This blog follows last week’s post on Pandemic Hangovers for Parents. It offers a checklist for a PARENT CHECK-UP that parents can use to assess their needs and form better plans for themselves as they emerge from pandemic restrictions.
Recently, I was meeting with a school counselor who supported hundreds of kids and almost twice that many parents during the pandemic. She and I were discussing how important it is to support parents well. Yet we both agreed that it is a nuanced process that takes a lot of skill and experience to know what parents might need, as well as when and how.
That conversation brought me back to three areas of research that I conducted in my doctoral program. First, I read every piece of literature I could find to try to learn what is the best way to work with parents clinically. The answer was basically this–IT DEPENDS! Second, I interviewed top experts in family therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic treatment, and behavioral treatments in order to learn what they deem as the best models and methods for supporting and treating parents whose child is in treatment. The answers were—Parent work is pivotal! And, IT DEPENDS! Lastly, I conducted a program evaluation in my dissertation research where I looked at how child therapy was much better when parents were involved (and I tried to define components of parent work with play therapy cases). What did I learn? When parents are involved in a child’s treatment, the benefits almost double. AND, it is very hard to define parent work. Oh my!
Let me be clear, parent work isn’t hard because parents are difficult. Parent work is hard because parenting is difficult. Parenting is one of the most specialized, challenging, personalized, demanding jobs that someone can have in their lifetime. And, most of us do this job in addition to our other jobs and for multiple kids at once. Parenting is also very nuanced. Most parents know that we have to customize our approach to individual kids–it is definitely not a one-size fits all approach!! Even if parenting books offer strategies that assume such a unified model. And when it comes to parenting kids with mental health needs or who are “differently wired,” (Debbie Reber | The website for author Debbie Reber) it is becoming increasingly clear that we need the following: 1) a parenting approach that encompasses a full paradigm shift away from parenting advice for “typical” kids vs neurodivergent, and 2) a therapeutic plan per child that fit the child’s exceptional or twice exceptional needs (talented or gifted intellectually and dually dealing with a mental health need or learning disability) and the associated parenting methods for this child.
Well, fast forward, and I’ve now been a parent for 13 of the 14 years since then. And, I KNOW from first hand experience that staying healthy as a parent is challenging, and trying to grow through problems as a parent is really complicated and difficult at times. And yet when I work with parents, I still aim to make what is complicated more understandable and what is challenging simpler to practice.
So here’s what I talked through with my fellow colleague about how to support parents. First we have to start with an assessment. For our purposes, let’s call that A Parent Self Check-Up. It must consider parent factors, child factors and external factors. I’m attaching the form below so that you can do your own self-assessment.
It also must consider how they’ve developed in their parenting identity (see the Parent Identity Map below). Most experienced parents know that we grow through parts of ourselves as we parent our children. Believe it or not, we don’t have to get this parenting thing perfect. We don’t even have to really know what we are doing before we’ve started the job!! This parenting job is one of the few jobs where everyone is expected to be competent before we’ve even been trained, obtained some job experience, and received ample feedback and support.
So go ahead, give yourself a check-up~Talk it over with a parent friend or a trusted professional. Make a list of what might need attention and what might benefit from more support in your parenting role.
A Parent Self Check-Up
Instructions: Please answer these questions with kindness yourself. Change occurs best with the presence of both self-compassion and self-awareness.
- How old is your child?
- Does your child read, write, talk, think [well/above/below] for his/her/their age?
- Does your child express and communicate well emotionally for his/her/their age?
- Does your child play, relate well with friends and in groups for his/her/their age?
- How secure is your child (competence, confidence, and connection)?
- Does your child behave well/off track/on track for his/her/their age?
- How is your child’s gender identification developing so far (fluid, fixed, unknown)?
- How is your child’s temperament generally (clues are sleeping, eating, bathroom)?
- How does your child cope with separation or new experiences? (Where are they in the process of internalizing these messages?—I’m okay, I can do it, I belong, I feel seen/heard/accepted/valued)
- How does your child cope with fear or anxiety? (i.e. avoid, approach, anger)
- How is your child’s physical health?
- How old are you? How old were you when you entered parenthood?
- What are your strengths as a person? Challenges?
- What are your strengths as a parent? Challenges?
- What life stage are you in according to your age?
- What parenting stage are you in with your kids?
- How is your physical and mental health? What are you doing to address any problems?
- What are your professional obstacles, core strengths?
- What is the nature of your partnering relationship, history (divorced, widowed, blended, married, supportive/strained)?
- What is your daily self-care like?
- How do you function cognitively, emotionally, socially, behaviorally? (look at your child’s assessment questions and age that up)
- How is your temperament (clues are sleeping, eating, bathroom, rountes, etc.)?
- How do you cope with new experiences? (Where are you in the process of internalizing these messages?—I’m okay, I can do it, I belong, I feel seen/heard/accepted/valued)
- How do you cope with fear or anxiety? (i.e. avoid, approach, anger)
- How stable or stressed are you financially?
- What supports do you rely on personally and for parenting? (i.e. groups, friends, family, partner, etc).
- What impact do gender, sexual identity, racial, cultural issues have on you personally and on your parenting?
- When worried, can you find a way to turn that into care and attention for your child?
- When confronted with a problem with your child, can you find a way to accept the problem and work toward a solution?
External Factors–School, Community/Family Support, Friends, Environment
- What is your child’s grade?
- How does your child perform in school?
- Are there any exceptional or learning issues?
- Are there any mental health diagnoses?
- Are there any learning supports? Successful or unsuccessful?
- What activities does your child participate in? Positive or negative?
- What kinds of community and family support exist? Beneficial or Stressful?
- Do you have what you need to live and work (i.e. food, home, transportation, childcare)?
- How supportive, safe is your neighborhood both emotionally and physically?
Parent Identity Map
4 Part Identity~Parents as People
Instructions: For each quadrant, list activities that support this part of your identity. Try applying Eisenhower’s 4 Quadrants to each part of your identity [attached]. List what you should do, plan for, delegate and eliminate in each area of your life. Update your map weekly as you complete the program.
I-Personal: What makes your engine run well?
II–Partnering: What is one connecting activity (conversation, touch, fun, acts of service, quality time, affirmations) that you can ask for and give your partner daily?
III: Parenting: What is one behavior to address that will help your current parenting goals?
IV–Professional: Your time spent here will be most efficient if you have addressed quadrants I-III briefly first. What is the one task/measure/meeting that will help advance your current work demands/goal?