Ann-Marie Fisher – 12th February 2016

Many articles discussing children’s mental health often highlight the need for building resilience in children, to help them cope with the various challenges life throws at them. Schools are trialling programmes in an attempt to equip children and teenagers with the skills and tools to prevent minor issues escalating into out of control traumas, but what can be done at home?  What effect does it have on our children if we, as parents, have not built our own resilience?

Fegans believe that in some circumstances it is not enough to only deal with the child affected by mental health issues. This is why, alongside qualified paediatric counselling, we have an experienced team working with parents and carers; offering them the emotional help they too need in order to cope.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting two mothers who had received Fegans’ parenting support and it struck me how much this had affected their own resilience. During this time Nicola and Susie had explored their own childhood and how that had affected the way that they parent; they discovered how looking after themselves as individuals could help them be stronger for their children. The support also provided practical parenting tools to help them achieve the difficult balance of closeness and discipline, such as implementing incentive charts and ‘special time’ scrap books with their children.

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“I was relieved to find that I was not the only one feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope. The parenting course helped me to realise that I could not be there for my children if I didn’t have confidence in myself and my abilities.”

The two mothers I spoke with both shared their frustrating experience of trying to access help through Social Services and their children’s schools and how they wished they had been referred for Fegans’ support sooner; now, life is different. Yes, there are still the same challenges that were there before the course, but they have the tools and skills to be able to deal with them differently.

“It used to be chaotic at home, I felt out of control and my child’s behaviour suffered as a result. The course helped me to take small, manageable steps to get structure back into our lives; as a group we celebrated one another’s successes, no matter how small. Knowing I wasn’t alone and having others to support me gave me the strength I needed to move forwards and now my relationship with my child is so much better than it was.”

As I listened to these two inspirational women, who had faced dark times yet managed to come out the other side, I really appreciated why building resilience is mentioned in so many articles discussing mental health, and why it is something that our own counsellors consider to be so important. How can we be expected to cope with our children’s issues when we are still grappling with our own?

There is the unrealistic assumption that once you have a child you have all the answers. “Parenting support? Why would we need this? Isn’t it obvious?”. No.  Yet parenting is probably the most demanding and most important job anyone will ever do.  Life can be cruel, it can deal us a bad hand, throw challenges at us that cause us to stumble… add the challenging role of parenting to this already difficult journey and is it any wonder some of us fall?

So what keeps some of us afloat and causes others to flounder? I believe this has a great deal to do with our own resilience.  Some of us have unresolved issues from our own childhood that spill into our parenting, some of us have lost our identity and confidence as individuals, which can hamper our ability to parent effectively.  If we do not have a strong support network around us or if we have never learned the practical coping tools that others have been taught then we have less in our armoury: our defence against challenge and trauma.

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So we applaud the incessant talk of building resilience in children. It is essential in developing confident, robust children who will be our adults and parents of the future.

But what of those parents who are struggling now? What effect is poor parental resilience having on their children? Who will help them build this much-needed resilience to help them support their own children?

Nicola and Susie are now feeling stronger as individuals and as parents; they now wish to help others in similar situations. One parent from their group has set up a monthly group for parents who have attended similar Fegans’ parenting courses and is arranging regular speakers on different parenting topics to maintain that vital support network. Passionate about the difference Fegans has made to them, both Nicola and Susie are now training to volunteer as Fegans’ Ambassadors. They wish to use their experience to help raise awareness of the problems, the needs and the solutions of children’s and parents’ mental health, and to fundraise for the courses they benefited from, to continue to help others.

“I know what it is like to feel such despair, I want to help others get the help I did.”

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