When your child was born, you had high hopes that your baby would be perfect in every way – medically, physically, and psychologically. As your child develops, it may seem that one of these areas is not as healthy as you had hoped.
As a child psychologist, I often hear parents’ comments such as,
“My child has been a poor sleeper since birth.”
“What happened to my son? He was so easy-going?”
“What happened to my daughter? She is so moody?”
“We used to get along so well.”
“My child has become unmotivated, defiant, even belligerent. What happened?”
Now comes guilt and shame.
“I am a terrible parent.”
“What have I done wrong?”
“It is all my fault.”
“I don’t mean to scream and yell but I get so frustrated!”
First of all, Parents, your child’s emotional problems are not all your fault but sure there may be some things you could do differently. It also is your child’s DNA, temperament and personality. It is also related to the child’s environment, talents, and personal struggles. At first, you may wonder if it is just growing pains. But something in your gut tells you it is more serious than that.
As a parent, you may feel helpless and alone. It may feel gut-wrenching to observe your child floundering and faltering and acting out or withdrawing. It may seem like no one else could possibly understand. You may not want anyone to know. It may be hard to accept that your child has serious issues. You hope no one notices your child has a problem, particularly a mental disorder. You want to protect and shield your child from any potential backlash, criticism, or disapproval.
You may cry a lot. You may isolate out of fear your secret will escape. You begin having panic attacks. You find yourself binge eating, not sleeping, feeling grumpy. Former activities are of no interest to you. You just feel angry a lot – angry because you do not understand what is happening to your child, angry your child has been given a diagnosis, then angry that it is so unfair.
Yes, your situation is unfair – for your child, for your family, for you. As a psychologist, I want to emphasize the importance and value of seeking out a mental health professional who has the expertise and compassion to provide proper support. In my psychology practice, I strive to create a trusting relationship with the child and parents so honest feedback and suggestions are accepted and implemented. I describe a team approach that, when appropriate, includes parents, therapist, psychiatrist, teachers, caregivers, medication, support group and most importantly, the child as captain of the team.
As everyone learns about the emotional disorder and understands it, it no longer has to feel like a stigma. The family can discuss it more openly and everyone can reach out for support as needed and recommended. The child learns about emotional regulation and social skills. Parents learn about more effective strategies from their own therapy and accept that this is their child’s life challenges, they can begin to let go of the need to rescue and protect their child. It does not mean that parents renege on their parenting responsibilities, rather, they learn to separate their role from their child’s struggles. Simultaneously, parents can learn to set loving limits.
With professional support, parents can again have high hopes based on what is realistic for their child and restore balance to their own lives.
For more info: NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness https://nami.org