The following is a guest post by Dr. Traci Lowenthal of Creative Insights Counseling.
Having a child come out (reveal that he/she is gay/ lesbian/ transgender, etc.) can be extremely difficult for parents. For Christian families in particular, these words can create a flood of intense, painful emotions. It is possible, however, to navigate this part of your family’s journey in a healthy, positive way. Here are some ways to explore this stage of life for your family.
One of the first things I counsel families to do is slow down and breathe. The person who delivered this news is still your child, the same child you love and adore! And the fact that your child told you he/she is gay speaks volumes about your relationship. He/she trusted you enough to share this with you. Your child felt comfortable being open and honest, rather than keeping this from you. Also, recognize the courage it required to tell you. Can you imagine how afraid your child was? Honor his/her bravery by expressing your love and appreciation.
Allow Yourself to Feel what You Feel
It’s also important to own any discomfort you may have, rather than suppressing any negative feelings and trying to pretend everything is okay. Don’t be afraid to carefully let your child know that things are hard for you. You might say something like, “This is really new for me. I love you like I always have, but I need some time to think things through.” You can affirm your love for your child while still creating space for all the feelings that come with this new experience. Some of your emotions may include anger, grief, sadness, guilt, blame, fear, worry, disgust, shock, shame and many others. Whatever feelings come up, let them be present. Give yourself time to experience those feelings (rather than avoiding them).
While it is vital for you to process all your emotions concerning your child coming out to you, certain things are best processed away from your child. Realize that your child is already going through a lot, and you can work out your own feelings without compounding how difficult things are for him/her. Share your thoughts with a trusted friend or family member. For some parents, seeing a therapist or other counseling professional can be an effective way to process thoughts and reactions in a safe, supportive environment. It’s also helpful to educate yourself and connect with others that may be experiencing this same life transition. PFLAG (Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays) is an excellent resource. PFLAG’s website (PFLAG.org) has many opportunities for support and education as you move toward a greater understanding for your child.
As with any emotionally difficult experience, this is a time to really care for yourself and do things that help you feel nurtured. If prayer is something that brings you comfort, pray! If you’re an exercise enthusiast, get in a great workout several times over the next few months. Seek out activities that bring you enjoyment and a sense of peace. Gardening, yoga, meditation, dinner with close friends, and walks are all ways to create calmness in your life as you begin to understand that path that you and your loved one are on. Often, grief is a substantial part of learning that a loved one is gay. Grief stems from the loss of the future life you had imagined for your child. Reassure yourself, though, your child’s life may be just as full as love, purpose, and meaning as you’ve always dreamed, just in a different way than you expected.
When all else fails, reflect on your family’s past experiences. Chances are, you’ve traversed some pretty difficult circumstances and continued to thrive. This is no different! With education, compassion and thoughtful conversation, your family can become even closer than before. And remember, breathe.
Dr. Traci Lowenthal is the owner/operator of Creative Insights Counseling, a full service counseling agency in Redlands and Claremont, California, serving individuals, families, and couples. Explore more of Dr. Lowenthal’s work by visiting creativeinsightscounseling.com.
Empathy is the skill to understand the world from another person’s point of view and then to act based on that understanding. It may be hard to believe but empathy starts young. After experiencing a particularly trying day, tears ran down my cheeks. It did not take more than a minute for my 3-year old daughter to grab a towel and begin to wipe them away. This was her way of showing empathy for me, her mother. I was touched by her actions and hoped she would keep this sweet quality forever.
As parents we can assist our children in developing and fostering empathy. Below are six creative ways where you and your child can begin to take the risk together.
When Hurt Turns to Anger, Turns to Shame, Turns to Fear: Tips to Start the School Year out Right
It seems to me that every new school year my kids (and yours) face more and more adversity. I often find myself (as a parent) wishing I was better at preparing my children to face bulling, rejection, shameful feelings, and self-confidence issues. My girls and foster children have struggled with these issues. In my research and personal experience, I have found not one thing works on all children, but if I can do my best at consistently being receptive to my children’s emotions, teach empathy, validate feelings, and come up with a way to solve a problem—that works! But first I have to consistently rid myself of my own fears and mirror disappointments and fear in a healthy way. To live well, we must grieve well.
When we are shamed with anger and rage, our underlined emotion or reaction is fear. One fear I will discuss is that of rejection. There is no greater shameful pain of loss than that of rejection. Fear of rejection can result in great loss for anyone. Rejection for someone may mean that they are unlovable or unwanted. When going through a battle of feelings of rejection or loss we (especially children) need social support, feelings of mirrored affection, time, self-talk, and emotional coaching. I will admit, rejection is a hard pill to swallow for me. There is no way to escape rejection or loss in this human life. The important thing is how we deal with it. Here are some tips for getting the ball rolling for success with coaching your child about fear of rejection and bulling.
Fear of rejection is the center of bulling in my eyes. When shame cries out—fear of rejection and hurt screams—and we become a bully, even to ourselves. Many of my foster children bullied and were bullied. Kids and adults sometimes wanted to shame them for their actions and could render no empathy when they were being bullied. Once again, fear of rejection, being left out, being unloved is the root of this pain! Shame or fear does not help children to feel like a worthy person, but understanding and love does. Teach the feeling behind the fear and then strive to help that person change their negative views of themselves.
Validation is number one! First and forth right. This takes TIME. Validate your child’s feelings and concerns. As a teacher, parent, friend, or peer, children need to feel heard and understood, don’t we all. This is a universal concept, but do we really do it? Or are we good at it? I know it takes practice for sure. I have not always been validated in my life and I have had to learn how to do this with my children. In addition, remember to teach your children to validate themselves. People (and the world) are not always going to validate them. So the next thing to teach is self-talk and how to trust and love themselves first so they do not need to bully their self-concept or others.
Stand tall, look confident, tell yourself you are worth it—is sometimes hard to do. Why is that? Are we taught that we should just know that we have worth? It is hard sometimes for an adult to overcome fears and self-talk ourselves to a happier tomorrow, let alone a child. But I also think children now days are very resilient because of parents and caregivers like you that have taught them to stick up for themselves, try a little harder, and be proud of who they are. But some kids just plain and simple have a harder time with self-talk. Research shows children that suffer from ADHD and autism lack skills in self-talk. Yet, I believe like many things, it takes practice. Through therapeutic techniques, these can be taught and improved. Here some ideas. I have used visual aids to help remind kids to rid those bad thoughts that creep in. You can even use a small item (ex. small smooth rock, string, necklace) that they can take to school that remind them that they are special and to self-talk themselves every time they touch it. You can repeat or chant words to yourself while doing an activity like-
“No matter what others say or do, I am still a worthy person.”
“The more I like myself, the more others like themselves.”
“I ______like myself and I am a lovable person.”
“I am special because______.”
Another way to make sure your child’s underlining fear or anger is understood is by teaching skills of recognizing their own feelings. If a child can not recognize what is going on with their body or heart, then they will not be able to regulate themselves. One of my most favorite books is Raising an Emotional Intelligent Child by John Gottman, Phd. Emotional coaching is key in helping your child be more aware of how they are feeling and how safe they feel about their feelings—thus they can self-regulate better. According to Gottman’s research, emotion-coaching parents had children that later went on to be “emotionally intelligent” people. They simply could regulate their own emotions and could calm their heart rate down faster. They had fewer infectious illnesses, better attention, and they could socially relate to others, thus better friendships. When a parent or caregiver help a child cope with negative feelings, such as anger, sadness, and fear it builds bridges of loyalty and worth. Bridges, in my opinion, that will become a foundation of utmost importance for their understanding of their own self-concept.
When hurt, fear or shame turns into rejection of self or others, give your child the tools to combat the bully of the mind or on the playground by giving them comfort, self-talk, and emotional coaching.
In today’s media we hear more and more about the negative effects bullying has on Americas youth. As parents we do everything we can to protect our kids from help becoming the victim of bully behavior, but what if our teen is the bully? Here are 4 signs to look for and ways to empower your teens to take a stand against bully behavior.
Fridays at 8:10 am, Julie joins The Todd & Erin Morning Show on Rewind 100.7 to answer listener questions and provide real life solutions to your mental and emotional health challenges. Topic: 5 Minute Fix for Relationships
WFT and Mad Science are teaming up for an exciting Kids Group. Designed for school-aged children, this group will provide opportunities to learn how to navigate of social situations and understand what it means to be a friend. Through exciting science activities and skill building, group members will practice building healthy relationships. Registration is open for our next group starting June 9th.
