They’re Watching You: How Your Relationship Impacts Your Children

I am a gardener so I sometimes experience the world in terms of flowers. Children are the flowers we ‘plant’ and nurture. How we do that has a considerable effect on how they sprout and blossom. The relationship we have with our partner/spouse has a considerable effect on how children learn to deal with others. As you read this, you may recall your own parent’s relationship and its impact on you.

From a very young age, our offspring experience and observe us. We are the most important people to them. They count of us for survival, guidance, teaching and fun. It is a given that they learn more from what we do than what we preach. Infants are more keenly aware of their surroundings, especially people, than professionals realized many years ago. When babies are exposed to parental tension, they experience bodily responses, just as young infants often respond to other crying infants by crying too. Parental figures provide their sense of security and can threaten feelings of safety when they are engaged in angry disputes.

As a therapist,  it is important to understand the family “soil” in which a person grew and developed. There are many connections related to the interactions of parents which serves as a blueprint for children’s future intimate relationships. Just as we see children playing house, feeding or soothing a doll, they are absorbing and reenacting their parent’s ways of behaving, especially with each other. They may shave like daddy, cook like mommy and hug their little ‘spouse’ or… yell at them. They may learn to boss or control their playmate or, on the other hand,  ask what they think or would like to do.

So, no matter what we tell our children about behavior, we influence their belief system by our own behavior.   Do we negotiate respectfully, giving our partner/spouse the time to explain his/her feelings and perspective? Are our children learning to trust, respect and still feel secure, even if they disagree with others? Do they see us arrive at compromise with which we can both be comfortable? What are we demonstrating ie, teaching about friendship, caring and affection?

As parents, we need to prepare, work and enrich the soil of relationship in which our children can grow and flourish. Just as the above is true for marriages, it is equally, if not more so, for parents who are divorcing. We can demonstrate that, even though the love may be gone, to maintain a viable marriage, we can differ, negotiate and compromise to offer a continuation of respectful and civil co-parenting.

Remember…. they are watching you.

Children and Stress

Children experience anxiety, even though they don’t need to worry about earning a living, paying bills, dealing with health issues, etc.

 three categories of  stressful events which affect children:

*   Environmental or developmental events, such as toilet training, beginning school,   learning and becoming more responsible for oneself.
*   Disturbing events include illness, accidents or death of a relative or  events such as the birth of a sibling, moving to a new house, a new school or a first camp experience.
*   Major stressful  events involve hospitalization for a chronic illness or surgery, a disabling accident, separation and divorce, family violence or the death of a parent or sibling.

Although many consider stress as a negative, It can help a child develop coping mechanisms.  Children’s reactions vary, depending on the reasons for the stress –  the child’s personality and a variety of social, psychological cultural and developmental factors. Temporary behavioral problems  arise when a child can’t cope with a situation.  For young children, temper tantrums, excessive clinging or fears. nightmares, bedwetting or a reluctance to attend school may indicate stress.  How adults react to these symptoms influences whether the distress is temporary or becomes chronic. We fserve as the alter ego of our young ones.  We can help them to understand an experience and separate reality from fantasy.

Here are some ways to help your young child cope:

*   Be aware of how your child thinks, feels and reacts at different stages of growth and development.  You’ll know what kinds of experiences can  be traumatic and be better equipped to assist.
*   Be honest and open but age appropriate in your responses when discussing a traumatic event to help your child build a sense of trust and strengthen your relationship.
*   Develop your children’s coping skills by offering information in  advance.
*   If your young child is struggling, talk about the problem in small doses to make it more manageable.  Provide facts and observe reactions.
*   If considerable anxiety or behavioral changes persist, consider consulting a mental health professional.

Children are wonderfully resilient but caring, understanding parental support is a crucial asset for learning how to manage life.