How to become your own family therapist in ten easy steps!

Updated: Apr 12

Are your children beginning to stress you out?

Many parents who had previously gone out to work have now found themselves full-time in the house caring for children and young people. These sudden and unplanned changes in family life may cause additional stress for all family members and each one will have a different way of expressing it. Not all children will have the language and cognition to appreciate the reasons for having to stay at home or why they are unable to command 100% attention of the adults around them. Nevertheless, they will express themselves in other ways such as a change in their behaviour, becoming more demanding, negotiating (or not) with siblings, being curious about the items around them (whether visible or hidden in cupboards) or just being a more visible presence in the home.

As a psychotherapist and mother, I have come to appreciate and value the importance of staying connected to child/ren; particularly when behaviour challenges appear. The importance of listening to their words and behaviour is an important first step to understanding and managing the challenging times that may lie ahead.

Here are Ten simple strategies for you to try to occupy your child/ren and to build a lasting and closer relationship with them in these times of uncertainty.

1. Plan and structure your day

The loss if the nursery, school, college or university structure can throw some children off course. Particularly those children with additional needs such as ADHD or an Autistic Spectrum Condition. Having a plan and structure to your day can help children and young people to feel safe and contained when periods of anxiety and uncertainty are around. Keeping a routine, such as; waking up a certain time, attending to personal care, mealtimes, activity times etc. will help to reinforce safety. You may wish to have a visual timetable on the kitchen wall or another common space to remind everyone of the timetable. If there is any private space in the household, it may also be important to assign specific times to an older child to have some alone or private time.

2. Put aside a special time during the day for each child and/or all children together and listen without judgement

Therapists and counsellors are used to putting aside a dedicated time each week to be present with children and young people. Play, Art, drama, music and talking are some of the tools used to communicate together and build up an understanding of how children & young people make decisions and to explore or manage the challenges in everyday life. The time you spend with your child/ren in concentrated (on them) activity will be a valuable resource that builds up your love, care, authority, connection and ability to create workable solutions of how you live together in harmony. The time could be anything from 15 minutes per day in purposeful attention toward your child/ren as you continue to manage the other mundane household tasks and other life demands. Listening to your child without judgement will build trust and confidence to share their inner most thoughts and desires, helping them to remain calm and thoughtful.

3. Notice the positives

As parents, we can’t help but notice negative and unacceptable behaviour, attitude and words; it is our role to guide children and young people in another direction. However, noticing the things about them that are positive, helpful and appropriate remains more important as this builds their self-image, identity and confidence. Children that act with a confident sense of purpose, belonging and acceptance will grow into adults that are creative, ambitious, disciplined and curious about their environments and relationships. These early foundations of relationship building begin in the home and are nurtured in schools and other community environments. The family is the foundation of affirming a positive identity and we can enhance this by pressing the invisible ‘like’ button on our children’s behaviour more than we do on social media! This helps them to feel important and valued.

4. Assign tasks and roles

There are many mundane and everyday tasks that need to be undertaken in the household and it is common for disagreements to occur about who does these. Taking out the rubbish, washing the dishes, setting the table, putting the clothes in the washer, vacuuming, making the bed etc. are all necessary tasks for most households yet they are usually undertaken by one person (mostly the parent) on a daily basis. Some children are willing and able to assist or can learn to undertake these tasks in a fun way and having a rota between children (appropriate to their age and ability) can reduce some of the arguments that might otherwise take place. Assigning a task or role can also help children and young people to develop a sense of responsibility and accountability for their actions. Do however remember to praise the effort not the outcome!

5. Find and use their love language (Gary Chapman & Ross Campbell 1997-2016)

We all have different ways of expressing our love and concern for each other in a couple or family relationship. These ways are summarised by Gary Chapman & Ross Campbell who talk about five common love languages we use and how to have positive relationships with our children. Physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts and acts of service are outlined as foundations for loving effectively in close family relationships and can help us to communicate our intentions toward each other more effectively. Our preferences can be identified and used to help develop a calm and peaceful atmosphere at home, enjoying each other’s company.

