Talking to my aunt recently, she told me stories of her childhood and how clumsy she used to be. She was always falling over and remembered the grazes she got, the dents to her knee which was filled with gravel and how painful it was to clean. She also laughed at how her mum (my nan), used to say “I told you to pick your feet up,” instead of scooping her up in her arms, smothering the injured area in kisses and drying her tears whilst whispering softly that everything was going to be ok and that it will soon heal.
So here is the question – how do we show our support to our children? Not just when they are ill or injured but generally?
It is easy to offer love and support when there is something physically wrong, like a high fever, Chicken Pox, bruises and broken bones. We can identify in their pain with a sore throat, the glands are up, or they have a cold but what about those symptoms we can’t see? When the body aches, they have tummy pains, a headache, they have suddenly started to wet the bed, wake in the night and become needy, clingy, begin whinging or cry for some unknown reason. How do we respond then? School time looms, how do we react when they announce they can’t go to school as they don’t feel well? Are we just as sympathetic? Do we cuddle them, reassure them that their symptoms will soon pass and keep them off school, snuggling under a duvet and watch movies together? Do we ignore them saying that they will be fine as soon as they get to school and not to worry? We don’t want to make them ‘soft’. Possibly we have to work and don’t have the luxury of such pamper. Maybe we are even slightly cross at the fact that our darlings have put a fly in the ointment and the whole routine has been thrown. We may begin to panic because our bosses won’t entertain another day off – believe me I have 4 boys and when a cold strikes it hit us all and that is a lot of sick days!
In the mist of all these questions, have we considered how our children feel? What if the tummy pain, bed wetting, headaches are actually fake? Sometimes, these symptoms are real, but not because they are ill, but because they are masking an underlining, deeper issue of self-esteem, confidence, friendship difficulties, worries about school work, exams, and family issues – the list can go on. Maybe our children are hiding an anxiety that we are unaware of. I’m not here to judge, I can’t as I’ve been here and continue to be so with my boys. Children can equally be extremely clever at diverting their true feelings. They tell us that their day has been good, “It was ok,” they say as we pick them up from school, however as we put them to bed, they start engaging and off-loading what has actually happened during their day which has caused an emotion of either anger, worry, anxiety or sadness.
Even though we may be keen to put our children to bed, it’s our ‘adult’ time after all, as we have phone calls/emails/texts/washing/dinner etc to attend to however, THIS is the most important time to listen to our children. Give them this time to disclose their feelings in a safe environment, (maybe they have their own room and feel confident that their siblings can’t hear) just listen! Offer support but more importantly, help them to understand their issues and difficulties, guide them to see both sides and reassure them that no matter whatever happens, you are there for them. Our children will make mistakes, we have, they may react impulsively, or not react at all and bury their pain but it is our duty as loving parents to help our children reason, empathise and acknowledge their emotions. It takes time and patience but eventually they will begin to see the bigger picture and ‘feel’ their own response. Our children will learn from their experiences, we have, and It is our job as parents to help and encourage them by guiding them to be the very best they can.
Children will often blow their experiences up, let events snowball and begin to fear the worst. They will attach negative labels to themselves, “I’m no good” “I am a bad/naughty person” “I have no friends” or “I’m rubbish/horrible/stupid” and these thoughts will go round and round in their heads like windmills until they can off load them (to you) or learn (from you) how to make them stop. Sometimes just verbalising their emotions will fix things, but occasionally they may need regular hugs, loving squeezes, positive praise or just simply your TIME and ATTENTION. In fact a good cuddle will release the hormone oxytocin which is described as a feel good hormone which tells the body it’s safe, secure, loved and protected. The release of oxytocin actually helps lowers stress related symptoms.
So again, I ask you, “How can we support our children?”