Parental Reframes When Things Don’t Look So Good
written by Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
Alright, so you did something you are not so proud of. Let’s be clear, we’re not talking about major screw ups- like anything that meets criteria for abuse or neglect- we’re talking the overly harsh words or failure to understand the depths of need of our child if they have been trying to tell us about a problem. You know, the things we routinely beat ourselves up for as parents. First of all, I want to say (I may have said this before and I will probably say it again because it is such a wonderful statistic) that being “good enough” to support a securely attached child means we meet their needs a mere 30-40% of the time. This is not meant to give permission not to meet your child’s needs, but serves more to allow us to forgive ourselves when we miss something or respond differently than we would have liked and to see some of the positives in otherwise difficult situations such as divorce, death of a loved one, illness, trouble at school or with friends. Parental reframes work in all kinds of situations.
What do I mean by parental reframe? Well, you know how you can take the same picture and put it in different frames to make it look different? Depending on the frame a picture is in, you may notice more of one thing or another. Life can be the same way. A large part of parenting, as I see it, is to help children (and ourselves) find the most appropriate, helpful frame to put our issues in. Notice, I did not say it was to shield children from all difficult situations. First of all, that is impossible and we would only be setting ourselves up for failure. Secondly, you would not want to do that since childhood is precisely the time we need to learn to handle difficulties while we have our parents to protect and guide us. We are there to help children frame the pain they will inevitably have- not to keep them from any pain. So, what is a parental reframe? It is taking a step back to look at the frame we have put around a situation, then asking ourselves if there may be another frame that we might like to use instead. There really are so few absolutes in life and really our reality can be framed in many different ways.
Take a look at the picture below.
Do you see the baby? If you are like me, it will take a minute for you to find it but once you do, you will see the baby was there all along. The toes are in the branches on the right, the head is made where the trees come together on the left. Once you see it, you can’t un-see it, even though it was there all along. That’s how a reframe is. We get stuck on a story: divorce ruins children for example, or maybe even a worry more universal to parents like the feeling that our child never helps around the house. These times are precisely the times when we need a reframe.
How in the world are you supposed to reframe issues, especially beliefs or worries about your child that feel deeply entrenched? Let’s start the easy way first. When you have a few minutes, stop and take a few breaths while you pause to see if you can think about this issue in another way. It can be easier to do this if you ask yourself what your most loving friend might say about this issue to you. Ask yourself if it is possible that there may be alternative possibilities from what you have come up with so far. If you think it would be helpful, take a moment to brainstorm other possibilities for the belief you are clinging to. After all, this is only a belief and there are very few absolute truths out there. Let’s take our example of kids that don’t help around the house. Is it possible they try to help in some ways, just not the ways you wish they would? Is it possible they need more instruction to help? Is it possible you are asking (or demanding) for help in ways that are not effective for your children? Do they have something going on that prevents them from focusing on helping you like their age, ability level, extra-curricular activities, schoolwork, etc?
Next, take a moment to consider what you would like to believe about your child. Create an affirmation about what you would like to believe. My child is helpful around the house in many ways. Think of ways this affirmation is true. Say the affirmation many times over the next few days. Point out when you child does helpful things and begin stating ways they can help you as if you expect them to do those things. Be surprised when they haven’t picked up their items off the dining room table!
Just changing our attitude about a situation can help our children to change theirs. I have seen this work too many times to think otherwise. I have many clients with attachment disorders. Many times when they first come to see me their parents lament about how they are constantly in trouble. Their parents, who usually adopted them at an older age, often adopted them with the desire to show them how wonderful life can be! These parents want their children to have new and exciting life opportunities and they come in so frustrated that their children continue to get into trouble that requires the parents to keep them home more over and over. We reframe the statement of “my child is constantly getting into trouble and can’t ever make good decisions” to “my child gets easily overwhelmed by new experiences and transitions.” When we re-frame the child’s acting out behaviors from “bad” to “overwhelmed” the feeling as a parent changes significantly as well from a hopeless stance, to protective. While the child may still not be allowed out to do much, the intent and feelings behind the parents decisions feel more loving and come across that way to the children.
I know this may all sound a bit Pollyannaish to people. Additionally, I do not want to say that a reframe on cleaning is the same as a reframe on divorce. However, there are helpful aspects to all experiences in life. If the technique of thinking it through is not working for you, please take a moment to read my previous blog “How to know if you or your child need a counselor” (link below). Reframes are a lot of what we therapists help people to do.
Having trouble with a reframe? Let me invite you to post the belief you need reframed, or a belief you have reframed and tell me how it worked. While I can not diagnose or treat via a blog, I would love to have feedback on this topic (or any others).
- How to know when you or your child need a therapist (help4yourfamily.com)
- 4 Rules parents can live by (help4yourfamily.com)
- Two things your kids tell their therapists about you (help4yourfamily.com)
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Kate Oliver, LCSW-C (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) has been a clinician working with traumatized and attachment-disturbed children for the last thirteen years. She is co-owner of A Healing Place, a successful private practice in Columbia, Maryland, since 2007.
Kate earned her BA from Goucher College in 1997 and her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Maryland in Baltimore in 2000. Kate first worked with the Sexual Trauma, Treatment, Advocacy and Recovery Center (STTAR Center) working with abused and neglected children in Columbia, Maryland. While working for the STTAR Center, Kate found that while some children responded to traditional child therapy practices, there were a significant number of children who showed little or no improvement in their overall emotional well-being. Kate sought out specialized training to learn more about attachment, the bond between parents and children, and found that by using attachment-based strategies built upon research by John Bowlby, and Mary Ainsworth, and models that foster parent/child attachment, even the most challenging children and their parents, saw major, life-changing shifts, not only for the children she was working with, but the parents as well.
After the STTAR Center, Kate accepted a position with Tamar’s Children, a program that took pregnant, incarcerated women from prison to a treatment facility that worked on teaching the women to bond with and attach to their babies, while also helping the women to heal their own broken attachments, and history of trauma and addiction. Kate was quickly promoted to Clinical Director of Tamar’s Children. The program was internationally recognized for having a successful, evidence-based practice using an attachment-based model. From working with some of the most severely disenfranchised parents, Kate received important information about how to help all parents maintain a happy, healthy relationship with their children with little or no additional financial investment for the parents.
In 2007, Kate co-founded A Healing Place, a mental health private group practice in Columbia, Maryland, where she focuses on working with families with children who have a history of trauma and/or attachment disturbances. A board certified supervisor, Kate has been an invited presenter to teach continuing education courses for other social workers and psychologists. In her courses, Kate teaches attachment-building techniques and presents about her sub-specialty, working with families headed by gay and lesbian parents.
Kate is a former board member for the organization COLAGE, a non-profit group that works toward community building for people with gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender parents. She is currently a member of Attachment Disorders Maryland, a group that works to educate parents and professionals about working with children with attachment related issues.
Kate lives in Columbia, Maryland is the mother of two amazing daughters, the partner to a fantastic husband, and the daughter of one mother and two gay dads. She loves to read any book that crosses her path, write (of course), and she recently started dancing again, a passion she has had since her youth.
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