The simple fact is that for many while there are children in the home, the marriage relationship often seems to be thrown to the background. The schedule revolves around feedings, changing, bedtime, bath time, homework, and on it goes. It is inevitable that just when you think the kids are asleep, and you make a move with your spouse, the baby starts crying or your other child ends up standing at the foot of the bed. Passion wanes. Time for adventure disappears. It is, however, possible to capture time with your spouse before passion fades. Here are a few ideas:
1. Establish a schedule. This is not only great for the kids and their development; it also helps create time for each other. This could be done as simply as scheduling a weekly dinner or lunch date. A coffee break together. Or a regular sexual encounter together (scheduling this does not lessen the passion and heat despite the lack of spontaneity; you can be spontaneous during the encounter). By having something scheduled, you create room for anticipation.
2. Utilize babysitters or family members. There are many very capable teenagers out there interested in earning a little bit of money while you take your spouse out for the evening. The beauty of this option is the kids get someone new to play and interact with, while you get a break together. Be sure to plan out the evening away in order to ensure you don’t return home until after the kids are in bed asleep. That way, if the date has gone well, there will be the possibility of being invited in for an uninterrupted “nightcap.” To create a greater flow towards the end of the date, look for a babysitter that either drives or can get to and from your home easily. An even better option is to utilize family members that live nearby. It is amazing to me the number of couples I have met that have not had their kids stay over night with family members or friends. Not only do you and your spouse benefit from this time, your kids do as well. They experience an expanded range of people who love and care for them. This can set a foundation for greater self-confidence and growth as they develop. It also begins to create a village mindset in the raising of your children. The best thing about the family option is the likelihood that the kids would be out of the house the whole night.
3. Secret signals or code words. It is often difficult to have conversations that may lead to deeper more intimate connections when you are interrupted every five minutes by one kid tattling on the other or needing something from you for their homework or wardrobe. This can be overcome by creating another language or codes to use with each other. This language or code should be based on whatever you would be saying to each other if given the opportunity. If this type of language is not part of your normal dialogue, then it would need to be created all together. It could be as simple as lighting a candle that is centrally located in the home as a signal one of the parties is interested in an encounter. Whether the encounter is sexual or emotional is up to you. Or it could be as complex as learning a second language. How great of a motivation would it be if you were trying to woo your spouse in another language? And if your kids begin to understand the language, they would only discover more about the love and desire you have for your spouse. There are far worse things they probably already know about you.
4. Be a lover to your kid’s other parent. As your kids grow older, there is nothing wrong with informing them of your plans to be alone with your spouse. You don’t have to give all the details, but claim the time you want to spend with your spouse and let the kids know they are not invited to join or interrupt. When your spouse and the marriage are a priority, the kids benefit. In fact, research is now showing that when the marriage is the focus rather than the kids, it is better for the family. I have always believed that the best thing you can do for your kids is to love your spouse. Let them also appropriately see you love them as well. Hold hands, talk, hug, kiss, sit by each other, and cuddle in front of your kids. They may be jealous that they aren’t getting the attention, but in time, they’ll be glad you paved the way for their relationships.
Kids in the home present some obstacles to passion in marriage, but they aren’t the only reason passion wanes. By overcoming the hurdles of kids, you are faced with what else may be going on in the marriage. The kids can provide a buffer for a stale marriage. If that’s the case, more work will need to be done individually and relationally to address the other concerns. Marriage is work. But the things in life that require work are more valuable and more worth it.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Ashley was 19. She had been away at college her freshman and sophomore years when her life unraveled again. In high school, she had struggled for several years with escalating depression, drinking, and marijuana use, and the painful feeling that her mother was ashamed of her. Her parents did not recognize the seriousness of the situation until she began to scratch and then cut her arms with sharp objects, at which point her mom got scared and sought help. During senior year of high school, her mom forced her into treatment, and with intensive individual, family and group therapies she become sober and psychologically stable.
Before leaving for college, Ashley was much better. She felt strong, proud of herself, and grateful to her parents for the ways they changed and learned to support her. Ashley even seemed to rise above her past – becoming an informal spokesperson for treatment and sobriety and seeking out ways to help friends and others in trouble.
At college Ashley initially participated in the support system set up for her, but then her attendance at therapy became sporadic. She became absorbed with campus life and seemed to revel in her independence. Ashley told her parents she felt “fine,” and announced that she no longer needed any anti-depressants and had gone off them.
