Sink or swim?

Last month I spent three days at Westfield Penrith promoting AD/HD Awareness Month. It was great! Lots of parents and grandparents came up to me to talk about their kids with AD/HD and the stigma that they suffer every day.

Westfield is a fantastic place to connect with parents and hear about their struggles and joys. However, I have to admit to having a general dislike of going to shopping centres. Having worked in the child protection system for some years, I am hypersensitive to child abuse. Shopping centres tend to bring out the worst in children and parents. Tired and harried parents. Tired, hungry, and overwhelmed children. It can be a volatile mix involving frustration, yelling, smacking, put-downs, and threats of abandonment.

I recently saw a mother, clearly at the end of her rope, screaming abuse at her child, calling her the foulest names, and threatening to never buy her anything ever again. It was an adult temper tantrum of extraordinary magnitude. It was huge, mean, and ugly. There was no dignity or grace there. The child looked at her parent with a mixture of bewilderment and terror.

Many years ago, once again in a shopping centre, I saw a father getting very irate with his toddler. It was mid-afternoon and I suspected that the child was very tired. The father was a very big man and I felt quite scared of him and his behaviour. I plucked up the courage to approach him and acknowledge how he might be feeling and to ask him if there was anything I could do to help him. Could I buy him a coffee or get him a drink? He seemed a bit shocked at my offer and did not accept my help, but my intervention helped to put some perspective on the situation and he calmed down.

So, as I go to Westfield on the occasions when I am promoting the work that I do, I go with some trepidation about what I will see, hear, and feel. Well, this time I was most pleasantly surprised. On quite a few occasions I saw children who were very upset, having a moment. And how did the parents respond? They stopped to give their child a hug and a kiss. It was that simple. It was heart-warming. The parents realised that their child wasn’t giving them a hard time, they were having a hard time.

I heard Dr Justin Coulson speaking on the radio the other week. He does very good work and has a website called “Happy Families”. He provided an interesting analogy. If your child could not swim and fell into a swimming pool, what would you do? Would you yell at her, and tell her how stupid she is for falling in? No, you would jump into the pool and save her. And then what would you do? You would teach her how to swim. And that act of learning to swim can take quite a long time, involving much patience, practice and repetition – conquering fear, and celebrating achievements.

Children’s behaviour is the same. They are not giving YOU a hard time. Kids are little. They are learning how to manage themselves and how to navigate this big, scary, and wonder-full world. They need us to help make things better, and to guide them how to manage their emotions and actions. And they need this, from us, over and over and over again. It’s our job to be the bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind person in the relationship (Circle of Security) and to teach our kids to go forward with courage and care.

And please know this, it is OK for you to ask for and receive help to be the best parent you can be.


hugs broken pieces


Categories: Parenting Skills


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