If you’re a mama with a child who is struggling, I have something that is going to help you tremendously. It’s a five-step process to help you navigate any challenges your child has—whether it’s friends, grades, anxiety, sleep, or something else. This process works to help you get out of worry and step into feeling empowered to show up as the mom you want to be. You can’t solve your kids’ challenges for them but you can do these five steps to help them.

If you’re a mom, you’re in the right place. This is a space designed to help you overcome challenges and live your best life. I’d love for you to join me inside the Mom On Purpose Membership where we take this work to the next level.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Show Resources

Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to Mom On Purpose, where it’s all about helping moms overcome challenges and live their best lives. My hope is by being here, you are more inspired to become the mom you are made to be. I’m Natalie, your host, a wife, boy, mom, dog, mama, Chicagoan, and former lawyer turned professionally certified coach. If you’re here to grow, I can help. Let’s go.

What’s happened in my beautiful friends? Welcome to the How to Help a Struggling Child podcast. We are going to dive in to a five step process that you can use to help any child that is struggling. It’s really a life changing process. I’m so excited to go through it with you. Before we dive in, how are you? I’m coming to you on a new podcast mic. I’ve had some mic challenges. The way that my desk is set up, my son loves to come up here and we have cleaners as well, and so things get twisted and turned and wires crossed.

And I don’t know what’s been going on with my sound lately, but I’m hoping this solves it. What else? It’s spring in the Midwest. I have some really fun and exciting announcements coming up that are both personal and professional. If you want real time updates for the personal on Instagram over @mom.onpurpose, you can get those and all the professional updates. Make sure you’re on my email list, momonpurpose.com/subscribe. Not only do I send out a Thursday newsletter with a tool, a journal prompt, uh, the podcast episode and some other goodies in there. I also send out updates of what’s going on and how we can work together and how you can get more help and support to show up as the mom you want to be. So if you are brand new here, one other invite that I have for you is to download the podcast directory over at momonpurpose.com/directory where you can get the top episodes to get started with those foundational episodes.

And if you’ve been around for a while, will you do me a favor and leave a review? Reviews help spread the word apple, all the podcasts, um, love when there are reviews because then it means that people are enjoying the podcast and it will then suggest the podcast to other women and moms, which means that more people will benefit from this, which is always my mission. So thank you so much in advance. I read all of the podcast reviews and I really appreciate your time and effort, into writing those.

With that, let’s dive in to today’s episode, how to help a struggling child. So you’re going to hear in a minute from a caller who has an older child who is I think 10 years old who’s struggling with sleep. And it doesn’t matter if your child is struggling with sleep or they’re struggling with making friends or they’re struggling with anxiety or they’re struggling with homework or they’re struggling with their siblings or they have any other struggle. This five step process is going to help you show up more as the mom you want to be just by going through it. I think that every mom should have access to this podcast and this process because it helps you show up with confidence, show up with connection, show up with love. You don’t have to have all of the answers, but you’re able to figure anything out and that is such a beautiful gift to give to yourself and to your child. So with that, let’s dive in.

Hi Natalie. I’ve been struggling with my daughter who’s 10 reverting back to getting a feeling of anxiousness and anxiety towards bedtime, and it’s kind of created some lack of sleep in our household. Um, sorry, I have a cold. Um, she actually does fall asleep after a while, but she now needs me on the couch instead of in bed to fall asleep. I’m just wondering what I can do to help support her and get myself in my own bed and sleeping. Thanks so much. Bye.

There is a five step process to help a struggling child with any challenge that they are experiencing. Let’s dive in with number one, that is to normalize their challenge. Nothing has gone wrong. This is exactly how it’s supposed to be happening, even if you didn’t anticipate it. And you can sit with them in their challenge from this perspective instead of trying to solve their challenge, instead of having the mindset, it’s my job to solve my kids’ challenges. I have the mindset, it’s my job to help them feel prepared and navigate their challenges. So I think whenever our kids first have a challenge, the default is to think something like, oh no, this shouldn’t be happening. Something has gone wrong, and then we go into fix it mode and it doesn’t work. It leads to control, disconnection, worry, and kind of this like frantic energy that’s neither helpful for us nor for our kids.

So the first step is always to just normalize it. What I mean by normalize isn’t to be apathetic. What I’m not saying is that, oh yeah, that’s totally fine, that you can’t sleep and are feeling anxious about sleep and let’s just forget about it. I’m not suggesting that you don’t care or that you’re apathetic. Normalize means to accept what is. Accept that this is a challenge that your child is experiencing right now without resisting it. Resisting it comes from thoughts like this shouldn’t be happening. Something has gone wrong. So do you see how those are two opposite ends of the spectrum? Like that all or nothing thinking either it’s something has gone wrong that shouldn’t be happening on one end of the spectrum or on the other end it’s, this is totally fine, not a problem. Let’s not even think about it in the middle is this is a challenge.

