In your daily grind, you might not have the time or bandwidth to keep track of your kids’ emotional ups and downs. But make no mistake: They are definitely keeping track of yours, especially preteens who are reliant on you for their very survival. They’re watching, listening, and absorbing every signal you put out, even the ones you don’t realize you’re transmitting. Furthermore, when a child spends an entire hour telling her doctor how worried she is about her dad’s hectic work schedule, that child is not working through her own issues or progressing in therapy. In a nontherapeutic context, if your child is too afraid to tell you about an important school project or reveal a personal problem because he’s afraid to upset you or add to your burden, that child is unsupported and suffering alone with his worries.
To support a child emotionally, acknowledge your own emotional needs and reinforce self-care by practicing it. Your child will learn the value of restoration by watching you. We all want our kids to know how to relax, don’t we? I have yet to meet a parent whose fondest wish for her child is that he’ll grow up to be a burned-out miserable hot mess who treats himself—and those around him—badly.
How to Scaffold Yourself
To scaffold your child, you provide structure, support, and encouragement. To scaffold yourself, stick with the same program:
A doable structure. Of course, you want to make sure your kids get the best of everything and that they have full, busy lives. But if your life has become an unending series of rushing from one place to the next, always on the verge of being late, living under the constant threat that one glitch in your schedule will ruin the day for your entire family, you have structured an unsustainable existence. Despite any misgiving you might have, scale back to a doable schedule that includes quality bonding time with your children and time-outs for yourself.
Support your own well-being. To measure whether you’re being supportive and compassionate with yourself, ask, “Would I treat my child this way?” You sign up your kids for sports and fitness classes. But do you make time to exercise? You make sure your children are eating five veggies a day and getting adequate sleep. Why not have the same requirements for yourself? If you saw your child freaking out over his homework, you’d suggest he take a break, not force him to grind himself down to a raw nub. If your child was struggling academically, physically, or emotionally, you’d get some help from experts. What about when you are sick or struggling? Do you push yourself relentlessly, regardless?
When you ignore or disregard your own feelings, you are modeling worthlessness to your child. Kids take that in, and when they grow up, they wind up doing the same thing. Self-care is self-respect, self-esteem, self-compassion, and self-validation. Support yourself by reaching out for help if needed, eating well, sleeping well, and exercising.
Encourage effort. Reassure yourself that you’re doing just fine as a mom or dad, even if your life and your child aren’t “perfect” (whatever that means). So many parents feel like they’re doing a terrible job at it, and I’d say that nine times out of ten, if you get angry or upset at a child, it’s because you feel like you’re failing as a parent. Feeling like a failure isn’t the most healthy or relaxing emotion to have, or to bring into the home environment, for your sake and the child’s. There will be times when you make a parenting misstep. Congratulations! You’re human. Acknowledge and accept the fact that we all have our bad days, and you’ll feel calmer about it. Then encourage yourself to try to do better next time.