The Best Way to Help Hurt Kids Heal

If there’s any one thing about parenting her kids that I could shout from the rooftops it would be this: The most important person to get help is mom. It isn’t the kids. Yes, they need help too. But, if you have to pick one person who gets help first, choose mom…every time!

I know that sounds very backwards. Of course our natural instinct is to seek help for the kids first! That’s what good parents do, right? It also makes perfect sense for a parent to seek help for the struggling child who is causing all the problems.

Here’s the deal though. Very little of what actually works for tough kids who had a rough start in life is actually logical. There’s a reason for that, too. Trauma isn’t logical. It’s emotional. It also does all kinds of crazy things to the brain. It mixes up all the brain wiring and leaves our kids thinking and processing information very differently than we we do. One of the most significant and noticeable ways this happens is impairments in logic, reasoning, and judgement.

Why help mom first?

The answer is quite simple. We moms are the ones on the front line. We are the ones that interact with the kids day in and day out. We are the ones who are responsible for holding everything together. Unfortunately, we are also the ones who get the full brunt of all their “special” stuff. That’s a whole lot to put on one woman…even a Wonder Woman…to carry.

By far the best shot our kids have at real healing is by connecting with and building a real relationship their mom! It isn’t going to happen simply by them spending an hour a week in a therapist’s office. Yes, other helpers and services will likely be necessary and beneficial. First and foremost, thought, the most important change-agent a child will have is their mom. You can’t do or be that if you are spread too thin or if your own emotional bucket is empty.

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Get the RIGHT help!

Not all help is created equal! Not every therapist is trauma informed, even if they advertise that they are. It’s up to us to ask a lot of questions and make sure we are getting help from people who actually know how to help us. Below are some tips to help you make sure that happens.

Get help from someone who only works with you!

I cannot stress this one enough. It isn’t enough to piggyback on your kids’ therapy sessions. Online support groups aren’t enough.  We moms take the brunt of everything our sweeties dish out. Plus, we’re still responsible for parenting them and keeping everyone in the family safe and sane. We are the ones who need help and support first! This job is way too big to do alone, too. We NEED someone who has our back, has our best interests in mind, serves only our needs, and knows how to guide you through this often bumpy and treacherous journey.

Get help from someone who understands the whole package.

Those emotional and behavior challenges our kids struggle with don’t just impact them. They take a heavy toll on the entire family (especially us moms)…and it happens fast.  It doesn’t take long for a whole family who was once happy, sociable, and thriving to become isolated, chaotic, angry, frazzled, and condemned once a traumatized child joins the mix. Make sure the helpers you choose understand that dynamic! Far too often we moms end up being blamed for the child’s issues and are criticized for poor parenting, even though neither are the problem. That will always do far more harm than good.

As you seek help, look for people who specifically have the knowledge, skills, and experience to help you successfully connect all the pieces of the issues you are dealing with. Make sure they know how to help you keep everyone in your home safe (including yourself), and they aren’t going to be charmed or swayed by your sweet darlings. It is imperative they understand all the complexities of developmental trauma, how all the pieces fit together, and know how to successfully help you navigate the experience.

Remember, healing isn’t just about our kids. It’s about the whole family and how the child’s trauma and behavior affect everyone. A huge part of healing is helping you as the mom become a better, stronger, and more confident you! It is also about addressing your own issues, perceptions, beliefs, and feelings that get tangled in the mess. We mamas really are the hinge pins of the family. It truly is amazing to watch what happens when mom takes the lead and heals herself first!

Get help from someone who knows how to help you move forward.

Look for helpers who have a specific plan for helping you get from where you are right now to where you want to be. Willy-nilly isn’t going to cut it. Order and structure matter! The steps to healing and creating permanent change often build on each other. Make sure they’re happening in the right order. 

Seek helpers who are solution-oriented and know how to help you move forward. Looking backward and untangling the past is necessary at times, but faster and more significant progress is made when we look forward, figure out how to learn from the past instead of rehash it, and make whatever we’re dealing with work. Look for helpers who can see the whole picture…including the past and the future…and know how to move you through a process of growth and change.

Get help before you think you need it.

I wish I had known back when our kids first joined our family what I know today. I wish I would have listened a whole lot sooner than I did when others tried to tell me to take better care of myself along the way. I wish I would have dropped the excuses and all the reasons why not and sought help for myself much sooner than I did.  It would have made our healing process so much smoother and faster. By the time I finally figured out they were right, significant damage had already been done to both my physical and mental health. The sooner you seek the right help from the right people, the sooner you will gain the strength, tools, and resources to do this job for the long haul. The sooner you as a parent gain those things, the sooner real healing begins for everyone…including your toughest kids.

Therapy isn’t the only answer!

In fact, for some people it may be the wrong answer! Don’t get me wrong…a great therapist is worth their weight in gold. If you’ve got one, keep them!

It’s pretty well known among trauma parents, though, that traditional therapy doesn’t work for our kids. Most therapists out there simply don’t have the training and skills they need to actually help us unless they’ve lived this crazy life or have intentionally sought additional trauma training and chosen to specialize in it. Guess what? The same holds true for us moms.  Run-of-the-mill doesn’t get us and doesn’t always know how to help us, either…and if we’re not careful, they can make things a whole lot worse instead of better.

The best way to get good help is to figure out what you need the most help with and then ask a lot of questions. Make sure the people you hire to help you can deliver what you’re ultimately looking for. Have the courage to look at alternative options, too. In fact, for many parents, coaching is a great option!

Real coaching is not just chit chat or sharing good ideas. Coaching done right is a whole-life/whole family transformation process. It’s all about meeting you where you are, removing roadblocks, helping you find the answers that are right for you and your family, and helping you move forward. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. “Life isn’t about jumping from one crisis to another. Families aren’t meant to live in chaos. There is a better way. There is a way out. There is hope!” That’s what I love helping people find!

The airlines get it right…

What message is shared by every airline right before take off for every flight? “Put on your own mask on first before assisting others.” There is a reason for this. In order to keep taking care of others, we’ve got to take care of ourselves first. None of us can or will ever be able to help our children in the way they need to be helped if we are depleted or trying to go it alone ourselves. Parenting these little darlings is not for the faint of heart. It’s a tough job that requires near super human strength, specialized tools and skills that aren’t well understood by society, and a whole lot of patience and persistence.  You can’t do this job if your own physical or emotional buckets are empty. I’ve seen many a mama try…and I did it myself for a long time, too. The end results are always disastrous. Families end up shattered, long-term health and mental health problems emerge, and the kids really aren’t much better than when they joined you.

None of us can give what we don’t have. If you don’t have the tools you need, you can’t use them. If you don’t have the physical and emotional reserves you need, you’ll end up exhausted, emotionally bankrupt, and full of resentment at best. The sooner you as the mama build your own solid foundation, arm yourself with an arsenal of the right tools and skills, and get your own stuff out of the way, the better it is for everyone!

Are you ready to do what it takes to help yourself and your child heal?

Helping kids is important. Helping dad is good. Helping mom first, however is the best investment you will ever make in your entire family’s future. That old saying really is true “When mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.” The reverse is also true. When mama IS happy, and when mama has the tools, skills, support, and help she needs, the whole family will blossom. If you are emotionally exhausted or sinking faster than your kids are getting better, the wrong person is getting help. If you have to choose between a child staying in treatment or getting help for mom, choose mom! If you have to put other things on hold to get help for mom, do it!  

Now it’s your turn!

It’s time to put on your own mask first! What are you going to do starting right now to take care of you first and find the right help for you? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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