Towards the end of first semester, Ashley tried to avoid her parents’ calls. When they did speak, she was short with them, refusing to talk about school or therapy. When Ashley came home during winter break, she spent much of her time sleeping and staying in her room on Facebook. Though having agreed and intended to get a job, she became too anxious to follow through the process. When her grades arrived, she could no longer hide that she had failed a course and was on probation. Ashley felt ashamed but promised her parents she would do better next term and go to her therapy appointments.
Unfortunately, the same cycle occurred the following year, culminating in a mounting emotional crisis towards the end of spring semester which she attempted to hide from her parents. When they questioned her over the phone about how she was doing she told them she didn’t not want to talk about it and wanted space. Her parents complied and backed off. When she was home over the summer, however, the signs that she was sinking became harder for her parents to ignore. (The warning signs of her depression included poor grades/failure at school, avoidance, inertia, withdrawal, staying in bed too much, weight gain, lack of motivation, irritability, depressed mood.) Though her words stated otherwise, Ashley had again fallen into the danger zone.
Ashley’s mom, Laura, was a successful surgeon. She struggled with tremendous guilt over her role in her daughter’s emotional problems and failure to heed warning signs that Ashley was in trouble until things were so bad that Ashley started cutting herself.
Laura recognized that, due to her own upbringing, she had been unable to be available emotionally to Ashley and, on top of that, was perpetually disappointed with her. She came to understand that she had tried to mold her daughter into someone more conventional and ambitious, pressuring Ashley to be more like her, thereby giving her the message that she was not good enough.
Ashley’s dad, Tom, was an easygoing guy who generally aimed to please. He loved Ashley very much and gave her whatever she wanted, but did not comprehend what was going on with her psychologically. Tom did not like conflict and feared Ashley’s anger. When she went to college and pulled away, he worried that if they upset her, they could lose her and she might no longer want to come home or no longer want a relationship with them.
Ashley’s mom made remarkable progress in her own therapy during Ashley’s senior year of high school, propelled by motivation and willingness to be honest with herself. This progress was noticeable and quite important to Ashley. By taking explicit responsibility for her own mistakes as a mom, learning to accept and appreciate her daughter as she was, and acting as a supportive presence and guide, Laura played an important role in her daughter’s recovery and helped mend their relationship. Before Ashley went off to college Laura felt good about herself as a mom for the first time, and her relationship with her daughter became more solid than ever.
Once Ashley went off to school, however, Laura began to feel pushed away and their relationship changed. She sacrificed so much to help her and it now seemed to have been wasted effort. As she became aware of Ashley’s failures at school, she wondered whether her daughter was just a slacker, capable of doing better but manipulating the situation to get away with whatever she could. Feeling angry, defeated, and unappreciated, Laura commented that being a mom was a thankless and hopeless job. She wanted to give up and, pulling away in anger, she decided she would stand back and not do anything.
Laura took it personally when she felt her daughter pull away, becoming consumed by an emotional reaction which obstructed perspective on what was really happening. For all of us, executive functions go “off line” when we are triggered into dysregulated emotional states and over-reaction. When this happens, our capacity to respond flexibly, think clearly, and react with good judgment is compromised. When the part of our brain that allows for reflection is deactivated by intense emotion (often originating from unprocessed experiences from our own childhood), instead of being thoughtful about how to respond to children’s needs, we are driven to react automatically and reflexively, as Laura did in her hurt and anger.
When a child’s distress is not taken seriously, and responded to appropriately by the parent, it can fuel an increasingly dangerous situation in which the child feels unconsciously compelled to continue “upping the ante” until the parent shows that they feel something empathically on the child’s behalf. Laura’s failure to recognize Ashley’s state of mind and step in to help led to her daughter’s continued escalation and deterioration, just like in high school when Ashley’s experience of not being “seen” in her pain perpetuated her self-destructiveness. During family therapy in high school, Ashley told her mom that she had felt out of control and driven to cut herself to produce physical evidence of her suffering – desperately hoping her mom would “get it.”
Another problem here was that when Laura was able to step back from her anger, she felt scared and helpless in the face of her daughter’s fragility. She feared that if she took action to set limits, Ashley would be forced to face the truth about her own limitations and might then want to kill herself. The truth was that Ashley was, of course, already aware – at least unconsciously – of her limitations and forced to be alone in it. She needed her parents or someone to step in and take charge.