Nothing has gone wrong and we can navigate it together. And so when you normalize challenges, when you normalize that sometimes people struggle with sleep, when you normalize feeling anxious, there is this layer of judgment that is immediately lifted. A huge problem with anxiety is not just the anxiety, it’s the judgment of the anxiety. It’s the, I shouldn’t be feeling anxious, something’s gone wrong. And so if you just normalize, oh, all humans, all healthy humans with healthy human brains feel anxious, it’s okay to feel that way. That is a huge step. And it could be any kind of, um, feeling that your child is experiencing disappointment, frustration, any of those negative emotions that we tend to think we don’t want our kids to feel. Of course, mama bear. We want our kids to be happy all the time, but that is not realistic and also not not possible.

And it’s not actually even what we really want if we think about it, because if there was only happy, then there would be no sad. So our kids are supposed to have challenges. This thought is so helpful for me as a mom. It gets me out of being a control freak. So when I remember my kids are supposed to have challenges, nothing has gone wrong here, it sets me up to help them navigate it with a sense of connection and groundedness and compassion and curiosity. Not from a place of something’s gone wrong, I need to fix it and kind of worrying because adding that layer of stress and worry from me isn’t going to be helpful. So in this example, the caller called in with your child feeling anxious about sleep and wanting you to help her go to sleep. Let’s normalize it. Nothing’s gone wrong. She’s 10 and she’s supposed to be having this challenge right now normalizing that will alleviate some of that anxiety instead of her thinking that she’s doing it wrong.

This goes into step number two, which is to clean up your thinking. So what are your thoughts about your child’s challenge? Specifically make sure that you’re not mirroring their emotions on default. This is what human beings do. We mirror emotions. So if your child is feeling anxious that they can’t sleep, you are feeling anxious about their anxiety. If your child is feeling disappointed about not getting invited, you are feeling disappointed about their disappointment. Now, when I suggest not mirroring people say, so, I should just be happy. No, that is not what I’m saying. That’s all or nothing thinking again, it’s not either we’re disappointed or we’re happy, or either we’re anxious or we’re excited. There are tons of other emotions that you can feel. How do you want to feel about your child’s challenge? For me, personally, I like to feel curious. I like to feel strong. I like to feel warm hearted. I like to feel connected. I like to feel loving. And depending on the challenge, I might cherry pick some of those, but it’s really important because it’s the person with the most momentum that we tend to mirror.

So if you walk into, um, an event and everyone is chatting and happy, it’s very easy to kind of pick up on that energy and mirror other people’s happiness. Conversely, if you walk into an event and everyone seems to be down and somber, all of a sudden it’s okay, what’s wrong, what’s going on? And we have this kind of somber feeling as well. It’s because our brain can very quickly mirror what’s going on in our environment. So if your child is feeling a negative emotion, it’s your job to intentionally decide how you want to think and feel deliberately. Part two of this is to make sure that you’re not in fix it mode. So we can’t control child’s sleep, right? We can’t control child’s friends, we can’t control child’s grades or whether they do homework. Now we can certainly facilitate and encourage and take action.

It’s not that we just sit back and do nothing, but if you’re like me, recovering control enthusiast, you need the message that is control comes from fear. And there’s this fear that, oh no, my child is never going to figure out sleep again and I’m going to be sleeping with them until they’re 18 years old for the next four years. Or, oh no, my child is uh, you know, struggling with friends now and they’re never going to have friends in their adult life. Or My child’s struggling with homework, they’re going to fail outta school. Whatever it is, right? We catastrophize, we have this fast forward error. I call it like we project any challenge that a child is experiencing now into the future, usually years and years away. And so if you can just bring it back to the current challenge, the current moment, the current week, that season that you’re in with this challenge.

And instead of trying to control your child’s actions, trying to get them to do the homework, trying to get them not to feel anxious, trying to get them not to sleep, that’s focusing your attention and your mind on their actions. Focus back on yourself and what kind of mom you want to be specifically, how do you want to think? How do you want to feel and what do you want to do? So in this example, you might want to have some boundaries, you might want to talk more about it, but we don’t really have enough information and we’ll talk about that here in step number four. But the, the biggest takeaway from step number two with cleaning up your thinking is that I think on default we just rush into, okay, how do I solve this? How do I help them? How do I fix it? And we’re, we’re thinking about actions, like what do I say, what do I do?

And it’s not bad to be thinking that way. It’s just not the most helpful first step, the most helpful first step is how do I want to think about this and how do I want to feel? So in this situation, it might be coming up with a new narrative, a new story. So the person who called in, what are you thinking is the main title of this story? My 10-year-old shouldn’t be struggling with sleep right now or something else, I don’t really know. So whatever that story title is, you want the story title to be empowering. So maybe you realize it’s something like that and you shift it to something more helpful. Like, my 10-year-old is struggling with sleep, which is unexpected and we’re figuring it out one day at a time. The motivation, the feeling behind the story title that you give, the challenge really matters.

