Your Family’s Mental Health Starts with Yours
A post from our co-Founder, co-CEO, and resident family therapist, Kelly Oriard
The mental health of a family system starts with the primary attachment figure’s emotional well being, which most often is the parents. In early childhood, children are sponges, soaking up our actions, reactions and modeling as a way to understand themselves. It isn’t until they are about 7 years old, that the inner voice (that voice you hear right now while reading this text) shows up to help them interpret and make meaning of the world around them. The inner voice that your child starts with is heavily influenced by what they see and experience with the parent-child relationship, hence why your emotional well being is the basis for your child’s as well. The below are recommendations are both for children as well as adults to stabilize during these less than stable times:
Boundaries & Routines = Safety for young children.
Setting boundaries and sticking to them, or enforcing routines during difficult times can be hard. However, it creates a sense of safety and security, which allows for emotional stability.
Self: Work-life balance can be difficult for those juggling working from home. Try to set a routine around your work and your self-care to avoid feeling overwhelmed and constantly ‘on’ for your family and your work - make time for you to do you, too.
Child: There is always room to tune into your child's unique needs within a structure and find ways to accommodate, trusting your own parent intuition about what your child needs within their structure and routine. Watch for changes in your child such as sleep disturbances, clinginess, withdrawal, somatic complaints, changes in appetite, or acting out behaviors. These can all be signs of stress and are common reactions in children during times of uncertainty. As a parent, being supportive, open to communication, and patient with your child (and yourself) can help you both navigate this difficult time.
All Feelings Welcome.
Allow space for a range of emotions and understand that each person in your family may be coping in different ways. For some, this time brings up anxiety, stress, helplessness, while for others this time may be energizing, a chance to reset priorities, a time to reflect. For our children, they may love what feels like an endless weekend, or they may be more needy than ever before and more prone to temper tantrums, triggering anger, and frustration.
Self: Be okay with naming your feeling and sitting with it. Understanding why we are having the emotions we are is helpful in thinking about how we can take care of those feelings and why they are presenting themselves, allowing for us to become more present ourselves.
Child: Children pick up on much more than we give them credit for. They are hearing adults talk, they are hearing the news. Talking to them directly about their feelings at this time and modeling how you are taking care of your own feelings can be very helpful to come back to a more healthy mental state. Children can sense the heightened anxiety all around and are looking to their parents and caretakers as models for how to deal with these difficult emotions. By being honest about our own feelings and showing them how to take care of those feelings, we are taking a difficult situation and turning it into an important lesson.
Again, the mental health of your family starts with taking care of you. If you are looking for a community to connect with, please check out our Private Facebook Group. If you feel you are in need of additional help, please reach out to a medical professional.
Kelly is a marriage and family counselor and licensed school counselor. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two boys, Aidan (5) and Oli (3).