Creating an Environment for Growth and Change

gabby-orcutt-74607-unsplash.jpg

Creating an Environment for Growth and Change

By Liza Telford, MFT Intern

Creating an Environment for Growth and Change

In 2002, Nelson Mandela addressed the United Nations during a special session regarding the welfare of children world-wide.  He said, “history will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children. The real work will only begin once we return home” (2002, Mandela).  He went on to encourage the leaders to return to their various corners of the earth and take the actions necessary to make this discussion live beyond the day. This speech resonates with me when I think about seeing young clients and their families.  It is keenly important to make the hour I spend with a parent and child an experience that invites them to return home and keep the process “live.”  

It is the belief of experiential therapists that change occurs through a growth experience (Costa, 1991) and not only through intellectual interpretation or insight.  It is through “openness, self-awareness, spontaneity, freedom of expression, creativity, action, intuition, self-fulfillment, process, confrontation, and personal integrity are valued rather than theory” (p. 3). These values constitute the essence of the experiential approach to families.  

According to Kolomeyer and Renk (2016), when seeing children with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), it is important to select an intervention that takes both biological and environmental influences into account. Emotionally Focused Therapy examines both the biological and environmental factors at play for a family and allows a safe and secure space to explore the role Anxiety is playing in keeping the family stuck.

Storytelling is one example of an intervention that promotes an emotionally focused experience.  Bowlby (1977a) stated that the early attachments formed within families are very important because they fulfill critical safety and security needs. Asking a parent to tell their child a story about their life invites the child to experience the emotion through the words and imagery of the story.  There is potential for emotional connection and expressing sentiment that the child has not heard from the parent before.

When Nelson Mandela spoke to members of the UN that day, he did not expect them to make changes for the children during that very lunch hour, but rather to be moved enough by their experience that they would feel inspired to make lasting changes when they arrived home.  Similarly, I want to facilitate experiences with families that inspire them to continue after our sessions to create safe attachments, connection, and a secure place to explore and express emotion.   

References

Bowlby, J. (1977a). The making and breaking of affectional bonds, I. British Journal of Psychiatry,/50, 201-210. 

Costa, L. (1991). Family sculpting in the training of marriage and family.. Counselor Education & Supervision, 31(2), 121. Retrieved from http://libproxy.edmc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9707085681&site=ehost-live 

Kolomeyer, E., & Renk, K. (2016). Family-Based Cognitive–behavioral Therapy for an Intelligent, Elementary School-Aged Child With Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Clinical Case Studies, 15(6), 443–458. https://doi-org.libproxy.edmc.edu/10.1177/1534650116668046 

Helping Children Build a Foundation of Self-Worth

Helping Children Build a Foundation of Self-Worth

By Dr. Debi Gilmore LMFT

Helping Children Build a Foundation of Self-Worth

Children learn through observation, particularly by observing their parents in dealing with life challenges. Modeling is one of the most powerful parenting techniques, and the following fundamental concepts are key in helping children achieve a solid sense of self.

1. An Optimistic Outlook—Which Models A “Can Do” Attitude For The Child

When children are very young, they look to the outside world through the eyes of their parents. When they see their parents navigate challenges with dedication and an attitude of coping, they are likely to see the world as safe, exciting and challenging. Conversely, when they are shielded from the issues families face, or they view their parents as stressed out, overwhelmed, and constantly negative, they tend to approach the world apprehensively.

When children hear their parents express confidence in dealing with issues, and when their parents help the child deal with issues and solve problems, the child feels greater security and reassurance that difficulties are only temporary and ultimately manageable.

2. Acceptance, Expectations, And Autonomy: Parenting Techniques That Cultivate Self-Worth.

 Acceptance

Every human being needs to feel important to their family. When children begin to question their parents’ devotion, their emotional capability of handling outside stresses is compromised. When a child is insecure about their acceptance in the home, they are unable to internalize the needed emotional security that comes from “just knowing” their parents believe in them and love them. Insecurity in children causes them to become even more dependent on others’ acceptance, and they become hyper-focused on getting attention from others and pleasing others rather than developing a solid foundation of internally anchored self-worth.

