If you work with families and parents, you are definitely facing some extraordinary challenges right now in an effort to support their wellness. So many people have lost their incomes and so many others must still go to work amidst this pandemic, while also aware of the health risks- for themselves and their family. Parents have been taking care of the kids at home, taking a more active leadership role in the new remote learning landscape. If their jobs permit it, some parents have been working from home at the same time.
When parents and caregivers are under stress, children struggle too. Sometimes children feel they do not receive enough attention, placing additional strains on their relationships with their parents and with more stress, if not addressed early, abuse and neglect can even result. An important way to help families overcome challenges and help them thrive in the midst of adversity and uncertainty is to focus on their strengths. Start with empathy.
It must be understood how often parents may feel unseen, unheard and even powerless during times of crisis. They may feel anonymous, like just another number and that no one cares about their struggles. Many will often suffer in silence, holding in their feelings and choosing not to talk about them at all. Some families are struggling with anxiety or depression due to health and financial fears, social isolation and an overall disruption to their established routines. Others will fear accessing help completely, due to their immigration status and fear of experiencing racial abuses because they are either Asian-Americans or African-American.
Ask strengths-based questions. Questions like, “How have you gotten through tough times in the past?” A way to help parents tap into their past memories and recall effective strategies, asks them to identify their existing strengths and call upon them in these times. Because they made it through difficulties in the past, even though they may have been different than now, lets them also know that you see them as capable person[s], who can still take pride in problem-solving for the family.
To avoid giving any advice that may not be relevant to the parent or their current situation, ask open-ended questions about their current challenges. You will know more about what they’ve tried already and what works or does not work for them. Ask about the people they can rely on, and who or what inspires and motivates them to get through a challenge. The answers will help them see their own strengths and builds their sense of hope.
Provide perspective and information. Once you’ve demonstrated empathy and asked questions that help them recall their strengths, you can provide some useful information and the concrete assistance they need. Many parents may be unaware of the types of supports and services available to them and how to access them. This is especially true at times when things change very rapidly. Share up-to-date information or know where to look for it.
This is also your opportunity to help the parent take a step back and re-gain perspective that’s hard to hold on to when we are overwhelmed. Helping them understand that their child’s behavior is usually age-appropriate during this crisis, and to realize that they are not alone in their struggles are encouraging to building parents’ resilience. Encourage parents to stay connected with others-maintain their social network, those built-in supports. Forced isolation can intensify emotions at this time, and increases risk for depression and hopelessness, which may impact a child’s feelings as well. Remind parents that there are alternative ways in which to engage and stay connected to friends and family.
Strategize, coach and celebrate success. If your interactions with parents allow, you may help them come up with some strategies to solve the challenges they face. Coach and mentor them as they carry out these strategies. Include in the plans, a what if strategy-things they can do if they don’t succeed the first time. Also, celebrate their successes, no matter how small. These, too, are signs of progress. Engaging parents in this way, will help them use and continue to build on the strengths they possess and be better equipped to meet the next challenges they face-whether you are with them or not.
These tips for helping parents apply equally well whether you are acting as a friend or professional. Focusing on the strengths others possess, even when they don’t realize they do exist, serves to increase their capacity to meet and triumph over challenges and helps them believe that “this too shall pass”. When you can help parents develop strategies for coping, they are likely to be more productive and positive. And, their actions are less likely to demonstrate misplaced anger, which can be harmful to their children and themselves. Children will grow up in stronger families and grow to be stronger, more self-confident, feeling safe and loved within their family. This is what they will take with them out into the world. “This too shall pass!”