02 November 2022
— Milan Murray
An Occupational Therapist’s view on a community approach to Conscious Parenting
Chantel Griesel is an Occupational Therapist and Content Developer at The My Story Tribe. We asked her about her take on the latest Mental-Health-in-Children data that was recently released :
"My son's school backpack looks like it is holding a curse. The weight hanging from his 11year old shoulders looks unbearable. As he drags his feet through the school gate I tighten my grip around the steering wheel, fighting against the urge to call him back. I want to unpack that damn bag. I want to throw away the expectations, the bullying, the doubt, and the loneliness. I want to rub his tired shoulders, put a band-aid where the straps left a mark and show him how beautiful life can be.
But that is not how it works, is it? (Even therapists have Mom-Guilt.)
For the past few days, I have been studying (maybe a little obsessively) a valuable document on our Children's Mental Health compiled by the Children’s Institute called “The South African Child Gauge 2021/2022”. This document is released regularly and presents the latest research on the Story of our children in South Africa. This specific volume focuses on Child and Adolescent Mental Health. And boy, it has been both an eye-opener and a comfort.
As a tribe (The My Story Tribe), we have focused on the issues about our children based on what we perceive, experience, and observe as professionals and parents. We advocate for a wholehearted approach focusing on:
- The mental health of our children aged 6 to 13 years
- School visits and teacher involvement
- Parent talks and community involvement
- # Campaigns that focused on inclusivity (#youcansitwithus) and self-identity (#ownyourstory)
Everything we stand for, fight for, develop, and celebrate is research-based. But this document just really brought it home for me. I realized that we are not only breaking ground for the right reasons but also creating urgency around what needs to be our focus as a society. What our children need more than ever is a collective focus on their mental health needs. We cannot just focus on one intervention area, mainly because our children do not develop in isolation or are developmentally compartmentalized. We tend to focus on patches of needs:
- Your child struggles to read so you focus on extra reading classes. They struggle with maths, so we bombard them with extra math sessions
- They seem physically weak or perhaps not competitive enough, so we overload their schedules with extra hockey, rugby clubs, private tennis lessons and a whole lot of “extra extra extra (read all about it, haha)” – isn’t that what we do – we read all these adds about what our children NEED, but it’s all consumer and profit-driven.
- They struggle emotionally, act out and get angry or depressed and we send them for all kinds of therapies.
At the end of the day, our bank accounts are depleted, our parental capacity is non-existent (especially after driving our kids around all day long), our children are stressed and unhappy and the tensions in the household are spiking the rev count. We go to bed feeling perpetually guilty and heavy.
What our children require from us is a wholehearted community involvement approach. All agencies need to work together to start talking and really investing in the well-being of our children. We, therefore, need to be accountable as communities and as a society. WE need to lighten the burden, WE need to lift the load, WE need to work together to ensure that our children are thriving.
Tamsen Rochat and Stephanie Redinger write about the involvement of cognitive development (executive functioning) in association with emotional regulation in the establishment of healthy social-emotional development. These two capacities drive our behavior. But it’s heavily influenced by and embedded in the quality of parenting, familial, and social exposure. (A life-course perspective on the biological, psychological, and social development of child mental health, Child Gauge 2021/2022)
In essence, we tend to focus solely on changing, developing, teaching, and modifying the child, but within an environment that has become less and less attached to and supportive of our children today. This tips the see-saw and along with it, our children’s mental health.
So what do our children really NEED:
- Relationship and attachment to a tribe of adults in their lives. They need a group of adults that truly knows them, loves them, inspires them, supports them, catches them and motivates them. As parents, we need to create a tribe of ADULTS for our children.
- We need to get involved and fight for our children. This means questioning the decisions that are often made within our systems. We are allowed to question the systems that our children are forced to develop in. We need to get our hands dirty. If we want to change, we need to make sure the voices of our children are heard. We need to chant for change alongside our children.
- We need to focus on our own mental health and especially our reactions. As adults, we must take responsibility for our own stories and how this impacts our children. That is the essence of conscious parenting. When I am conscious of my own behavior, I can be a better parent.
- Ask: “How do I contribute to the heaviness of my child’s life? How can I lighten the load?”
WE create the environment that allows our children to grow. Close your eyes and honestly envision your child within this environment. What does it look like? Is it colorful, full of fun, beautifully chaotic, filled with imperfection, laughter and lots of room for growth? Or is it tightly wound, perfectly square space filled with high expectations, anxiety and fear?
Know this, you are not the writer of your child’s story, but you are the guardian of what they choose to write. You cannot choose and determine the outcome of your child’s story, but you can choose the background to which that story could blossom and grow. Close your eyes and choose what you want that picture to look like. Forget about the system and fight for that picture, that background, that supporting act that will ensure that your child’s story becomes a legendary tale. "