Expectations

It is essential for parents to require their children to work hard in their quest to achieve relative success in life. This also contributes to their self-worth and confidence that matures into a healthy view of self as they relate to the world. This requires parents to model, teach, mentor, and guide in various ways, including working beside their child and assisting the child until the child understands the concepts being expected of them. This modeling is a type of scaffolding that supports the child in the learning process.

With time, the parent must take down some of the scaffolding and allow the child to experience increasing responsibility. This contributes to their self-efficacy or a “can do” attitude. With early discipline practices by enforcing natural consequences, the child develops a healthy self-regard.

Autonomy

 Recent research focusing on self-worth notes that “competent, high-self-esteem children experience parental respect for their individuality.” This means that parents must actively encourage their children to assert their differences, and not just “allow” the differences. This process fosters the child’s comfort and future skill in listening to their own internal voice and identifying who and what they want themselves to feel and need as opposed to hearing only what others prefer them to do or think.

Bottom line: Parents, must consistently give their children the message that it is ok to disagree, and that disagreeing is a healthy way to collaborate and navigate this world. That is, if the child doesn’t act out in harmful ways in the midst of their disagreement with others.

3. Learning When to Let Go—Gradually Shifting Control from Parent To Child

It is important for parents to recognize their child’s need for increasing control over themselves as well as the environment around them. However, that process is contingent on the child’s demonstration of the ability to handle this control responsibly.

It is difficult to be a “really good” parent, so it is essential to see these principles as stepping stones to follow, or a map for the journey of parenting. In reality, if you are giving your child the best you have, encouraging them with these steps in mind, you are more than good enough. If your child knows they are loved by you, and if they know you believe in them, then you have achieved the most important goal of parenting.

3 Steps to Successful Step Parenting

3 Steps to Successful Step Parenting

by Christine Holding LMFT

3 Steps to Successful Step Parenting

The other day a discouraged couple shared in their session,“We are discouraged, it seems we can’t do anything right when it comes to helping our children adjust to our marriage.” This couple is realizing that blending two families together is much more challenging than expected.  If you are facing similar difficulties, here are three steps parents and step-parents can take to make the transition to a new blended family a little smoother:

Step 1: Slow Down. Forming new attachments takes time. Try not to get discouraged if  happily ever after doesn’t happen immediately.  Love grows slowly over time so expect some rejection initially and try to keep sense of humor.  Researchers point out that “Themes of rejection and abandonment are common for children of divorced parents and also common among stepparents. In the early stages of a developing a stepfamily, stepparents are the “outsiders” both historically and emotionally (The Emotionally Focused Therapy Casebook by Susan Johnson and Brent Bradley, p 282).” Be patient. It can take several years for new family roots to take told and grow.  

Step 2: Work As A Team. Whenever possible, let the child’s biological parent do the disciplining and set the boundaries.  A step-parent’s role can be that of a mentor, a friend, and a role model. Work together with your new spouse to decide house rules that work for everyone and to create structure in the home; this will help you maintain a united front. Check in with the family regularly to hear concerns and validate that figuring out a new way for the family to be together is up to everyone. Everyone plays a part and has a voice in the new family.  

Step 3: Strengthen Your Marriage.  Finally, remember why you are doing this work. One of the major mistakes made by many couples with stepchildren is to focus on the distress in the forming of a new family and as a result, the couple relationship if sometimes forgotten. Nurturing the marriage often helps smooth out parenting challenges. Over time, your love and commitment to each other will motivate children to accept newly established structures. Keep your love alive and healthy, date regularly, and express your affection for each other in the presence of the children.

With time these few simple steps can create more realistic expectations for blended families. For additional suggestions for stepparents, I recommend Step Parenting: Everything You Need to Know to Make It Work by Jeanette Lofas and Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Susan Johnson.