#WeTheParents – Parents As Therapists
Who is anyone to tell you how to raise your children? In conversation with Ameeta Shah Sanghvi, life coach and therapist who helps parents become therapists to their children. Whether it is going to school anxiety, dealing with divorce, sibling rivalry or anger issues, she prepares confused and caring parents to cope with a host of modern-day situations, creating their own handbooks for dealing with their children. Her mantra with her special course WiSH Parenting (Wisdom System of Holistic Parenting) is “Empower yourself, Empower your children!”
1) What are the current trends in parenting, in comparison to how children were raised 20 years ago?
Current trends in parenting are varied, reflective of many confusions and paradoxes. With the advent of “parenting” as a deliberately highlighted method of addressing larger children’s issues and a key area of research and study, this buzzword comes with a whole lot of set back and opportunity. From wanting to raise a perfect child that causes more stress and anxiety to children, over praising to boost a child’s confidence disallowing them to instil discipline amongst their children, over indulgence to ensure their children match the status of their peers or due to lack of time, spoiling them for choice, over protectiveness of their children curbing their abilities to learn and grow, exceedingly high expectations and unhealthy promotion of competition between children and their peers, to trying to fix the ever growing gap caused by technology and social media, are some of the unfavouring parenting trends that have emerged in the last 10 years.
New age parenting has given birth to single mothers and fathers, same sex parents, an unlimited number of parenting blogs and therapists, influencing culture and anthropology in more ways than one can imagine. Parents today are more open with their children than their own parents were with them, parents treat their children as humans with opinions and emotions, having a right to make choices, parents are more liberal and open minded, breaking away from gender barriers created by society, and becoming more accepting of different sexual orientations of children. Involvement of both parents in raising their children, without following a pattern of rules and norms of child rearing, creating a two-way channel of respect between parents and children, and accepting one’s children for who they are despite the roles designated by society, are some of the favourable parenting trends of late.
2) Why and how are parents struggling to raise their children? What are the problems parents deal with today, and why?
Parenting is not only instinctive but highly influenced by societal norms too. Society used to set rules and visible guidelines that made it very clear how children must be raised, and parents followed. The rapid changes in society have left parents confused and unable to figure out what is good and bad for their children.
Today, parental influence is not the ONLY influence that defines how a child grows into an adult, increasing and decreasing their significance at the same time. Working parents call for alternate forms of parenting, nannies and grandparents, creches and neighbours become primary caregivers. Social media, television, technology and peers are all competition for parents in influencing their children.
A barrage of influencers has left them confused, not knowing when to retain authority and when to be permissive…Be it for better performance at school, time limits on gadgets, pocket money or discipline.I generally have a range of reactions from parents. Some become “laissez faire” parents (do what you want and get off my back) and others becoming permissive and wanting to give their children all the choices they did not get, the “anything you want darling” syndrome. Sometimes setting very strict boundaries and other times setting no boundaries at all, parents become unable to cope, adopting pendulum parenting, leaving children confused too.
Constant distractions through social media has meant difficulty in focussing. It’s why mental health disorders of anxiety, rage and depression are on the rise. Parents are unprepared for these emotional crises. They use protect and control approaches that worsen things as children rebel against this benevolent dictatorship of parents.
A rise in divorces, separations and conflict between parents leaves children further vulnerable and confused. It defines their sense of relationships while they try to find ground between their parents opposing ideologies.
Whilst this paints a sad picture all is not lost. Children growing up with the freedom, confidence and respect are demonstrating higher levels of talent and innovation, many are less religious but more spiritual, others are compassionate and active citizens of society. All in all, empowered parents are able to raise empowered children, despite growing challenges.
3) How are social structures changing and how do they contribute to how children are raised today?
The change in social structures is rapid and visible in our daily lives. Social media has led to information overload, hyper connectivity and also disconnection between relationships. One can see generation gaps between siblings, increased consciousness of rights and entitlements, the rise of spirituality, broken families, living away from home, different constructs of marriage, redefining of gender roles, smaller support structures with nuclear families, a barrage of choices… and the list can go on.
All these affect the environment in which a child grows up, how they define their role at home, in school, with their peers, their view of themselves as boys and girls, their understanding of marriage and relationships, their use and misuse of technology and social media, their emotional intelligence and ability to deal with life’s challenges. While parents play a critical role in raising their children, a change in social structures and its subsequent effects on their children cannot always be monitored and controlled. Therefore reactive patterns like helicopters parents, tiger moms, free range parents and snow plough parents are emerging due to the pressure of changing times. Though what we need are empowered parenting communications.
4) What are the primary reasons that parents seek help today? What do they approach you for?
