Relationship First Aid for Parents and Children

Charlotte JenkinsBeacon Community Services, Beacon Family Services, Family Relationships

CPR is a lifesaving medical treatment given to save lives in a medical emergency but can we apply it to our relationships when they are in crisis?  Parents are used to having to make split second decisions to save the day and knowing what children need can make all the difference.

Every parent has intervened quickly when a child has become distressed over something and changed their child’s focus to help calm and soothe them or provided a snack as they know it will help regulate them in the moment. Or perhaps as a parent you have slowed down your expectations with an anxious child and allowed them to calm before making any requests of them. Or you might have tried talking out loud for a child and letting them know what you think is going on for them to help them feel seen and understood.

This can be thought of as giving children ‘CPR’consistency, predictability and reliability, a concept introduced by Jonny Mathew, a specialist youth justice worker, which is really necessary in those moments when they are distressed.  This is especially true for children who have experienced early life difficulties and are often hypervigilant to the world around them.  They have not always been able to rely on someone qualified to perform CPR being available.

Slow down to go faster

We always remind parents, before starting ‘CPR’, to make a safety check.  Often this means slowing down, taking a deep breath and breathing out slowly.

Regulating your breath when you are experiencing tension, will slow your heart rate and send messages to your brain that you are safe.  When our body sends messages of safety to our brain, we can communicate calm more effectively.   Singers and performers often do this before they take to the stage.

Start small…breathe out slowly and deeply, notice how this makes you feel.

When you slow your breath down, you create the space to reflect. You can notice how you feel and think about what to say.

Now you are ready to start CPR

Consistency involves responding to children in the same way each time so that they can experience a feeling of security.  Children feel safe knowing how we will respond to a circumstance.  Children can seem to need many repeats of the process which can be frustrating as a parent and we have talked about when that happens here.

Predictability helps a child learn what responses to expect in certain situations and helps build the foundations of some forward thinking in their lives.  They may even start to problem solve when they can predict the responses which certain actions may bring.

Think about ‘Peek a boo’ and how young children are excited watching the adult disappear behind their hands and then trying to predict when they will re-appear. The ‘CPR’ they receive in this game teaches the child that tense situations can be ok as the adult is with them and knows not to leave their face covered for too long!

Reliability is the glue which confirms to a child that they can rely on you to always be there for them. There will inevitably be times where the relationship is tested, however the ability of the parent or carer to be relied upon to be consistent, predictable and available is important in navigating crises.   This is especially true for adopted or fostered children who may have experienced instability in their relationships previously.

All parents should be trained in ‘CPR’ as you never know when it may be needed. Many parents we meet tell us things are feeling tricky in their relationship with their child or other factors are making their child, feel wobbly.  It can be challenging to just accept a situation as it is, notice how it makes us feel and not seek to change it straight away.  Instead of getting annoyed or stuck we encourage parents to try pausing and looking for the small ways they can bring ‘CPR’ by thinking about the things they can do, rather than those they can’t.

Here at Beacon Family Services, we know that helping others starts with helping yourself. We’ve created a resource for adults and teens to help. Click on the link for access to our Regulation for Adults Resource.

Beacon Family Services is a not-for-profit organisation providing therapeutic family support.   With the generous support of the National Lottery we are providing free workshops for parents who want to explore providing ‘CPR’ for their child.   Our practical and informative Connected Families programme, delivered by our play therapists, support parents whose child is struggling with relationships at home or school, behaving in a way that causes worry or needing support with additional social and communications needs due to ADHD or Autism and give practical guidance in how to respond.  More details are available here and to book please sign up here 

About the author:

Marie Hamm is an experienced Early Years Teacher who specialises in providing direct support to children and families who have experienced significant developmental trauma and loss.