Attempting to shield children from what they know intuitively to be true usually backfires, impeding the possibility of growth and causing them to feel shame, confusion, and aloneness. Projecting her own anxiety onto Ashley and colluding in a family-wide denial, Laura in effect reinforced Ashley’s sense of shame – and left her feeling unseen again.
Having the courage to face children’s limitations with them and offer help lends courage, builds coping skills, and is reassuring. Despite fears to the contrary, shame is actually decreased when parents are not afraid to face their children (in an non-judgmental way), and do not feel compelled to pretend or hide what is really going on.
What Ashley wished and protested she could do – and even intended to do – did not match her capacities. She demonstrated that she was unable to function in an environment with unlimited freedom and limited structure. She required a setting where help and supervision were built in, where she could not get lost and hide, and fall so hard. And, most of all, she needed her parents to recognize this and not be afraid make hard decisions with her.
Ultimately, Laura phoned her daughter’s therapist who was able to help make explicit what the realistic choices were for Ashley and her family. When presented with limited options for what she could do going forward, Ashley not only seemed relieved but, interestingly, selected the plan with the most structured and contained environment, (a therapeutic residential environment combined with college). This choice was telling and startled her parents – who been too caught up in their own emotions to recognize that, behind Ashley’s protests and demands for independence, was a cry for help and limits. As in this example, setting limits involves using adult judgment to protect children, based on what they can safely handle. Limits and consequences are often confused with punishment, but limits are not “reactive” or delivered out of anger, and differ from punishment in that there is no intent to retaliate and “teach a lesson” or cause the child suffering.
Not long after Ashley was accepted and decided to go to this program, she returned home to get ready. Three days prior to her planned departure, however, Ashley began desperately pleading with her mother that she changed her mind and really did not think this was the right plan for her. She no longer wanted to go. Laura could feel tension from her anger building inside her and a voice in her head saying, “Oh my God, not again – I want to run away.” However, having worked on understanding what happened between her and Ashley leading up to then, Laura was able to step back from this reaction. She was prepared and determined not to make the same mistake this time. However tempting it was, she knew it would be a bad idea to insist or close in on any decision with Ashley in this conversation – as she would have in the past out of anger and her own need for reassurance.
Laura calmed herself by reminding herself that things would be better if she could truly listen and not retreat, be reactive, punitive, or authoritarian. With this approach, Laura learned that her daughter was scared about the road ahead, and worried that she would lose all her friends. Laura was able to be empathic, while holding a calm, confident, but unspoken resolve about what her daughter needed, in effect, creating a sense of security for her Ashley.
At the end of the conversation, Laura matter-of-factly asked Ashley if she wanted to do some packing for the program together and Ashley nodded in agreement. She thought to herself, “Hmm – clearly she still actually intends to go”. To Laura’s surprise, even though she had not given in to Ashley’s begging, her daughter experienced her as supportive and protective, and eventually calmed and settled down.
Afterwards, Laura invited Ashley to go out for a walk. Ashley complained that she was still in her sweats and was “too fat and ugly” to go out. Laura responded by putting on her sweats too and showing up unobtrusively at the entranceway to Ashley’s room. Ashley looked up at her mom and the two of them headed towards the front door for their walk, quietly in step with one another.
Tips for Parents
• Respond thoughtfully and collaboratively with your teen to signs of trouble including: behavior changes, withdrawal, unhappiness, inertia, self-harm, repetitive cycles of academic or other failure, drug/alcohol abuse, shame/hiding. Seek consultation.
• Listen to teen’s behavior, not just their words. Understand behavior as a communication to you – and think about what the message might be. Try the following: If your teen’s behavior told a story, what would the title be? In this case, for example, the title of Ashley’s story might be, “I’m too ashamed to admit it but I’m out of control. Help!”
• Recognize that often through no fault of their own, teens’ best intentions may not carry over into their actions.
• Notice your own state of mind. Be honest with yourself and your teen about whether you are reacting out of your own needs, fears, anger, helplessness.
• Recognize that anxiety and worry about teens’ reactions (for example, whether they will be mad at you),should not be the primary determinant of what to do, or the gauge of whether you are doing the right thing,
• Differentiate between letting your teen have autonomy and reacting (in kind ) to their pulling away.
• Recognize when your teen is unable to make good decisions – and step in.
