news: they’re related.

If you parent from a helicopter, it’s not realistic to expect your kids to develop autonomy. They will defer to your judgment, especially when the circumstances involve risk and you make it a habit to swoop in and prevent crisis. Heaven forbid that my kid falls and gets hurt.

If you prefer to fight your kid’s battles on their behalf, don’t expect your child to learn how to stand up for themselves. Instead, they will protest past your patience threshold so you are compelled to solve the problem just to quiet the noise. It’s all about anxiety reduction – yours as much as theirs.

We treat anxiety as though it is poison. Soothe the symptom as soon as possible rather than considering the problem that generates the stress. If our efforts are focused on symptom reduction, the problem is guaranteed to send its roots deeper.

What if parents set the example and looked the discomfort straight in the eye until, despite the discomfort, the reason became clear? Solve THAT problem. Parents learn how to parent, and kids learn how to grow.

As long as our adult decisions are guided by achieving peace and quiet, our children will compel us to make them happy. If making kids happy is the goal, we have to sacrifice the construction of healthy coping skills and resilience.

True happiness doesn’t result from removing conflict from life experience. It comes from the evolving capacity to manage life’s challenges effectively. That ability only unfolds when coping is required.

It rubs against all instinct to let your kid fall. Imagine teaching your child to ride a bike in hopes of seeing them learn how to maintain balance. How long to you hold on to the back of the seat as you run up and down the sidewalk? The ability to balance only emerges at the moment that you let go of the seat.

 

About the Author

Steve Ritter, LCSW is the Founder and Executive Director of Elmhurst Counseling. He has served as a teacher, author, consultant, human resources director, health care administrator, and licensed clinical social worker since 1977. A fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, Steve has provided coaching, therapy and team development services to thriving schools, businesses and organizations.

The Kid In The Mirror

The Kid In The Mirror

Whenever we catch our reflection in a mirror, we hope to see good stuff reflected back. If we’re ok with what we find, we might sneak an extra peek. It feels great to experience affirmation about the best of ourselves. It’s not really vanity or narcissism. Just an innocent and normal desire for reassurance.

In fact, that desire goes well beyond physical appearance. We all want to know that our ideas and opinions are valid, so we seek out places they’re reflected back to us positively. Technically, it’s called confirmation bias. When other people feel what we feel and think what we think, we can breathe a sigh of relief. Phew, we got it right!

Whether with politics, ethics, status (money, degrees, job title), or culture (music, art, literature, diet, fashion), we often look around us to find out if we’re on the right track with our decisions. When we’re feeling disordered inside, it’s especially appealing to find reflections of our understanding that can help settle us down.

With kids, however, this process is largely unconscious and nonstop – babies all the way up through teens are in a constant state of refining their core understanding of themselves. It’s like living in a room full of mirrors.

When I was young, the validation I sought out wasn’t always reliable or available, so I found it wherever I could. I had an idea about what relationships should be like, and I attached myself to shows and movies that confirmed my expectations. I was a deep thinker and sensitive kid (in other words, I often felt like a weirdo), so I became drawn to books with characters who fought solitary inner battles and prevailed with quiet cunning and wit.

I crafted my own self-perceptions without an official roadmap and few personal guides. Most of my reflections came from self-selected books and media, which was fairly limited in the 1980s. Today, our kids are drowning in social apps and pop culture influences, whether they ask for them or not. Algorithms lure them down numerous questionable paths that feed them endless material.

While I could curate my own influences and strategically shape my identity through gradual developmental stages, kids these days are at risk for having their sense-of-self engineered at an addictive level. Taking away their screens doesn’t scratch the surface.

It’s normal for parents and educators to want to steer the media narrative, but it’s usually a losing battle. The onslaught is becoming too big and insidious. This is where the mirror concept becomes useful. Because kids typically seek reflections that match what they feel about themselves, caregivers can lay the groundwork early to help them see themselves as responsible, grounded, and thoughtful people. In this way, they’re empowered to act as their own best filter.

Here are some ways to guide them:

  • Name and support their natural strengths – particularly the ones that aren’t always noticed by others.
  • Help them to notice and highlight the natural strengths in everyone else around them.
  • Model optimism and proactive problem-solving, even when the odds are stacked up.
  • Create ways to let them use their unique gifts to make other people’s lives a little bit better.
  • Teach them to think of mistakes as opportunities for learning, rather than a cause for shut-down.
  • Normalize, describe, and let them sit with big feelings – especially the uncomfortable ones.
  • Provide them with chances to apologize, repair, and grow from any damage they may cause.
  • Encourage them to forgive others and seek to understand why other people behave the way they do.

Our kids develop their self-image based upon the reflections that are around them. Luckily, the most powerful ones will always come from the adults in their lives they love and who love them back.

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is the Clinical Director and a pediatric occupational therapist at Elmhurst Counseling. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning.

A Day in the Life of a Pediatric Occupational Therapist

A Day in the Life of a Pediatric Occupational Therapist

Think about the minute-by-minute unfolding of a therapy session. The child arrives and anticipates the greeting from their therapist. Countless developments have occurred between visits. The twosome is not just picking up from where they left off, but processing how the learnings of the previous session have played out during the week. So much to discuss. So many new skills to share.

The session begins. A brief exchange of small talk softens the vibe. The therapist has an agenda based on practiced methods and treatment planning. Yet, the conversation explodes without adherence to the agenda. The kid grabs a fidget from the bucket on the shelf. The reading cube beckons to provide pseudo-privacy. The robot they built last week needs reengineering.

Tension rises. The tasks and tools are slightly beyond the capacity of the kiddo. Chaos threatens, except the constancy of the clinical atmosphere contains. The therapist reads the signals and selects an intervention.

Biofeedback. Belly breathing. Smell the flower, blow out the candle. Name the feeling.

Rinse and repeat.

Coping skills are taught and modeled. Situations are anticipated and role-played. Safe space is created for vulnerability. Failure leads to problem-solving. Play morphs into learning. Healthy doses of dancing, singing, joke-telling, silliness, and laughter are sprinkled throughout.

The session ends. Trials are designed and shared with caregivers. Treatment goals are recalibrated and put to the test for the following week. Life inside and outside of the therapy space comes together. Parents, grandparents, teachers, and professionals unite on behalf of the child.

The child who reunites with their adult outside the therapy space is slightly different. Their skills have evolved, ever so incrementally. The goodbye is as valuable as the hello exchanged 60 minutes earlier. What happens in the next 167 hours then shapes the agenda of the next session.

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is the Clinical Director and a pediatric occupational therapist at Elmhurst Counseling. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning.