A recent BBC news report saying that referrals to child mental health units from UK primary schools for pupils aged 11 and under have risen by nearly 50% in three years is somewhat alarming. In N Ireland we certainly get our share of such difficulties.
And if you spend time on line, Facebook posts such as ‘ten things you must do to rear a happy child’ will catch your attention. Most parents do these things, day in day out, building on the skills they have inherited and adding new tips from hard won experience. They do it in the midst holding down jobs and doing long hours to support their families.
So the above advice depends on the time to follow through but we are losing time to play, to talk, and to solve family problems, to visit a grandparent, be good neighbours or even to learn new things. Putting things right in a family is a challenge.
A time rich scenario has disappeared and you could well get attracted to the juggling act that invites you to ‘have it all’. It implies that if you would only organize yourself even more closely you will ‘make it’.
This fast paced life has recently had contemporary add-ons like changing political circumstances, concerns about the environment, the deluge of social media into our lives and the legacies of The Troubles surfacing in unexpected ways such as the high suicide rate. All these are the wallpaper of our lives. They niggle at the sense of security within our family units.
And yet we are greeted each morning by lively, demanding, bright eyed children who keep raising our game by showing us their enthusiasm for life and often voicing their worries too.
I suspect parents know it is time to rewrite some of the script for rearing children here and we are on the front line, best equipped to see what is happening and have the primary investment in our child’s happiness and health. And the truth is, the recognition and resourcing of changing circumstances in parenting will not come from the top down
And yet parenting is an enormously rewarding job. Today’s parents tell me it is so good to love and guide a child, to see them succeed, to join in their enthusiasm for life and be reminded of your own childhood
But the side effect of these new and stressful working conditions is that our children are being affected. They are like the canaries in the coal mine, first to wilt when the atmosphere changes. Some are reacting by being more vocal, more withdrawn, hitting out, spending more time on social media, playing pranks at school, taking risks and being careless with alcohol and drugs
The unease they have produces an accompanying rise in the volume of emotion expressed in the home, increasingly at school and on the street and can be daunting to those who witness it or whose responsibility it is to manage it or help that child. And there is reference point here which is that most parents understand their child is a good child and they are committed to their wellbeing.
So, we stand back and try to reason with our children, we who have learned to ‘regulate’ our emotions, the latest word used for controlling our temper or tears! Children do not do tidy when it comes to emotions! So, I would suggest in this fast changing world it may be time to recognize this as a golden opportunity to tackle the ‘problem’, build deeper connections with them. It will pull up feelings for us as parents too which will need to be brought out from under the battened down hatches!
Change will invite emotional upheaval; conversations, tears, setting limits. These are tools for figuring out this new parenting landscape. We can refer our minds back to the strengths of our family, take one issue at a time and lead our home team to a more emotionally secure place. And I would recommend looking for support for ourselves as we set about this task.
I agree that deciding to do something about this is not easy and why should we change something that works reasonably well? And who do we talk it over with anyway? NI parents tend to lean on an immense coping resource, a legacy of The Troubles, an approach which was handed down to us and has served us well but may not be useful in the long term. This generation of parents are reared by stoical parents who protected them, held families and communities together. Their motto was ‘don’t be raking up the past’, ‘just get on with it’, ‘one day at a time’. Maybe it is time to get a ‘heads up,’ abandon those ‘holding together’ values and reconsider the new landscape parents now operate in.
Can we bring challenges up in the context of a family discussion, can we ask the child involved for their solutions, or get everybody out to a new activity that lifts everybody’s attention off the difficulties and connects us together again? Perhaps we could drop a shift at work, talk it through with a counsellor, friend, life coach?
In these changing times we need to review our lives as parents and reconfigure them to fit our real needs. And I suspect those needs are still the old fashioned ones of closeness, good food, exercise, time to rest and play and feeling deeply connected to family, neighborhood and wider community. Good connections are enormously reassuring, our ‘capital in the bank’ for the difficult times that seem to come to every family from time to time. Time to shore up the cracks!
And do consider looking for a listening ear and professional overview beyond family. Coaching for parents costs less than many everyday luxuries and is a strategic investment in reconnecting and strengthening your family team.
Parenting is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world and you deserve the support to do that well!
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