• Remember the power you have to affect your teen, even if privately you feel powerless or not needed.
• Recognize that, though they will say otherwise (and that’s ok), teens feel protected by limits. No one likes feeling out of control without anyone strong enough to help them.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Samantha’s mom, Jill, was beside herself. While Samantha was away for the summer at a therapeutic camp, she found a collage Samantha had made – hidden in her room. As a piece of artwork it was impressive – complex, creative, colorful and artistic. But the content was macabre, suggesting fascination with drug culture, dark music, piercings and tattoos. By now, she was expecting and hoping for more from her daughter. This was exactly the type of thinking that led her into trouble in the first place. Overwhelmed with anger and disgust, Jill destroyed the collage. She would not be made a fool of and have these images in her house . Samantha had started getting help last year for drug and alcohol abuse and cutting herself – and according to all measures – seemed to have made tremendous progress . Mother was fairly certain that Samantha had been clean and had been doing well, even feeling excited to return home.
Following this discovery, Samantha’s mom confronted her daughter over the phone and told her to be prepared to find her collage gone when she got home. Samantha freaked out and became hysterical, “I always knew you wanted to get rid of me. All you care about is how you appear. Sorry you’re so ashamed of me and couldn’t have a daughter you could brag about. I hope you’re happy. Even David (past drug dealer) cares about me more than you. Maybe I should just go live with him…”
Samantha’s mom was devastated by this comment, and took it as a personal affront. She vacillated between tears and self-righteous anger. She was mortified by Samantha’s behavior and admitted that she was ashamed of her. “I’m at my wit’s end. Nothing ever changes. She had the nerve to make that collage in my house… And now she seems to prefer that drug dealer over her own home and family…”
Both Samantha and her mom felt rejected and abandoned by one another – and hopeless. Jill wanted what was best for her daughter , but on a deeper level was driven by the need for Samantha to behave according to what would make her feel proud as a mother. The more Jill needed her daughter to make her [mom] feel good about herself, the more alone, ignored, and cast aside Samantha felt (and the more likely Samantha’s behavior would be propelled even further away from mother’s values).
The collage was a window into Samantha’s world. This time instead of acting out her feelings – Samantha used restraint. Through artistic expression, she was able to give voice to and channel her feelings without harming herself. This was a psychological achievement and showed real progress. By getting rid of the collage and showing contempt for what was in it Jill unknowingly turned her back on Samantha and communicated to her that she couldn’t stand to see or know what was inside her.
Now Samantha’s inner world (and pain) was driven further into secrecy and shame, and further from help. Though Samantha appeared angry in her comments to her mom, she internalized mother’s view of her – and was left feeling self-loathing, shame, badness, and despair. To her, throwing the collage in the garbage was tantamount to throwing her away with it.
It’s true, Samantha had never been the kind of daughter Jill had wished for and tried to get her to be. Interestingly, Jill experienced disapproval and criticism from her own mom – who had also always wanted a different kind of daughter. Though she was highly accomplished, Jill never felt good enough and never felt her mom was proud of her. No matter what she did she could not make herself into the person her mother wanted. This was how Samantha felt too. The same dynamic was playing out now- here in the next generation, though not immediately recognizable to Jill because the script was different (since Jill would never have dared to be openly hostile or blatantly self-destructive and defiant like Samantha)- and because of a blind spot.
What should mom have done in the first place and what should she do now? How can we tell whether our reactions are coming from our own unresolved issues versus “legitimate”?
Clues that our own issues are rearing their heads:
When our feeling reactions (anger, self-righteousness, shame) are powerful and require immediate release
When we are certain we are “right”
When feeling the need to “teach a lesson”
When taking our children’s behavior personally
When finding ourselves being repetitive or in a repetitive cycle with our children
When finding ourselves lecturing
(For tips on talking to your teen, please also refer to Guidelines for Parents (CALM) in “Prom Primer: Know Your Limits”)
Jill’s hasty over-reaction caused her to miss an opportunity to get to know her daughter, be close to her and help her, which is what they both really wanted. Had Jill not come to rapid judgment and panicked, she might have been able to praise her daughter for expressing her feelings in an artistic way – and been curious with her about about the collage – how it affected her to make it and what it meant to her. The collage could have served as a conversation piece to bond them. It offered a medium (as art, film, literature can do) to talk about the images and feelings in displacement, and what led her ( or the artist) into that world of darkness– potentially providing enough distance to buffer the topics.
