It is back-to-school for so many students this time of year! Children's feelings can be raw leading up to the first day of school, with stomach butterflies and nervous feelings anticipating new changes, routines and social situations.
What can parents do to support children in the transition back to the classroom and after school programs? It's important to listen to your child's feelings and help them get specific about what is causing a nervous feeling. Some examples include:
-being left out
-having argument with a friend or sibling
-loss of a friendship.
Left out is a feeling that most children experience at some point, leading to feelings of rejection. To help a child who has been left out, or is dealing with some other rejection, it's important to help them:
1) name the feeling(s) and then
2) put words to why the feeling is happening.
3) and then, brainstorm together ways that child can problem solve
When teaching your child to problem solve, think of choices they have, then encourage them to select a choice to resolve the problem, try it and see what changes about how they feel. Check to see with them, did it solve the problem? If not, encourage them to pick and try a different choice.
When parents teach children how to bounce back through problem solving, children can move forward through rejection, to a place of understanding of self, to feel empowered, and to move on. This builds resiliency!
When should a parent step-in versus take a back seat?
Parents can help a child co-regulate. Calming down can succeed with parental support. The parent's role is to help name the upsetting feeling and listen with curiosity. These strategies lead to drawing out from the child what is going on. Parents can listen with empathy and help emotionally coach that child, without prescribing the solution for them. Ultimately, parents take a back seat when their child is bouncing back, and moving forward in a good direction.
How can parents help children learn that rejection (a hard-to-have feeling) is part of life (and how to learn from it)?
When the incident has passed, parents can reflect to that child: how they were able to handle a feeling of being left out or rejected, and ask them, what did they learn?
Support your child's personal understanding and insight by validating it. How? Simply reflect what they have said about what they learned. Use their words. Children are capable of deep insight and self-reflection, if we as adults, slow down and take the time to listen.
With support and emotion coaching, children can learn to bounce through the most hard-to-have feelings, such as rejection, and learn to move forward with resiliency.
Maryellen P. Mullin, LMFT
Visit www.messyparenting.com to access the free podcast!
Parents are their children's first teachers, supporting children in developing self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making skills needed to succeed in school, work, and life. These five skills make up Social-Emotional Learning (SEL).
Parents can teach SEL using many methods. Why do parents need to learn how to be intentional in teaching these skills? The answers may surprise you!
Children who learn self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making skills are more able to:
Maryellen P. Mullin, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, author of two NEW children's books, specifically written to support parents and caring adults teach SEL skills with children.
You can find her books with theses links below:
Puppy and Kitten Find a Family
Madigan and Menina Find Their "Furever" Family
Did you know we have a podcast? Listen to learn for five minutes to a new strategy or idea to help raise your children!
Messy Parenting: Progress Not Perfection® Podcast
Moving it Forward: When moments get tough, from a place of co-regulation and calm, you can parent your child and yourself, through almost anything.
I read something recently that described the end of summer as a “down elevator,” an event to dread, or to grieve. The sentiment was that we were losing a valuable opportunity and that we needed to make the most of it before it went away. Sometimes, however, endings are a relief, not filled with nostalgia. Because metaphors can resonate differently for each of us, they often lead to personal reflection.
This got me thinking about one of my own metaphors, a phrase I use in parent coaching: “keep it moving forward." Not long ago, a preschool director colleague reminded me about how my metaphor touched him when I used it in a presentation to his staff. I suggested that this metaphor could be used to help move children out of messy moments. When we get stuck in a confrontational parenting moment, we often find ourselves in a power struggle. The easiest way out is to move the child and yourself forward.
For example, a child’s emotional level might rise because they are frustrated. A desired goal is to calm the child. Rather than over-verbalizing the issue or over reacting to the child’s stress, an adult can calm the child by co-regulation. Co-regulation can be done with a child of any age. The adult models calm, by slowing their own breathing, thus reassuring the child nonverbally that they can relax. In doing this co-regulation, slowing the moment, breathing together slowly, an adult helps a child transition from their "downstairs" brain's emotional amygdala reaction to engaging the "upstairs" brain, the frontal cortex, which is capable of understanding language, communicating a need and planning how to move forward.
Summer is a transition too, and whether or not yours has been enjoyable or mixed or difficult, the forward movement of time is something to embrace, for many reasons. But before embracing this transition to a new season, maybe there is something in your parenting experience, from the summer, that you want to reflect on, rewind or fast forward through?
