Last week we launched the ‘Actimel Family Wellbeing’ online forum where we allowed you to post your family health and wellbeing questions and have them answered by the experts.
Dr Pat Spungin, Child Psychologist and Family Life Specialist, has answered the questions you put to her, here are her replies:
Since my husband died last year, I feel my children have become more distant how can we reconnect?
Your children will feel more protective towards you and surprisingly this may make them appear as more distant. Other people may have said they have to be ‘brave’ and they may interpret this as not showing their real feelings, -not turning to you for help and comfort when they need it. I think this is particularly true for boys who feel they have to be the ‘man of the house’.
To reconnect, do ordinary things together; make sure you have family meals, watch favourite TV programmes etc. Try having a special day for each child and go shopping together, have a pizza, or a family night in. Keep your husband in the family. Talk about him and all the happy times you had together. When special days occur, like Father’s Day or his birthday make sure you mention him and say how much you miss him. (Keep it matter of fact rather than emotional). Make your memories real by making a memory box, a family book or a dvd of your husband’s life.
Hi Dr Pat- I have recently got divorced and my kids are being a bit funny around their dad. They are spending half term week with him in Manchester. Have you got any advice on what to say to them? Or what can I tell the dad about how to connect with them through these difficult times. Thank you.. I am at a loss!
I wonder if they have some views and thoughts about the divorce that they aren’t expressing? Maybe they are angry with their father, or blame themselves in some way. Could you say you have noticed that they are a ‘bit funny’ around him and ask if there is a reason why? Be positive about their relationship with him. Talk about the things your husband used to do that they enjoyed. Maybe playing rough games, telling silly jokes, his poor cooking, dad-dancing, all things that show you recognize he is special to them. When they are away ask them to take lots of photos, so you can see what fun they have had together. Your ex husband should speak about you in a friendly way and not pretend that the past didn’t happen. He should connect with them in the ways that he used to, for example, the films they enjoyed together, sports, computer games, whatever was a special link between them. That’s what they will expect and that will make them more confident that their relationship with him is still the same.
My kids (boy, 11 and girl, 13) are not getting on with each other at all - it's constant arguments, fights and bullying. Is there anything I can do to encourage better relations between them? I feel like I've tried everything and am at a loss! Thanks.
If it’s just bickering and low level arguing, it’s irritating but it can be managed. Identify the causes and then talk to them both. If they argue about possessions, private space, computer time etc, get them to set out rules so arguments don’t arise. Never get involved in their fights by asking who started it, just tell them to just drop it or go to their rooms. Set row-free zones; no arguing at the table, in the car, stay out of each other’s space etc. Bullying is slightly different as it affects the victim’s confidence and self esteem. Talk to the bully. There are a number of anti-bullying websites that can help you with what to say.
To build up relationships, do fun things as a family. When everyone is having a good time it makes everyone feel bonded, including quarrelling siblings.
Need some help! My daughter is at the horrible teenage stage. I call her Kevin and Perry. She always likes to shout and moan. What can I do to help our relationship? I try and be calm and ignore it but she is wearing me down. any advice would be helpful
It is not OK for her to shout at you. Tell her “I will not have you shout at me-- if you have something to say to me, speak in a normal voice. I’m your mother, please show me respect.” If that doesn’t do the trick then her actions should have consequences. Refuse privileges, withhold pocket money, whatever will make her think twice about her behaviour. As for moaning, for the moment just ignore it. Act as if you haven’t heard it. At the same time as you deal with her bad behaviour, do something positive, what I call ‘getting to good’. Do something together that you will both enjoy; a film, go for a pizza, a walk, a shopping trip. Just have a good time together and definitely don’t use this as an opportunity to talk about her ‘bad behaviour…’ You may be surprised at the results.
