Summer vacation is a time to play and have fun with our children, but it can also be exhausting. Although one of the hallmarks of childhood is a feeling of insatiability, some children seem to crave more time, attention and physical affection than others. Although this can be tiresome for parents, a few pro-active steps as offered in Gabor Mate’s book “Scattered Minds” on ADHD can prove to be extremely helpful.
Dr. Mate suggests that such displays are a sign that a child is not feeling secure in the relationship and needs his attachment tank filled up. 1) First, he encourages parents to enthusiastically and genuinely invite the child into the relationship. Parents need to be fully present and engage in activities that interest the child, which helps the child develop a sense of self-acceptance. In contrast, it is when the child seeks love and attention that he is likely to not feel fully satisfied. Love is shown by doing rather than using simple words and seizing every opportunity possible to deepen the connection. 2) Parents need to remain free from judgements or put downs as much acting out behaviour, Dr. Mate explains, results from a defense against shame. I would add that modeling and teaching our children self-compassion is also vital to helping them increase their sense of security and worthiness as well as compassion for others. Thirdly, Dr. Mate cautions be wise about praise and tie it to effort rather than accomplishment. Also show value for the child’s feelings by reflecting back their emotions. 4) Model self-regulation and healthy coping by not reacting in anger. Use self-soothing and take personal responsibility for angry feelings. Agree that any punishments declared in anger will not stick. Finally, when you are able to, take steps to restore the relationship and remind your child that your love is stronger than any problems. Offer hugs when the child is ready and listen to their point of view to model empathy and restore connection. If you find yourself struggling with any of these steps, remember there is no shame in seeking help. As Erik Erikson in Childhood and Society says “Parents who are faced with the development of children must constantly live up to the challenge. They must develop with them.” In my own parenting journey, I’ve come to see that one of the most valuable gifts we can give our children is to regularly fill our own tanks with self-compassion and self-care.
I sincerely hope these tips make your summer a little easier and a whole lot more fun!