What are your highs and lows, any parenting wins or lessons? How about for your children? Asking them, "What's been memorable for you this summer?" What have you learned and what are you most proud of? It's a great question for the dinner table or the next car ride, with your loved ones. When your child shares, listen with curiosity.
Children experience time at a much slower pace than we adults do. Remember when summer lasted “forever?” When we ran into our neighbor’s daughter last weekend, she shared that she was returning to college the next day. She commented that a month ago, it felt like forever before school was scheduled to restart. Now, she finds it hard to believe that the car is packed.
Parenting is a lot like summer. We anticipate it, we prepare and plan for it and yet, so many experiences are totally spontaneous or an unknown adventure. Days with newborns can seem excruciatingly slow on difficult days and wonderfully memorable on connected and smooth days.
Watching children grow and go, is something parents do with mindfulness and with mindlessness. So, as summer moves forward, and you are thinking about buying school supplies, re-starting routines, letting go of older children little by little in middle and high school or seeing your adult children off to college, take a moment to savor your summer moments, as a very important part of the transition to welcome the fall and say goodbye to the summer of 2022. "Move it forward" for yourself and your children when moments get tough. From a place of co-regulation and calm, you can parent your child and yourself, through almost anything.
Maryellen P. Mullin, LMFT
"We never go anywhere, I don't feel special."
"What's wrong with us, we used to have so much fun."
"We don't know how to get along."
"We can make time for ourselves later, work and the kids are all I can manage."
Sound familiar? As a Certified Gottman Therapist for couples, I hear this on a weekly basis. Does your relationship seem like it is in a rut? Would you like to learn how to uplift each other, together? Join us at our monthly workshop (register here), and read on for tips to improve your relationship.
1. Talk to your partner about how you feel about the rut. Try to avoid blame, and focus on how you feel and a positive need. For example, instead of saying, "You don't take me out anymore." Say instead, "I miss having time with you alone, and feel lonely. I need a date night, how can we make that happen?"
2. Respond to any "bid" your partner makes. If you are in a rut, and your partner is trying to express this, be responsive! Even if you hear a criticism, such as, "We don't go out," be curious! Ask your partner how they feel and what they need. Then, respond with an idea of how to connect.
3. Plan for regular time to connect to get out of the rut and stay out of it! Weekly dates, walks or time just for the two of you, makes space to maintain an emotional and physical connection with each other. Like a bank account, you have an emotional bank account with your partner. Making frequent "deposits" keeps a high balance, to counter those challenges life and relationships may present.
4. Partners can fall into ruts by mistake, usually by circumstances or obligations, and a lack of understanding of why and how to prioritize regular times to connect. Partners who parent, often prioritize children's needs. But, if a relationship is not nurtured between a couple, then there is no "nest" for the child. Plan for time to connect as a couple instead of relying on spontaneous opportunities. Couples who make it long-term, have habits to keep intimacy alive, by taking time together daily and weekly.
5. Keep moving forward through the rut. Meaning, you may be facing something as a couple that will take time to recover from or get through. Talk about it. Plan small ways to connect, and be supportive with mottos you create with each other, such as "even though it is hard right now, we'll get through it together." Be a team. Getting through a rut together is a lot easier than trying to pull you both out on your own.
6. Give appreciation to each other, on a regular basis! It's important to take a few minutes daily or weekly, and be intentional about the small things to express gratitude. Make sure you say how it makes you feel. For example, "I appreciate you taking out the trash, it made me feel supported." Or, "I appreciate you texted me during my crazy day; it made me feel loved." Appreciations minimize contempt and resentment, increasing feelings of love for each other.
7. Check in with a couples therapist. If if you cannot think your way out of a rut alone or together, get some help! A couples therapist can teach you ways to connect, compromise and bounce back, together. Expect homework. You two need to make the effort outside of counseling; showing up to the appointment is only part of the work. Ask for ways to connect in-between appointments or read articles like this, and try out strategies
Remember, while ruts are normal, getting out of them takes some effort, but is worth it! - Maryellen P. Mullin, LMFT
Join our monthly ONLINE couples skills workshop, 75 minutes, once a month, make it a date! (register here).
Because I am Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, owner of Messy Parenting: Progress Not Perfection ®, many of my clients are parents who want to gain better social emotional skills. Their motivation is to use those skills to improve their parenting. Here are a few tips which I teach parents to start on this process.