Hi Pat, Thanks in advance for your help. I work long hours at a hospital and when I come home tired, I do my best to cook a nice dinner every night. But it always seems that we end up just eating quietly and then someone turns on the TV. How can I connect with my family at the table and have in-depth meaningful conversations?? My husband and I have three children-- aged 3, 7, and 12, so the age difference and finding appropriate topics can be tricky as well. Thanks so much in advance. Lily
I do appreciate how difficult it is for you to do all the work after a day’s strenuous effort, but I would urge you to keep the tradition of the family meal going. Turn off the tv. As long as the tv is on, everyone will focus on the screen and not on each other. Don’t aim for ‘in-depth meaningful conversation;’ aim for sharing, laughing, asking questions and telling stories, the type of talk that keeps family members in touch. Tell your kids about something that happened to you at work, ask them what they did at school, get up-to-date info on teachers and friends, tell stories about family members, get their views on television programmes you have watched together. Everyone can make a contribution to these topics regardless of age. Some families have standard twin questions that everyone can answer, (ie: what is the worst thing that happened today and what the best?). It may be hard at first and feel a bit contrived but it just gets easier. Research shows over and over again the benefits of the family meal for children in their social skills and academic success.
Hello Dr Pat. My name is Ruby and I hope you dont mind me asking a questions. I am not sure if this is in your remit but I think it is to do with connecting. We never have family meals anymore because the kids are out and about and my husband comes in late from work. are we ruining our family dynamic? Is it going to have long term damage.
I don’t think you are causing long term damage or ruining the family dynamic, but you are missing an opportunity to bond as a family and enhance family relationships. Increasingly children spend less and less time with their family members and more time facing screens of various types. Bonding is about connecting-- not over big things but the little things that make up our everyday lives; laughing at the same jokes, groaning at the same old anecdotes, sharing the stories of our everyday lives, developing a sense of who we are as a family. If we miss out on these things then we feel more distant, less connected with each other. And if we don’t share the little things how easy will it be to share the big things?
Even if they are ‘out and about’ your children still have to eat. Discourage them from eating in their rooms and encourage them to come to a family meal (with your husband) once or twice a week. They may moan about it at first but research shows that once kids get used to the family meal they really appreciate it. All research shows family meals are one of the best things we can do for our children; they eat better, have better food habits and develop their social skills. It’s worth the effort!
A question for Pat - my husband works late and often has to travel with his job which means he doesn't get to spend a huge amount of time with our two sons. The boys get really upset about not seeing him as much as they would like - and wish he could attend more of their school events. Is there anything I can say to them that might help?
You can explain that Daddy has to work away so that you can all have a nice life. (“Sometimes that’s what Daddies have to do for their family.”) When my children were small, I often worked away from home. I have a Mother’s Day card from my youngest in which she says, ‘I love you a lot and I don’t like it when you go away but I don’t mind when you go to work.’ Children accept the situation even if they don’t like it, as long as they feel loved and secure. Talk to your husband about it. Remember that actions speak louder than words. Two boys in particular will miss their father, so when they are all together encourage them to do ‘boy things.’
It’s sharing the small everyday events that build relationships. Thanks to modern technology, when your husband is away he can stay in touch with your boys. He can speak to them via skype and hear what happened that day. If he can’t attend school events, like sports day, nativity play, musical performances, can you make a video or photographic record for him to share when he is at home?
Dr Pat - my husband and I separated nearly six months ago and our kids live with him - I feel more and more distant - how can I reconnect and keep them interested in me?
Relationships are built on contact and communication. However much you like someone, if you seldom see them it’s difficult to sustain a close relationship. The same is true in families. To keep our relationships strong we have to stay in touch, and the more the better. Put yourself in their lives; call them regularly, show an interest in their school life and their friends, tell them about things in your life, and tell them how you miss them.
Make a regular date to do ordinary family stuff, like fixing a day for the kids to come and eat at your house. Do fun things together with each of them separately, like going out to a film, shopping, visiting other family members, having a girls’ day out, or whatever will appeal to them. Can you develop shared interests, such as gardening, or sewing, painting, following your local football team, whatever makes you both enthusiastic? Don’t let things drift-- for their sakes as much as for your own. You are their mum, they will be missing you. You had many years of connectedness; act now and don’t let it decline.
Femalefirst Taryn Davies