Small people, big struggles.
There is probably nothing harder than seeing your kiddos suffering. You would do absolutely anything to make the problem go away. You want to kill the kid that is bullying yours. You want to go in and somehow download your kid's whole history to his math teacher that just isn't understanding why they are struggling. You want to break down your teenager's door because you know they are hurting, and they won't talk to you. You sometimes cry just as soon as your kid is in bed because you are so exhausted from all the fighting.
Can I tell you a secret? You're not a bad parent. I don't know you, but the fact that you are looking up mental health supports for you kid says a LOT. Parenting is the best, worst job on earth, and we are all doing the best we can with what we've got. That doesn't mean you don't need or want support, though. If you and your kiddos are going through a rough time, I can help.
Play is the language of struggling kids. It never ceases to amaze me how much of a child's experience can be seen in a simple drawing, puppet show, or sand tray. Kids use play to explore their world, and when things in their world are hard or don't make sense, they use play to try and figure it out.
Several different modalities of play therapy are available depending on age and the family's needs. Synergetic Play Therapy is a child-centered (or child-lead) modality that is informed by polyvagal theory. Polyvagal theory outlines how our bodies respond to stress. Have you heard of fight-flight-freeze? Yep, that's the one. When kids have developmental difficulties, are under stress, or have traumatic experiences, their nervous systems can go into overdrive and cause behavioural outbursts, aggression, or hypervigilence. In other cases, they shut down in a collapse response. Either way, it comes out in the play. In play therapy, using tracking, breathing, and genuine responding will help your kiddo feel heard and understood as they play out their fears and frustrations.
Theraplay techniques are incredibly helpful for family-based play therapy. In this type of therapy, one or both parents will come into therapy with your child to participate in interactive games that help to create resiliency and safe attachments. This can be done with infants all the way up to elementary school age. It is especially helpful for children who are in foster care, adopted, or have had other instances where the parental relationship has been interrupted.
Teens are hard to get through to sometimes, but once you do, you feel like a superhero. It is very rewarding. When working with teens, its useful to combine modalities. Art, music, and other "play" can help develop a relationship and create safety. Using emotionally-focused techniques can help teens process their experiences.
If you are struggling with one of your kiddos, sometimes family counselling can be helpful. Other times, you may want to have parenting sessions. This can be especially helpful if you and your partner are having a hard time getting on the same page while parenting, or when your kid has complex mental health or developmental needs. Emotion-Focused caregiver support techniques are helpful in walking you through this advanced skill. And it IS an advanced skill. If you have kids with extra needs, that means that you need to have extra tools.