Take care of yourself in this process.
Your children are safer because of your support and guidance throughout all of life’s challenges, but your capacity to show up for them starts with how you are showing up for yourself. Supporting your own well-being is a critical practice for being able to care for them, especially through this process. Checking in with your own feelings and stress levels will be essential before initiating conversations and will allow you to give yourself time and space to feel more grounded. Below are some encouragements to keep you going.
Remind yourself that there is no such thing as a perfect parent.
There is absolutely no perfect way to navigate these tricky situations and like most other things in parenthood, there really is no manual for getting it ‘just right’ — give yourself plenty of credit and know that this is a journey and will take time to find your way through this process.
Set your own standards.
It’s easy to get caught up comparing yourself to others. Create your own parenting guidelines. Spend time thinking about what you love about being a parent and what you’d like your child to experience growing up. The best part about setting your own standards is that you’re happy when you meet them, because they’re authentically you.
Remember that every child is different.
Set your expectations aside for how you think your child should feel or respond when having these conversations with them. Each child is different and may have a different experience or reaction. You know your own child best and they will have their own unique response to these conversations.
You will have your own discomfort and feelings.
Discomfort and mixed emotions are to be expected. Be mindful that these experiences will likely bring up a variety of your own emotional reactions, from discomfort to confusion or even frustration and sadness. Take time to really explore how these experiences make you feel. Expect that feelings will come up when you have these conversations, and some that you may or may not have explored before. Whether it’s frustration, sadness, or overwhelm, take time to understand how these feelings might affect you.
Talk to other parents going through the same thing before you dive in, and on a regular basis.
Talk about this with someone you trust, and take stock of your own well-being and emotional bandwidth before starting these kinds of tricky conversations with your kids. Sharing tactics and experiences can also give you even more tools to work with as you navigate an ongoing dialogue.
Don’t beat yourself up if the conversation doesn’t flow the way you want.
It’s okay if the conversation isn’t perfect or doesn’t flow the way you want. Having these conversations with your child will get easier with practice. Be patient and remind yourself that small progress is still progress, and they may be listening even if their body language tells you otherwise. Even when these conversations feel like they didn’t cover everything quite right, they can always be revisited. There is no pressure on getting it perfect or right the first time.
You don’t have to do everything at once.
Start really small and take baby steps to work toward building a foundation for your child. Putting pressure on having “the talk” in one big session makes things uncomfortable for everyone and may end up being less effective in building a safety net.
After a serious talk, you and your child may both need some reassurance that even when it’s tough, your relationship is most important. Your connection to your child is the best prevention and you don’t need all the right words or strategies to show your child they can trust you and get help when they need you.
Creating a balance between hard conversations and time to enjoy each other will give everyone a little bit of breathing room. Here are some ideas to get you going:
- Set a time limit for talking about hard stuff and plan a fun activity to do right after (e.g., a game, make a meal).
- Have a comfort item or “place” that thoughts are put until the next conversation.
- Talk while doing physical exercise or an easygoing activity (e.g., puzzles, coloring).
When talking about extra tough topics, keep these in mind.
Taking care of yourself physically and mentally is an ongoing effort. Give your mind a moment to prepare itself and to be in a stronger, active position. Take a deep breath and sit up straight before reading or engaging in something that might be upsetting.
- We’re all affected differently and self care looks different for everyone. For some, self-care means taking a walk, deep breathing, listening to music, eating a good meal, talking with a friend or partner, or getting a restful night of sleep.
- You don’t know what will be upsetting, and what has upset you in the past won’t necessarily in the future. Give yourself some space to react.
- The symptoms/impacts of things starting to bother you, especially cumulatively, can look different for everyone (e.g., sadness, tiredness, trouble focusing, avoidance, sensitivity, etc).
Ask for help when you need it.
Taking care of yourself also includes acknowledging limitations. You may start a conversation and end up in a place that goes beyond your parenting expertise or comfort level. If you are getting to the point where you are overwhelmed or excessively worried, that’s a sign it’s time to find help. There are times when a helping professional is needed to ensure your child is safe and thriving. This could be a school personnel, mental health counselor, or community leader. Be sure to give your child the heads up that you are seeking more help so that you can provide them with the best possible support, and not because they are in trouble or did something wrong.
Most importantly, be kind to yourself.
As you begin to navigate these conversations, you’ll be learning things alongside your kid(s). You may not have all of the answers, but you can find them together. This stuff is not easy and it helps to practice compassion towards yourself and your own emotional experience. It may be tough but you’ve got this!
Need to talk with someone? Text THORN to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor 24/7 for immediate assistance.
Additional self care resources: