Just like a forest ecosystem, families are complex and interconnected systems that rely on mutual support and maintenance to ensure the well-being of all its members, especially the most vulnerable: the children. The impact of the family dynamic on children can have a lasting effect on their development and self-image that extends well beyond childhood.
As we as parents navigate our roles and responsibilities, we may overlook certain aspects of our children’s needs or struggle to keep up with the ever-changing trends and information available. It’s essential to know how to initiate a dialogue with kids that enables them to receive the right kind of support they need. There are ways we can learn, relearn, and reapply our knowledge in real-time. Together we can explore the importance of creating the right space for children to develop a positive self-image and a healthy sense of self-esteem.
Re-experiencing Childhood With Compassion
As a counsellor, I get how crucial it is to create a supportive environment for children to grow and develop in. When I work with children, I always try to remind them that their inner child is always with them, no matter how old they get. It’s important to stay in touch with that sense of curiosity and openness that we all had as children.
As adults, we may have forgotten just how intense our childhood learning experiences were. We learned to understand ourselves, our environment, and our place in the world. Our sense of identity, belonging, and purpose was shaped during those early years, and our experiences as children can influence how we see ourselves and others for years to come.
That’s why creating the right space for children makes a monumental difference. The way parents approach their children about mistakes, unmet goals, and even the small everyday frustrations, can have a huge impact on their psychological well-being as they grow. Children who receive the right kind of support and guidance at the right time can develop a positive self-image and a healthy sense of self-esteem.
Children who lack the right kind of support or are not guided with empathy, care, and compassion by adults may struggle to develop a positive self-image. They may feel self-doubt, anxiety, and low self-esteem, and may struggle to connect with others and find their place in the world.
We as parents need to remember that our own experiences as children can influence the way we parent our own children. If you had a difficult childhood or struggled with your own sense of self-worth, it’s necessary to work through those issues so that you can better empathise with your child’s experiences and provide them with the support they need.
Embracing All Parts
I often encounter clients and families who are struggling with feeling limited or pathologised by their mental health or disability labels. While labels can be useful in providing a sense of identity and community, they can also be restrictive. That’s why I believe in working with every person to find what works for them specifically and encourage them to embrace all parts of themselves.
The more we tell someone that they can’t do something because of their label, disability or divergence, the less we enable them to find ways to have agency over how they navigate periods of distress. Labels are meant to serve the individual rather than purely classify them. Self-identification and classification can foster community, counteract feelings of confusion, otherness, and shame, and make it easier to handle difficult emotions.
In my practice, I have seen how having language to understand emotions, unconscious experiences, impulses, and psychosocial experiences can ground us and help us feel more in control of the situation. By embracing all parts of ourselves, we can take a bite out of the anxiety we feel when heading into the unknown and allow us to react more thoughtfully.
I want to emphasise that labels are not for outsiders; they are for the human beings themselves to describe their own lived experiences and connect with others who share similar experiences. Therefore, we must work with people to find language that feels authentic and empowering to them.
As parents, we can support our kids to embrace their chosen labels and see them as tools to secure what they need to live fulfilling lives. One of the best things you can do for your child is to be present and sit with them in their emotion on labelling (or really any issue). The more you model that you acknowledge their emotions, and that it is ok to feel the emotions, the better they will be equipped to deal with the reactions to labels, and embrace all of their parts.
Diagnosis and how it plays out in the real world
One of the things I’m passionate about is helping families navigate diagnostic material and how it relates to everyday life. I’ve noticed that sometimes parents get their information from different sources and become so focused on telling you what the experts say, that they lose sight of the bigger picture, even if they are trying to open up a channel to get help for their child.
We can bridge this gap by finding examples that families can connect to. For instance, imagine a scenario where your child is standing in front of the fridge and can’t find the milk, despite you telling them that it’s in the top right behind the mustard. They keep letting all the cold air out, and you’re getting frustrated. This is an example of how a child’s executive functioning skills might be affected by a diagnosis such as ADHD, and it can be helpful for parents to know how their child experiences the world differently.
But it’s not just about understanding the diagnostic material. It’s also about recognizing that people are more than just their diagnosis or any other single identity. We need to see people as full versions of themselves, make space for meaning-making and storytelling in their journey to self-acceptance.
It’s crucial for parents to seek help if they suspect they might be neurodivergent or have any other condition that could be affecting their parenting. It’s not an excuse to mistreat your children, and it’s important to take responsibility and seek help for your own well-being and that of your child.
How this helps us to build a path through change together
In the end, it all comes down to working together as a family system. Reconnecting to your inner child can be an effective way to understand what your child is going through at that particular developmental stage. Helping your child to build the words and phrases to describe who they are is tremendously liberating for both your child and you. If the child is interested in understanding their diagnosis and the parent is not, the child needs to know that they can still make meaning and find purpose, regardless of whether their parent is involved. However, it is far more effective when there is a symbiosis between the family and the children. And if we all make an effort to support one another, we can create a world where everyone can thrive, regardless of their differences.