Celebrating 10 Years

Mom OK/Dad OK – Guidelines for Parent Self-Care

by Dr. Kathryn Scheffel

Learn to regulate your own emotions before addressing your kid’s.

Before reaching out to their children, however, Mom and Dad first need to take stock of their own feelings and learn the concept of parent self-care.

Our kids take their cue from us on how to interpret the world around them, especially when they are little. Since they watch our reactions, it’s important for parents to be careful about how they verbally and physically respond. Kids learn what to do in certain situations based on our examples. If your child falls down, do you help him up with reassurance he’ll be fine? Or do you run to the rescue shrieking “Oh my God!”? They determine from us whether to be fearful or not. As parents, we can either be too cautious or appear to demonstrate no order or structure in our responses, particularly in crises.

Parents often hide anger and frustration without realizing that their kids benefit from seeing these universal emotions expressed. What’s important is showing that you can manage your negative feelings, ones we all experience, in a healthy way.

The guiding principles of the pilot program, Mom OK, met with such success that the parent self-care practice was expanded to include fathers (and is now called Mom OK/Dad OK). The therapeutic tool has successfully been put to work in family settings. Clearly, these guidelines could also help divorced parents who experience the difficulty of staying involved with their children when they are no longer living together as a family.

So what are some ways to initiate and maintain a connection with your children? The key point to remember is to keep all communication positive. Make phone calls, emails, and letter writing fun. Send little ones pages to color, send older children a riddle to solve, or magazine articles on things they’re interested in (dinosaurs, a particular sport, movie star, etc.). Watching a favorite television show at the same time and talking about it afterward is another good way to interact with your kid, especially if done on a regular basis. With teenagers, it’s best to avoid questions that can be answered with a yes or no response. Asking about their last soccer game, or what the best thing was that happened to them in school that day will require a more detailed, interactive reply.

Incorporating parent self-care methods means learning to be a good role model. This happens by first not blocking your emotions. They can be intense and stressful, but we need to disengage from them, take a step back and contemplate a healthier reaction.

Mom OK is an acronym, with “Mom” standing for a mother’s self-care guidelines:

M = Mellow out; take a deep breath, pause.

O = Observe

M = Mind; what thoughts and feelings am I having?

When the tool was tweaked to include fathers, “Dad” was added, standing for:

D = Deep breath; take one!

A = Acknowledge hard feelings by taking a step away from the situation.

D = Deliberate about the thoughts on your mind.

The letters “OK” apply to both parents, and encourage the positive:

O = Other; what are other/better thoughts?

K = Kid; what is best for my child?

In therapy sessions, it’s too often the case for parents to get fixated on proving their kid is wrong or that what he is saying is wrong. Parents of troubled children are used to being blamed and feeling guilty. In my experience, either they want to be in the counseling room all the time with the kid or they don’t want to be there at all. Defensiveness kicks in: It’s his/her problem; I’m fine.

Instead of trying to prove anything, try to get to the bottom of what your child is trying to tell you. Don’t get focused on the details, wrong or right. Kids usually just want you to understand what is happening to them. Commentary such as “That must have been embarrassing! How did you recover?” will keep the focus on your child’s feelings, encourage further interaction, and help you see the world from his viewpoint.

As with learning any new behavior, parent self-care techniques become easier with practice — especially important when it comes to controlling knee-jerk emotional reactions. One way to do this is to watch how you respond when stuck in traffic or waiting in a long line for service. What are you feeling in that moment? What’s a more positive emotional response to the situation?

The emphasis in the Mom OK/Dad OK program is for parents to first stop and take stock of their own feelings and reactions before addressing their children’s’ issues. Being mindful of your emotions and in control of your responses will not only enhance your personal wellbeing, but your parent/child relationship as well.

If you’d like more information on the Mom OK/Dad OK program, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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