Build Empathy and Be Positive
Few people seek counseling because they have difficulty managing positive feelings. It is a humbling insight for parents to acknowledge when they need help to control negative feelings. Some parents feel shame, embarrassment or guilt when anger or frustration are not in check. Awareness of those experiences are a first step in learning to relate to their children. Building empathy for a child requires building empathy for one's own challenges. To build empathy and positive perspective back into the parenting relationship, a parent can focus on pointing out everything your kid does right, for at least two weeks. Build your own positive behavior habit; you will feel better when you practice your own positive behavior. That’s right, ignore the negatives with your kid, unless it is unsafe. This is a hard challenge, but you will see outcomes if you commit to it as best you can, then move on to the next step of learning to teach positive behavior habits.
Use a Mind Trick Reframe
To help parents gain perspective, and manage their own negative reaction when teaching positive behavior changes, I ask them to change the narrative. Frame the situation as a mind trick reframe; to slow down personal reaction time. This is best used when you are upset with a kid. Instant reframe works like this: when triggered, pretend that the kid is not
your own; it's your best friend's kid. What would you say then? All parents respond the same way when asked this questions: "Well, I wouldn't yell." Instead of verbalizing immediately, parents often respond that they would take a step back to think, "What can I say to this kid that would help them understand what is going on?" In this mindset, parents are able to stay connected in order to correct a behavior or address a situation.
Learn to Talk In Start Behaviors
If parents can stay connected, they can up the odds of working through a problem. If parents want to control their emotions, they need to be like detectives and observe. Think: What is actually going on? What needs to change? What needs to stop? What needs to start? The goal is to reshape a kid's challenging behavior. If you point out what "not to do," you will likely get a negative reaction. However, if you stop to think about what you want that kid to start doing, and say that specifically as a direction, you will help that child start doing the behavior needed.
What does that look like? Let's say a kid is running in the house and you yell, "Stop running!" Most kids ignore the command because they are used to yelling and are not listening to the instruction. However, if you lower your voice and use a serious tone such as, "Please start walking," there is a good chance that you will see the behavior change.
Think in two types of behavior: stop and start. When you focus on stop behaviors, you tend to be annoyed and frustrated, and so does your kid. When you focus on start behaviors, you tend to have to stop, think about the action that should be happening and give a direction, rather than a reprimand. Both kids and parents feel better when start behaviors are the focus of the instruction or conversation, it's a positive parenting move that can foster better connection and outcomes.
Maryellen P. Mullin, is an LMFT in California, and founder of San Francisco Family Therapy and Messy Parenting: Progress Not Perfection ®, working with families, couples and individuals.
Knowing that I am both a Gottman Certified Therapist (GCT) and a Prepare
Enrich Facilitator, both clients in the therapy room and fellow guests at a party often voice this question. The answer is not too complicated.
A couple will know if they are ready for marriage by understanding several things about the relationship and about themselves. Couples, who love each other, have taken off the rose-colored glasses. They have worked on building trust and commitment. They have a strong friendship base and have a willingness to work on the relationship. When these elements are present in their relationship, they are ready. Couples, who have worked though conflict and have some basic skills to manage disagreements, are ready.
Not all couples, or individuals, come to the table with inherent conflict management or communication skills. Research has shown, however, that if both are wiling to do the work, these skills can be learned. Couples, who struggle and want to be successful, will need to invest in the work together.
If a couple is unsure of their readiness for marriage, finding a a professional who specializes in pre-marital preparation, is a great place to start. Two assessment programs, which are based on actual research about what makes relationships work, are Prepare-Enrich and the Gottman Relationship Check-up. These couple assessments provide personalized feedback. This quicker type of assessment saves a couple from weeks of meeting with a professional trying to be known; or explain their relationship. These assessments are efficient and outcome oriented;
they provide structured frameworks and identify skills for the couple to learn in order for them to improve in growth areas.
Couples who do pre-marital preparation in a more formalized way, gain even better tools and understandings of their strengths and challenges in a relationship. It's important to recognize that like any habit, the more you practice and maintain positive relationship behaviors, the more happy your ever-after will be.
Maryellen Mullin, is an LMFT in California, and founder of San Francisco Family Therapy and Messy Parenting: Progress Not Perfection ®, working with families, couples and individuals.
"Do you sometimes freak out about whether private practice can really work for you? Maryellen P. Mullin, founder of San Francisco Family Therapy, has important advice for you: collaborate and ask for help. She’s leaned into her superpowers and created a business she enjoys running. Rather than focusing on just one thing, Maryellen’s business allows her to do many things she loves. Listen as she dives into her journey - http://coachingwithannie.com/podcast/53"