Disclaimer: Yes, I am a Mental Health Professional, but I may not currently be your personal provider and this blog content does not create a provider-client relationship. This blog content is for educational purposes and should not be seen as medical advice. You should consult with your personal licensed mental health provider before you rely on this information.
As a parent, constant questions are going through one’s mind. From the day your child is born, there are many questions about what you should do, how you should respond, and if you are even doing this whole parenting thing correctly.
I want you to know if you are reading this, you are where many parents before you have been and there is no shame in seeking help or simply helpful resources to help navigate a difficult season with your child. You may be here because you want to figure out how to help your child and what you have been doing so far is either not working or you’ve come across many challenges along the way. I want you to know you are not alone and you are already taking the necessary steps to work towards helping your child reach their optimal well-being.
If your child is anywhere between the age of 5-11, the main issues many parents face are the following:
Behavioral issues: Depending on which age category your child resides in, there can be challenges with tantrums, defiance, or aggression. These specific challenges can be difficult for parents to navigate and the help of a mental health counselor paired with an effective SEL supplemental resource and supportive parents can be the formula your child needs to help parents address these behaviors effectively as well understand their child and meet them with empathy and understanding.
School-related challenges: Whether your child is in a brick-and-mortar school environment, accessing school on a virtual platform, or homeschooling, parents may encounter challenges involving homework completion, difficulties with concentration, or concerns about academic achievement. Setting up a meeting with your child’s school counselor and teacher can be the first step in determining what steps need to be taken to improve these school-related challenges. If your child is homeschooled and if the family is involved in a co-op, reaching out to other community members as well as a local psychologist can help determine if your child may benefit from an assessment from a licensed psychologist to determine if there are any learning disabilities.
Peer Relationships: As much as we want to set up every social interaction for our children and help them facilitate conversations with every kid on the playground or the child sitting next to them at the lunch table, it is important to teach them communication skills at home, so they feel more at ease initiating those conversations with their peers outside of the home. Teaching children how to become aware of their peers’ emotions, display empathy, and activate kindness in action can be some of the best skills taught to our children. These small skills will help promote more positive relationships with peers and foster social skills.
Screen Time and Technology: In the age of technological advances not slowing down and most educational and leisure resources being online, parents feel the need to be very tactful and creative in how they allow and utilize screen time throughout their child’s week. Each family has their own rules and set limitations on what is allowed in their home. Once you have established that as a family, the next effective step can be to monitor the content being accessed. There are many parental control apps that parents can download to keep them informed when their child is trying to access a website or app that has been restricted by the parents. Encouraging alternative activities can also be very helpful to provide a variety of options rather than the child always expecting time on a screen.
Establishing Routines: Waking up for school, packing lunches, homework time and bedtime routines can be a challenge for many families. However, establishing those healthy rhythms and routines at a young age can promote age-appropriate autonomy, better sleep schedules and more consistency in a child’s life. Children crave normalcy, consistency, and healthy rhythms and these foundations help promote stability within themselves.
Before I address some therapeutic interventions that could help in the areas above, I believe it is important to address some modern-day issues families are facing that could be significantly helped with some of these areas above.
As we know, families are living in a post-Sabbath intentional world. What I mean by that is, that establishing rhythms of rest and carving out an entire day of rest is no longer viewed as a part of the Ten Commandments but simply a suggestion or good idea that most families do not intend to practice in their own homes. Rest does not have to mean everyone in the house sleeping for twenty-four hours, it means taking part in activities that bring rest to the mind, the soul, and the body. Dedicating an entire twenty-four hours of rest can mean saying a kind no to the birthday party the family was invited to attend. Rest can mean playing kickball in the backyard and not playing to win but simply to delight in taking part in a fun game as a family. Rest can look like spending time catching up on a book, leaving the dishes in the sink for the next day, and fighting the urge to put away the laundry so you can be mentally and emotionally present for your children’s pretend play restaurant. It may sound daunting and the first thought that comes to mind might be, there is no way we could do this for an entire day. That’s ok, let’s start small. Try simply six hours and set up some healthy boundaries for what those hours of rest will look like in your family. The Bible shares many times why the importance of rest is so necessary for individuals and also the beautiful benefits reaped when rest is prioritized.
Additionally, playing outside seems like something we heard our parents talk about but it is almost a foreign concept in today's world. You don’t need to dig too deep into a Google search to find out about the colossal difference between kids playing outside even twenty years ago compared to how often that is seen today. Children struggle even playing a simple game of tag or hide and seek because most of their day is structured, they are told what to do and when to do it and have a very minimal creative outlet. When children are encouraged to play outdoors with no agenda, no structure, and no additional toys, they might struggle at first to figure out what to do but with enough consistent time outdoors, they will not only learn to enjoy the true free time but other areas in their lives will cultivate fruit. The benefits of playing freely outdoors are worth looking into, especially if the strict day-to-day planned extra-curricular activity, communal sport, or screen time is not helping or reaping the benefits of these said activities.
As I mentioned above, if your child is struggling with one of the top five issues faced by elementary school-aged children, I am going to introduce some Cognitive Behavioral Therapy interventions that can be utilized with the help of a mental health counselor and collaboratively implemented by the family unit.
Behavioral issues: Cognitive behavior therapy can help parents identify specific triggers for challenging behaviors in their child. Understanding the underlying causes can guide effective intervention strategies. CBT techniques, such as positive reinforcement and consequences, can be applied to modify behaviors. With the help of an experienced clinician, parents can learn how to reinforce positive behaviors and discourage negative ones through consistent and structured approaches.
School-related challenges: Cognitive restructuring can help parents and children reframe negative thoughts about school and homework. By addressing cognitive distortions, parents can foster a positive attitude towards learning and academic tasks. Problem-solving skills can also equip children with problem-solving skills, enabling them to approach academic challenges more effectively. Parents can reinforce these skills at home to support their child's learning experience as well.
Peer Relationships: Social skills training can be valuable for children navigating peer relationships. Parents can work with a mental health counselor to implement strategies that enhance their child's social skills, including communication and conflict resolution.
Screen Time and Technology: Setting realistic limits helps parents set realistic and consistent limits on screen time. Through communication and agreed-upon compromise, parents and children can establish healthy boundaries for technology use while promoting alternative activities as much as possible.
Establishing Routines: Cognitive restructuring for resistance addresses resistance to routines by helping children reframe negative thoughts about structure. Parents can work with their family therapist to create positive associations with routines and reinforce them through positive reinforcement.
Although you may be accessing this guide to receive help for your child, it is important to know that it takes the entire family unit to work together to promote positive change. If your family does decide to seek counseling, your therapist should encourage check-ins every few sessions to continue to establish good rapport but also keep parents informed on any updates and topics being addressed per the child's treatment plan. It is also important to receive feedback from parents so that everyone involved feels supported, is given skills to utilize at home and so the child feels heard, loved, and supported by all parties involved. I want to encourage you that you are not alone as you encounter these parenting roadblocks. The Lord never promised this life would be easy but He did promise that He would be with us, guide us, and lead our steps as we navigate this life together.