Parents seek help for their children (here by children I mean children, teenagers and adult children) for a host of reasons. From exam pressure, stress, mental health issues like depression, suicide, fears based on news reports, addictions to substance, online gaming, television, loss of motivation and ambition, anger, bullying at school, aggression, fights between parents and children, sexual identity confusion, children with hyper active sexual lives, lying and cheating, stealing, emotional stress due to divorce and issues at home are some of the reasons parents approach me for guidance.
5) Tell us about your approach – “parents as therapists” for their children. What triggered you to start this and why?
Many aspects triggered me to develop the ‘parents as therapist’ model to deal with new age children and their looming challenges. I work with both children and parents individually and collectively. Often the therapist could end up playing a messenger role between parents and children, but I refrain from doing that (included in my confidentiality clause), instead I choose variable interventions as the situation may require. They can be individual sessions of parents only or of children separately or joint sessions all to promote harmony between parents and their children.
Here are some of the reasons I created this model:
- It’s as much about the parents as it is about the children: Most parents feel over burdened with difficult children, taking on huge amounts of blame and guilt. Therefore, I work very closely with parents to engage them on first working on their self-esteem. This enables them to view problems as they are and not feel helpless while dealing with their children, while also acknowledging their own abilities.
- Restoring the parent-child bond: Often, children relate to their therapists and remain alienated from their parents. Even if the child recovers from the reason he came to the therapist, the family members might not recover, leaving long-term effects on their relationships/ the parents. It is also critical to establish the role of the family and parents in the life of the child which can be done by including them in this process.
- When parents create a conducive environment for the child: When parents use a problem solving approach instead of blame, looking for possibilities and being open to the idea of working with their children as opposed to against them, they are able to create favourable environments for children to thrive. When a child acts as a therapist at home, the environment in which the child faces issues becomes a new improved environment.
- Therapy at home: Often children are unhappy going for therapy, having to be forced, causing more stress. If parents take on the role of therapists, it can reduce the child and family’s burden considerably.
- Avoiding the ‘scapegoat effect’: When a child comes to a therapist it is with the feeling that there is something wrong with him/her and he needs fixing, working in the opposite direction from what the therapy aims to provide. A parent as a therapist can make that feeling completely disappear.
6) Share with us some case studies/ experiences
My work has been rich with experiences. Parents as therapists have worked to rebuild families and childhoods, empowering them to empower their children.
“After learning to be a therapist to my 7 year old child, I once overheard her helping her bench partner to deal with her fidgetiness using the tips that that I had shared with her. When she was an angry child, I would have told her not to be angry, putting her down further, but after the coaching, I used emotional validations, drawing out her story so she opened up to me about how she expressed her anger through scribbling secretly in her partner’s book. This openness I get from her allows me to influence her more deeply. Together, we brainstorm on coping ideas and find solutions for the things she feels irritated and angry about.”
“ Both my kids – 7 and 12 year old were showing extreme signs of anxiety. One almost developed an OCD pattern, requiring my attention all the time, and the other was going into a shell, becoming more introverted and always in a low mood. Their moods showed in their school results, upsetting my husband who is a high achiever, resulting in him being angry with them all the time. He would often blame me for not disciplining them and I was always stressed of him blowing up at me and the children. Since my husband was not open to therapy, it was difficult to get my children therapy, therefore, I decided to take it on and equip myself in order to better equip my children. With the coping tools I learnt, I was less stressed out and started using experiential ways to keep my husband calm since he didn’t like his authority being challenged. I also learnt therapeutic tools that enabled my children to process their hurt, pain and fear related to their father and explore their own coping mechanisms with him. They applied rapport and assertion tools to deal with their father directly. In 8-10 weeks I could see their anxiety disappear and my husband’s mood become more balanced.”
“Our young and capable daughter was suffering from panic and depression while she was studying in junior college, due to which she was unable to attend class. She started over eating, and would turn extremely angry if we didn’t give into her demands. We sought help to deal with her. What we learnt first was to heal ourselves. When we understood different tools of communication to heal ourselves and how to deal with our daughter, we started using them. Over 6- 8 months we saw a shift in our daughter’s behaviour and mental state, without the need for medication. We strengthened our relationship with our daughter, helped her through it and keep working on ourselves to deal with other ups and downs that might come our way.”
Photo Credits : NY Times
Words By : Ameeta Sanghavi Shah
Ameeta Sanghavi Shah is Mind Life Coach, Trainer, Trans-personal Psychotherapist, & Owner of “Center for Positive Power”. She offers individual sessions & workshops to harness conscious, subconscious & super-conscious mind to end stress, weed beliefs and seed joy & wellness from my resources in NLP Psychology, Past Life Regression & Hypnotherapy, Inner Child Work, EFT, Chakra healing, Marital Parenting & Family Therapy, Tarot, Meditation, Reiki & Soul Mind Body Wellness. She is an occasional artist Mom & ginger chai (tea) addict. You can follow her on facebook.