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As September looms ahead and school holidays draw to a close, it is not uncommon for children to experience feelings of anxiety. Psychotherapist Noel McDermott is a pioneering health and social care professional with over 25 years of industry experience, he has put together the following advice for working dads and their children.
Dads can often miss out on their kids growing up and by that I mean the developmental changes that take place in their lives as they go through significant transition points. Starting and stopping school, entering university, finding employment and making new relationships etc are all transition times which present us with developmental challenges of one sort or another. We all change and grow during these times and for busy working dads who can feel like they are missing out on their child’s emotional growth spurts being strategic about when you are around can go a long way to reducing that problem.
There is no substitute for time but a friend in need is a friend indeed as the saying goes.
Look at this back to school time as an opportunity to be around your children, to be alongside them as they go through challenges is a great way to frame this. You don’t need to stress yourself out about having to do anything in particular for your kids or learning how to be a counsellor etc, at the end of the day what kids want from their dads is just to be there.
Arranging to be home for the first week of back to school would be a good idea for any working dad. Not during the day of course but being around when your kid comes home if possible would give you a great opportunity to add quality time and experience to your relationship. You may not be able to do it every night but if you could do 3 nights you are more likely to be able to be of practical and emotional support if your child needs it. The idea is to be ‘of service’, so if your child needs support you are ready and available to render that service. If you are not around then you don’t have the opportunity to be there for your child when they need you.
Classic signs of anxiety in children are:
Another thing you can do is role model, remember kids copy what you do, they don’t do what you tell them to do! Your behaviour is the most powerful tool you have with your kids, you can help them open up about any struggles they have by being open about yours! It’s not rocket science. So why don’t you and your partner model open emotionally supportive conversations? Maybe you can find time at the evening family meal to share how going back to work after holiday can make you feel blue. You could script it with your partner and play the script out to allow the space for your kids to say, ‘I feel like that too dad!’. That would be your way in; remember most problems are solved with a good listening too! If your child does start sharing, then now’s the time to shut up and listen! They will be fine, don’t advice, just listen and empathise, e.g. ‘that sounds difficult.’
Ask open questions that allow your child to think, feel and express themselves fully e.g. ‘tell me more’, ‘what did that make you feel like’, ’is there anything you want to do about this?’ and so on.
Don’t overreact to your kid’s issues, again they are looking to you to know how they should frame their experiences. Mostly these transition times and the issues they bring up pass fairly quickly. Hence the name transition time. You only need to act if A: your child is clearly at risk (being bullied, feeling suicidal for example) or B: the low or anxious mood last longer than two weeks. then step into parent taking charge mode. Otherwise be aware the issues will pass, and your task is to help your child learn they have resilience and strength and that these qualities comes from getting help when we are struggling.
Help seeking behaviour is probably the most important single life skill you can teach your child. Help seeking is the core skill needed for them in being safe, healthy and flourishing in life.