Who do Your Kids See?

If you live in my household, it may look something like this.

Even when all our needs are met, there are still daily stressors that can change how my behavior appears to my kids.  If you’ve switched from one cup of coffee a day to four cups, then we are in the same club!  I experience the daily stressors of a pandemic, managing a household, being a mother of three, and a career, and all have caused me to feel out of sorts.  At times my family has observed me to be less patient, have a shorter fuse, and be more dramatic over small problems.  This reflection caused me to question my own parenting behavior; what have I been modeling for my kids lately?

Put yourself in a child’s perspective and imagine how hard it is to understand why your parent is “crabby.”  Now imagine the same scenario if you have difficulty comprehending language (receptive language) or it is challenging to explain to your parent how their crabbiness makes you feel (expressive language).  Digging a bit deeper, children with a language disorder may struggle to understand their parent’s emotions and their own emotions.  Communication is extremely complex.  Therefore, it is important that therapists and parents break down the parts of communication to modify and explain what a feeling is, then expand into other parts of emotions. 

One approach to targeting emotions is through play.  Just like we go to work, a child’s “work” is play.  During a session, a therapist might act out feeling “mad” and label the feeling.  After a few sessions and a parent modeling the feeling “mad” at home, the child may begin to identify what “mad” looks like.

 Advancing to later stages of play, a child is learning to be with others, exchange ideas, be flexible thinkers, demonstrate emotions through imaginary play, and much more.  Right now, many parents and children are in positions that they didn’t choose.  Children are facing new routines, online school, being isolated, hunger, learning how to function and manage whatever schedule their school district chose.   All the pressure is a heavy weight on a child and parent.  If you’re a parent who is struggling with getting food on the table, living with another family, job loss, working from home, being the primary caregiver at home with kids when you used to be the breadwinner, the loss of a loved one, a single parent, or the loss of a home, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.  This benefits not just you, but also your child.  Please see the below contacts, talk to your speech therapist for resources, or contact your doctor.  And recognize these very real adult stressors impact the mood we portray to our children.

  • Family Voices of Minnesota: 218-409-6594
  • Essentia Health – Amberwing: 218-355-2100
  • Essentia Health – Polinsky: 218-786-5360
  • Human Development Center: 218-728-4491

One tool in my “toolbox” is to consider the moods in your home that your children are witnessing. Then I challenge you to try to reflect the mood you want to see in your kids.  When you smile and laugh, it is infectious!  Place effort there during your day.  As the day goes on and events start to feel emotional, put effort into being silly or moving to a new environment (outside) to change the tone. 

Possibly it is not you who needs the change, maybe it’s your child.  These strategies can be useful for kids too.  Be honest and tell your child how you are feeling, even if the emotion is negative.  Your kids are watching you and learning phenomenal developmental lessons like waiting, listening, turn taking, anticipation, and how to interact with others.  You are a big deal!

The take-away message for all is to take care of yourself!  Being a parent is hard.  When you feel good, your kids feel good.  Laughter might be the best medicine during these tough times.  One parent shared that her family watched 80’s movies to escape from their current lifestyle and remember when times were different.  Another thought, which is easier said than done but very important, is to take time for yourself.  I have a friend who gets up an hour earlier then she needs to, just to have her own time.  Maybe you need to get outside twice a day or need 5 minutes alone in the bathroom.  If your child sees a joyful parent, they are more likely to mirror joyfulness. 

Click here for an inspiring article if this topic peaked your interest.

Natalie Wark, M.A., CCC-SLP