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Parenting with Authenticity: Addressing the Elephant in the Room

Have you been in this situation? 

You can tell very clearly that something is “off” with your child, partner, or family member, but when you ask them what’s wrong, they say “nothing” or “I’m fine.” Or maybe you are the one that insists that everything is ok when you are anything but. 

Did you know that this is often a misunderstood source of dysregulation in your child?

When we are picking up on something in our surroundings that isn’t being acknowledged, or is perhaps being denied, our brains register this as a threat because we are being given conflicting messages about our environment. 

Think of this as the ‘elephant in the room." And the elephant is parent/caregivers unaddressed emotions. The elephant shows up when parents feel overwhelmed, sad, or frustrated, but try to hide these feelings from their children. On a larger scale, ongoing parental conflict, mental illness, or addiction in the family that is hidden or not explained to the children can become large, scary elephants. 

While trying to shield your child from potential emotional upset is understandable, it can have unintended consequences for you both. Research has shown that when parents suppress their emotions around their child, it can lead to less positive parent-child interactions. Parents can feel disconnected from themselves, and their children can feel anxious, confused, and struggle to trust themselves. All of this leading to more dysregulated behavior. 

Below are some tips to promote authenticity between you and your child:

- Get in touch with how you are feeling in a difficult parenting moment and give yourself permission to feel that way. You do not always need to be calm while parenting. 

- If your child asks about how you’re feeling, answer honestly. Reassure your child that you can handle your emotions, even when they are hard.

- Practice naming out loud how you feel, and pair it with a regulation strategy. This can be a great opportunity to model self-regulation for your child. 

- If a crisis or major change is happening in your family, find a way to communicate this to your child in an age-appropriate manner. Even complex situations can be explained to young children in a way they can understand. 

If you are having trouble addressing the elephant in the room, please know that we are here to help you navigate life's challenges. Please feel free to reach out about play therapy services for your child, parent coaching for you, or a combination of the two by contacting us below or using the form on the side of the page.