Though at first Jill was certain and thought it was obvious that destroying the collage was the right thing to do, when she came to understand that the collage was symbolically a part of her daughter- an expression of her pain and struggle – she began to feel saddened by how she reacted and less entrenched in the struggle. She loved her daughter and did not want to hurt her or contribute to her feeling bad about herself. She was surprised to learn that although she and her daughter were different in many ways – a chronic source of disappointment to her -and bone of contention between them, in fact she could see that they may not be so far apart in some ways. Jill saw that her daughter was feeling how she often felt growing up in relation to her own mom. Something clicked inside her and she felt for Samantha in a new way. She understood what it was like to feel ashamed and exposed – as an adult this vulnerability from her past resurfaced in relation to Samantha and when faced with disapproval or judgment by an authority figure whose opinion mattered to her. She felt regret and sadness as she recognized that in an unconscious effort to banish shame inside herself – she was unknowingly passing it onto her daughter. In becoming aware of this process, she was able to talk to Samantha with compassion and take responsibility for her own reactions, rather than blame her, thereby allowing a healing process to begin between them.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
Drew, 19, and Steve, 20, were close brothers raised in a volatile family. When Drew started getting into trouble in college, their mom arranged for the brothers to live together in an apartment, hoping that Steve could watch out for Drew. This solution backfired; the boys acted out family-related power plays. Physical confrontation escalated along with family-related conflict and hostility. At this point, the mom sought help.
Mom and Dad’s Perspective
Kate was an immigrant from Italy who, more than anything, wanted a better life for her children. She worked tirelessly to earn money for their education.
Consistent with the old-school style of authoritarian parenting with which she was raised, Kate demanded devotion and obedience. She was very involved with her sons and, though caring, she was also high-strung, anxious and unrelenting when they didn’t perform – yelling, threatening and lecturing – reminding them of her very real sacrifice and suffering on their behalf.
Drew perpetually disappointed and upset Kate. He failed to live up to her expectations and often lied to appease her. She worried about his ability to be independent, responsible, and protect himself. Steve, on the other hand, was seen as the ideal son: high-achieving, responsible, and aggressive. She constantly compared the two of them.
Both Kate and Don, the boys’ father, had frequent, explosive outbursts and acknowledged that, at times, they were physically abusive to their boys. Don had a short temper and unpleasant disposition, often angry, entitled and humiliating toward Kate and Drew. He was only minimally involved with the boys and didn’t attend therapy.
Brothers: Steve and Drew
With family, Drew typically was argumentative and defiant, defensively reacting to criticism and attacks for failing to measure up. Otherwise, Drew was friendly, good-natured and sensitive. He had a palpable longing to be loved, and a chameleon quality designed to get it. Drew’s sense of worth was tied up in how he appeared, always needing others’ approval, and often feeling insecure, anxious and bad about himself.
Drew had come out as gay in high school. In college, he tried to emotionally break away from his mom and flaunt his separate identity. Seeking admiration and celebrity, he began to dress in a flamboyant and revealing style, posing online in sexually provocative photos, and behaving in ways that put him at risk to be victimized, which he was.
In college, Drew became involved in mutually obsessive relationships in which he was dominated and controlled. In these relationships, he was unable to hold his own or break away, leading to the downward spiraling of his grades, family relationships, and friends.
Growing up, Steve acted as man of the house, protecting Drew and their mom from their dad, who picked on Drew. Steve also actively defended his brother from bullies at school.
Steve proudly considered himself “the alpha male,” coming across as loud, aggressive, and stilted as if lecturing. He had an intensity, dominance and perseverance reminiscent of his mom.
Steve behaved in a paternalistic and arrogant way toward his brother, acting as co-parent and agent of their mom. As they got older, this dominance and loyalty to their mom led to increasing fights between the two willful brothers.
Power Plays between Brothers
This cycle intensified after they moved in together, escalating into physical brawls, as Drew felt ganged up on and put down. Seeing himself as in charge, Steve used his authority and physical strength to try to force Drew to behave as he deemed appropriate, including around the house. Drew rebelled and fought back. Though weaker and less physically powerful than his brother, Drew wouldn’t back down, but inwardly became increasingly panicked.
Therapy initially involved Drew and his mom, but evolved into sessions with the brothers alone.