And so don’t skip this part, make sure you clean up your feeling and that way you are fueled by connection, love, possibility, curiosity. It’s a big one because we think we know what’s going on with our kids, but we really don’t. This goes into step number three, which is to help them process their feelings. This is going to vary depending on the age of your kids. So I’m going to give you the quick overview, but if you’re talking to a 2-year-old versus a 12-year-old versus a 21-year-old, you’re going to use different language and they’re going to be, you know, varying degrees of receptive to this. But I want you to have this process. So you know what it sounds like I never come from a place of trying to coach my kids or my family or my friends, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t use this process in a way that feels much more natural and conversational.

So for example, to help a child process their feelings, you would just ask them questions about the feeling. So in this example, the child’s feeling anxious. So we might ask her, what does that feel like in your body, right? We’re trying to get her in her body most of the time. And this goes for adults too. This is why we have to learn this ’cause we’re not taught it in school that feelings are in our bodies, but we tend to stay in our minds like, oh, I’m thinking about all this that’s going on at school and my friends and or whatever. Maybe it’s um, feeling nervous to separate separation anxiety. We don’t really know here. But the key is to see that when you teach your kids how to process a feeling, you want to help them get into their bodies, not in their minds.

Your brain will want to kind of thought loop on the feeling. And it’s not that it’s harmful, it’s just not helpful. It doesn’t help you actually process the feeling. So the the process of allowing feelings, the process of processing feelings is to name the feeling, welcome it, describe it, and breathe through it. And the way that this would sound with your child is, you know, like, what are you feeling? And maybe they say anxious and, and then you say, what does that feel like? Do you feel it in your neck? And depending on whether they’re open, if they’re really chatty, they may just kind of lead. And all you have to do is ask some questions. But if they’re not really talking, you might say, you know, when mommy feels anxious, it feels really tight, really tight here in my chest and sometimes my breathing gets short.

What about you? And so you’re sort of just conversing with your child about the feeling in their body. This is a tangent, but inside the mom on purpose membership, we have a how to help your kids with thoughts and feelings course that you get, but you don’t get it until you’ve been in the program for six months for this very reason. It’s really hard for you to help your kids process their feelings. If you are not familiar doing it, it will kind of sound like you’re reading from a page or you’re trying to just ask them questions and it just might not work if you’re not doing it in a way that’s like natural and comfortable, like you normally would chat with them. And if you’re doing this work in your own life, if you’re processing your own feelings, if you’re comfortable naming the feeling, welcoming it, describing it, breathing through it, it’s going to be much more natural and easier for you to do this with your kids.

And so go through that course if you’re inside the membership, if you’re not, you can join and you get it in six months and it will benefit you and your kid. So you’re processing their feelings with them, you’re helping them take some deep breaths as long as they’re receptive to it. I do not suggest, um, doing this with them if they don’t want to. Like, if they don’t want to, it’s totally fine, but this is part of it if they’re open to it. Step number four is to focus on the internal process for them. So again, most often we go into fix it mode and we want to focus on actions. What should they do different? What shouldn’t they do? What should they do next? But what’s most important is what they’re thinking and feeling. So ask them, what are you thinking about all of this?

In this caller’s example, we need a lot more information. You know, we talked about how she’s feeling a little bit anxious, but is it because of something, right? It’s because of her thoughts. But what is she thinking about? Is it something going on at school? Is it something going on with her friends? Is there some big change that’s happened in the family or is it just good old fashioned separation anxiety? Is it something else we need to know more? And I think at least I can identify with this, is that we tend to think we know ahead of time, but I promise you curiosity will serve you so well. So you’re almost like investigating what’s going on. So the symptom right now is her actions, or in this case inaction. She’s not going to sleep on her own. Right behind all actions and inactions are thoughts and feelings.

So we want to figure out what’s going on for her. We think it’s anxiousness based on what the caller said here, what are the thoughts that she’s having that are creating the anxiety? And again, nothing’s gone wrong here. We’re just opening up the conversation to learn about the internal process. That is what leads to actions and inactions. It’s what we’re thinking and how we’re feeling. So we want to get more information and just gently, kindly ask, it might be out of the moment if that seems to be a more, you know, helpful way to do it. I often suggest having conversations out of the moment instead of in the moment it’s like, Hey, you know, sleep has been more challenging than it used to be, and I’m just wondering what’s going on for you? Like, what are you thinking that’s creating so much of that anxiety and just, you know, talking openly about it, not from judgment, not from a place of I need to fix this.