I recently began reading a book by one of my favorite clinical Psychologists, Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) founder, Dr. Sue Johnson. Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love will give you greater insight into the defining principles of your relationship togetherness and can help you create an even deeper bond. In this book, Johnson presents Emotionally Focused Therapy with the belief that motivated couples may be able to solve their own problems within their relationships once they understand the basic principles. The premise of Hold Me Tight is surprisingly simple: stop worrying about your past, or what you feel that your partner is lacking. Johnson states that the trick to a long lasting, healthy, committed relationship starts with understanding that codependency is a good thing, similarly to how a child relies on a parent for love and nurturing. Be open to your loved one’s needs, and you’ll reconnect naturally and lovingly. Hold Me Tight walks you through seven conversations that capture the defining moments in a love relationship and instructs how to shape these moments to create a secure and lasting bond.
Monette Cash, LCSW leads our DBT Women’s Group. A 3-series skills group that teaches basic skills such as how to manage your emotions so they don’t control your life, how to cope effectively with difficult relationships, and learning how to react calmly rather than impulsively in order to avoid unhealthy escapes. This 3 module skill group will run in 6 week segments and
all are necessary to have lasting success. Register Now!
Do you feel that you have a fire child? Parents of children identified as suffering from Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) sometimes do. They may wish that their child was more identified with the properties of water – seemingly calm and serene.
Dr. Stephen Scott Cowan, in his book “Fire Child, Water Child: How Understanding the 5 types of ADHD can help you improve your child’s self-esteem & attention” encourages parents, as well as practitioners, to view their ADHD-identified child as one of the “five primal powers described in Chinese medicine as Wood, Fire,Earth, Metal, and Water” (p. v). The first line of the introduction in Cowan’s book, “ADHD is a symptom, not a disease,” sets the tone for the remainder of the book.
He explains that caregiver interactions with children identified as ADHD are less successful when they come from a place of fear. Fear uses words like “something is wrong with my kid,” or “what can you do to fix him/her?” While Cowan admits that the ability to pay attention in class is definitely a problem, he disagrees that it is the problem and it doesn’t mean that something is wrong with a child. He shares how focusing on the problems a child exhibits will bring up feelings of judgment, guilt, and fear for both the child and the caregivers in his or her life. He instead chooses to direct the reader’s attention to what they ultimately want to see the child experience in the school setting: success. He suggests that we can learn to develop a “sense of compassion for the diverse ways in which we engage with the world” and recognize ”the qualities each child has to offer” (p. 1) in attempts to manage the natural gifts of a child’s personality. When we embrace and nurture these natural gifts, they can become strengths that aid in improving focus for the classroom setting.
What are the natural gifts of a child’s personality? Usually these are the behaviors that teachers observe in the school setting that are discussed in parent-teacher conferences and lead to a visit to the pediatrician’s office for a medical assessment. Behaviors such as being always on the move, active, easily frustrated (wood child); overly social, class clown, mood swings, impulsivity (fire child); worried or indecisive when stressed by the environment (earth child); difficulty shifting out of routine or moving from task to task (metal child); daydreaming, easily distracted and hard to keep on task (water child).
Dr. Cowan maps out the path toward improving attention so that children can enjoy school and function effectively at home. He enlists the support and love of parents and caregivers who have control over the home environment to create the first influences that can be shared with other caregivers and teachers to maintain behaviors in the structured school setting. Dr. Cowan’s goal to educate and empower parents, caregivers, and teachers to understand the ways of holistically viewing their children through the 5 primal elements is clear – when we validate the qualities that children possess, we can bring them in tune with their world and help them learn the self-regulation skills necessary for success.
Whether your child is diagnosed with ADHD or not, the qualities that make them unique can sometimes contribute to struggles in the school setting. Utilizing Cowan’s 5 Types of ADHD may help you learn to embrace these qualities and identify strategies to nurture them to the benefit of your child’s ability to focus. Additional skills for focusing in the classroom can only lead to good things. As we transition into the end of the school year, this summer may be a great time to tune in with your child and create a path for improved focus and success at home as well as school!