6. Encourage all family members to (secretly) do something nice for each other

We all know that gratitude and appreciation go a long way to building positive relationships. With this in mind, a simple act of kindness such as making a cup of tea, allowing a sibling or parent to watch their favourite programme, not hogging the shared game station or washing the pots even though it’s not your turn, can make a huge difference to the other family member’s wellbeing. Making this a fun game in the household by asking each other to guess what kind acts they have done (if this has not already been affirmed using tip number 3) can add to the positive atmosphere at home.

7. Practice family meditation

Meditation has grown in its popularity in health and wellbeing over the past few years and there are many variations including: prayer, mindfulness, contemplation and guided storytelling. Meditation can be a powerful way to manage anxiety and frustration for everyone and can be undertaken individually or in a group. As a parent you could set aside a few minutes (around 10) each day to practice meditation with your child/ren; guiding them to slow their breathing down, be still, close their eyes, sit or lie comfortably and to think about positive things such as: the sea, the birds singing, the warm sun etc. You could pretend you are all on holiday or going on an exploration in a foreign country to encourage imagination and help the mind go into a more positive state.

8. Have a list of house rules / principles

As previously mentioned, having a routine and structure to the day can be beneficial for all concerned. Similarly, having assigned rules and principles of how the family are you live together can foster a sense of belonging and encourage shared values and vision. Rules such as: looking after each other; tidying up after ourselves; asking for help; taking turns; waiting for our turn or turning our mobile phones off, can have a great impact on developing respect for each other and building social skills. Having a sense of shared consequences (negotiated between all concerned) can also help to promote responsibility and accountability without blame. Family members can be reminded about the rules everyone agreed to in the beginning to avoid conflict and disagreements escalating into significant battles. A visual reminder might also be useful and family members can create a poster together. Try to keep the poster language light and positive rather than what you expect others not to do!

9. Help each other build your emotional language and expression library

We have many ways to express ourselves and language is just one of them, whether it is written or spoken. However, emotional literacy is a subject rarely taught to us but is important for us to learn and use as a resource for when our minds feel overwhelmed by a variety of competing emotions. In times of uncertainty this can be greatly magnified and having more ways to express our emotions to each other can be beneficial to our wellbeing. Language does not necessarily have to be focused on the negative aspects of our feelings. It can focus on what we hope for, our dreams, visions, excitement and possibilities. Having a range of emotional language will help our minds to have balance when it comes to self-expression rather than thinking only about what could go wrong in the future. In addition, maintaining a sense of peace and calm can help us to think more clearly and to make better decisions in life; leading to being more stable and confident in our relationships.

10. Time for self

Spending quality time with oneself is not a selfish act but a self-full act. Ensuring we have the time to focus and reflect on our own wellbeing will strengthen us to support others in times of need or crises. Being mindful of our own self-care and self-love will also strengthen our emotional and physical resilience to deal with unexpected situations. This is something I call our bounce-back-ability and can be transferred to many other situations outside of parenting and family life. Think about some of the things you currently enjoy doing but maybe did not have the time to do, due to other commitments. This might be reading, writing, making a video, learning to cook a new recipe, singing or learning a new work or business skill. The internet has made so many activities accessible and whilst there are many other activities that can be undertaken offline (gentle exercise, meditation, painting, drawing, singing, dancing, playing an instrument etc.) the internet is a useful resource for all ages. Why not choose an activity you could all undertake, such as playing an instrument or singing. You could create your own family band or choir!

Whatever strategies you try, it is important to remember that stress is an everyday reality of life and expressed in different ways for each of us. When we prioritise our family and close relationships over money, status, power or other life demands we truly find the P.E.A.C.E (Purpose, Empowerment, Action, Care, emotional Energy) we are looking for.

Please get in touch if you require support for your family


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