Not from a place of you shouldn’t be feeling anxious, but just from a place of curiosity. Like, isn’t it fascinating what our brains do? And they create this anxiety and we struggle with sleep and, and all of that. Now you can decide ultimately that you want to have some boundaries around how much you are willing to kind of co-sleep and help her sleep. But I think getting a lot more information first would be more helpful for you to make that decision for you. And if you set those boundaries from curiosity, love, and connection, that’s going to help you maintain a much stronger secure attachment in the process. Because we don’t really know like why yet we need to be asking a lot more questions so that we can then best decide how we want to show up.

The last step is to share your experience. Share relatable stories from your life to help your child feel seen and validated. There’s nothing wrong with a negative emotion. There’s nothing wrong with feeling anxious, but feeling alone in your negative emotions is the worst part. And so if you can share with your child that you feel anxious, sometimes, maybe it’s not about sleep, but maybe it’s about something else that can help validate their experience, that can help them feel seen and feel like, oh yeah, yes, this is a challenge and yes, we’re going to work through it, but again, you know, I’m not doing something wrong. It’s not this huge dramatic problem, I’m not bad. And you know, in that sense, then they’ll maintain their internal goodness, that feeling of internal goodness. And we can problem solve and troubleshoot the actions based on, on kind of the information that we have instead of the child feeling like they’re doing something wrong.

So a quick recap of the five step process to help a struggling child is, number one, normalize their challenge. Number two, clean up your thinking so that you can focus on the kind of mom that you want to be. Step number three is to help your child process their feelings. Step number four is to focus on the internal process for them, what their thoughts and feelings are that are leading to their action and inaction. And the more you’re fueled by curiosity and connection, the better. And step number five, share your experience so that your child feels seen and validated. When you apply these five steps, it’s not necessarily that the work is all done and all of a sudden the child is now sleeping on her own, not feeling anxious, but the core foundational work is done because now you’ll have a lot more information.

Your child will feel much more open to talk about what’s going on. You will be showing up from love and connection and curiosity and strength, not from worry and just trying to get this over with and solve it. And you’ll know what next best steps to take. Like is this about something at school? Is this about, you know, something going on physiologically with her sleep? Is this about something going on with separation? We need to get much more information before we can then take that next best step. And I find this to be true in almost all scenarios with our kids’ challenges. Um, for my little ones, I always say, I can’t make them sleep, right? I can’t, but I can always offer, I can offer them sleep and it’s my job to clean up my thinking and say thoughts like, oh, I thought they were going to be sleeping through the night by now.

I guess I was wrong about that. I guess we’re in a new chapter where they get up and get out of bed and, and come to me and whatever it is. So when I am much more open to accepting the reality of how it is, I’m actually much more equipped to problem solve in a helpful way instead of from resistance. Instead of, I can’t take this anymore, they should be sleeping through the night. This isn’t fair. All the other kids I know their age are sleeping through the night. All of those thoughts just not helpful. That also doesn’t mean that I’m not going to try different strategies, but the attitude, the mindset that’s driving me to try different strategies matters. It matters so much. It’s that perspective. And your kids pick up on that. Of course, you’re doing this for your sake, but it really does have an impact on the way that your kids perceive their attachment to you, their approval from you.

If they get a sense that you think it’s bad that they’re not sleeping, then they are going to try to sleep even more quickly from a place though of shame, thinking that they’re doing it wrong, thinking that you know their parents don’t approve of them because you’ve said like this is bad or whatever it is. And so I try to just remind myself that my approval or disapproval isn’t going to be helpful in situations where my kids are having challenges. Instead, I want to name their feelings and name their actions. And in this way it allows them to be their authentic selves because kids will always choose attachment over authenticity. What I mean by that is if they get a sense that you’re saying this is bad, they are going to try to hide what’s going on, not open up, not feel comfortable, not want to be their authentic selves because it threatens their attachment. It’s not seen as good, it’s not seen as approved of. And this is why it’s so important to separate out internal goodness from actions, right? You are good inside no matter what, and let’s navigate this challenge and figure it out.

So it’s kind of a tangent in a different topic for another day. But I hope that I have left you with this process that you can use in any challenge that your child is facing to empower you to show up more as the mom that you want to be. I have been absolutely loving listening to your voice messages. Just call me at eight three three three, ask Nat. That’s 8 3 3 3 2 7 5 6 2 8. You can leave an anonymous voicemail only. I listen to them and you will get a really awesome podcast episode dedicated to whatever question you ask. It’s been a lot of fun and I want to continue to keep doing these. So give me a ring, leave a message on the podcast hotline at 8 3 3 3. Ask Nat and I’ll talk with you next week, my friend. Take care. Thank you for being here and listening Now, head on over to momonpurpose.com/coaching to learn more about the Mom On Purpose membership, where we take all of this work to the next level.

Enjoy the Show?