'How to fill your child’s emotional cup without emptying your own’

Wed 3 Feb ‘21

As an adult I am fatigued with the strain of lockdown, so I can really only imagine how my children feel. It is children’s mental health week from 1 – 7 Feb ’21 and never has there been a better time (thank you again COVID-19 or crony as a friends daughter likes to call it!) to focus on the mental health of our children and the wellbeing of parents and caregivers. It is so important to ensure that children feel loved, nurtured and valued.

Children are psychologically very malleable, in that to some extent how they perceive the world and others can be influenced heavily by the adults in their life that they are close to. Parents play a pivotal role in creating early attachment relationships, teaching children how to see themselves, others and the world around them but it’s not just what we actively ‘teach’ them it’s also what they observe, the unspoken conversations and the things that they read between the lines. So let’s be honest, the pressure is kind of on as a parent, particularly at a time when sometimes we may be the only adult our children interact with for days, weeks or months at a time!

We have a little thing going on in our home, it comes from something I must have read along the way in a parenting book about drawing something on your child’s hand to remind them off you.

It all began one acutely stressful morning when me and my husband were running all kinds of late, the children were not impressed nor were they compliant and so multiple meltdowns ensued (not just the children’s!). You know I was just mostly trying my hardest to get them out the door and offload them so I could continue with my long workday ahead, but the faster I tried to go the more the meltdowns kept coming, it wasn’t my finest moment! But then sitting down to put on my shoes gave me a second to take stock and along came the love button (it’s not weird I promise just keep reading!) So I drew a little heart on my children’s hand and then filled it up with love, the filling up was achieved by a particularly lengthy and squishy cuddle and you know it did get them out the door far quicker than my insistence to ‘please hurry up’ and I felt instantly better that my children were feeling filled up with my love as they embarked on their day.

To my surprise after a busy day last week my son hopped up to give me a cuddle and you know what he said, I am going to fill you up with love mummy with a huggle. It was pretty cute, but I asked if he needed filling up too and his response was I can fill up in the same huggle mummy cos you are huggling me back. Well yes of course, it’s a two-way street, and although I had loads to do (as usual) I thought this kid is on to something here, we can both fill our cups at the same time!

That got me thinking, how often we engage with our children in a task driven way or we give ourselves to them completely, forgoing our own self-care and emotional needs to ensure they are getting what they need be it practical or emotional. Taking the time to mindfully be in the moment when children want to be close, or to play or to talk can give us fulfilment. Now I am not suggesting here that there is no need for time to yourself or self-care, those things are incredibly important to ensure that we have enough energy and patience to be with others. But by stopping the multiple things we are doing and really engaging in one task we are doing with children can bring real joy, even what feels like mundane tasks can become more satisfying.

In the spirit of testing out this theory I have been practicing be mindful with my children and here are some of my lessons for allowing them to fill my emotional cup whilst topping up their own, with very little additional effort…

· During snack time make the food together, then sit together and talk about what you have prepared and how it smells, tastes and feels.

· Have a chat about what was good in your day and their day, what made us feel happy, interested and maybe something not so good.

· Laugh out loud, really loud and watch them copy you, even if they don’t know what you’re laughing at they seem to laugh along

· Be in the huggle! Like really focus on it and not allow the mind to wander to other tasks that need to be done next.

There are so many ways to be mindful in the moment with children :)

I probably should have made a disclaimer before this that I am by no means a parenting guru! but combining what I know about attachment, mindfulness and mental health with my experiences of life in lockdown with children lead me to think I am probably not the only one out here feeling like I could do with a bit of an emotional top up right now!

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