Children internalize blueprints from the family. Experiences in the family become imprinted in the brain, serving as templates for future relationships. In this family, aggression and threats were used to force obedience. The mom also used emotional force in the form of guilt and shaming.
Drew and Steve learned that the only roles available in relationships were perpetrator and victim, dominance and submission. In this dynamic, power is abused, and force is used to control other people in order to manage one’s own anxiety and helplessness.
Both boys internalized this blueprint. They submitted and accommodated to what was expected in an instinctive effort to keep their mom from getting upset. Doing so also protected themselves from physical and psychological threat.
Children’s Responses to Rigid Parental Expectations
On the outside, Steve became the man his mom wanted – obsessively driven and protective, with a reflexive survival instinct to dominate and attack. Underneath, however, Steve felt anxious, empty and lonely. He was also unsettled by the awareness that he was easily triggered into a detached anger and ability to get out of control.
Unlike his brother, Drew couldn’t develop the image or behaviors expected of him, and felt inadequate and ashamed. He learned to lie, and alternated between accommodating and rebelling. Insisting that no one could stop him from being himself or make him into someone else, Drew developed an “identity” based on needing to prove he could defy his family’s values and attempts to control him. In doing so, however, ironically he took on the familiar role from which he was escaping, in which he was the object of others’ fantasies – desperate to secure love and affirmation, but betraying himself.
Steve felt terrified and helpless as he witnessed his brother setting himself up to be victimized. His efforts to force him to behave not only failed but inadvertently trained Drew to be submissive in close relationships, and tempted him to break out and do the opposite of what the family wanted.
Steve felt protective of his brother and cared deeply about him. But when they talked, he lectured and made fun of him, modeling himself after his mom. Feeling overpowered and judged, rather than cared about, Drew shut him out and counterattacked, rigidly determined not to submit. This defense provoked Steve into asserting more dominance, perpetuating a battleground and stalemate between them.
Effects of Growing Up in a Stressful Environment
Steve and Drew were driven by a chronic sense of agitation and reactivity as a result of growing up in a highly stressful, chaotic environment. With looming emotional or physical threat, children are catapulted into a constant state of hyperarousal. This state perpetuates ongoing activation of survival instincts such as fight and surrender, persisting into adulthood even when threat no longer exists. Overwhelmed physiologically, and armed with a paradigm of rigid relationships, Steve and Drew were unable to extricate themselves from a battlefield mentality.
Therapy helped Steve and Drew see that they were re-experiencing the pervasive anxiety and power struggles they internalized growing up. As they recognized this, and saw that their fights were fueled by trying to fend off being overpowered or shamed, they no longer felt so divided. Also, when Steve recognized that his approach was reinforcing Drew’s inability to hold his own in other relationships, he was determined to learn more effective ways to relate to him.
Learning to Communicate Differently
Coached to use a softer tone and express caring directly, Steve began to reach his brother emotionally in the sessions. In turn, Drew became less defensive and more cooperative, and began to see that resisting others was not always the way to be true to himself.
Leveling the Playing Field
When the brothers first moved in together, the therapist empowered Drew to temporarily be in charge of household decisions, letting him know that he was on his honor to consider what was fair and take care not to abuse his authority. This strategy was designed to change their power dynamic, and give the brothers experience learning to consider the concept of fairness and respect for one another’s autonomy.
Respecting Autonomy and Learning to Negotiate
When being introduced to the concepts of negotiation and persuasion, Steve was instructed to practice making requests and tolerate the possibility that Drew might say “no.” They learned how to recognize the beginning signs of agitation and step back to calm themselves before engaging in conversation.
One night, dressed in a skimpy outfit, Drew woke Steve asking him for a ride to a party in town. Steve felt his anger beginning to boil. He felt held hostage and was outraged seeing Drew dressed this way. Steve knew that if he let his brother take the train looking so provocative, Drew would be at risk for danger. But he felt jerked around and didn’t want to be seen with his brother dressed that way. Previously, a predictable power struggle would have erupted in which Steve would make fun of and attack Drew, who would protest, “You can’t boss me – I’m my own person.” In the end, one or both would get physically injured, or Drew would run out and in fact get into trouble.
This time, Steve remembered how it usually played out. He calmed himself – attempting to step back from his survival instincts and commander-in-chief mentality. Instead of attacking his brother, Steve asked Drew to make a deal with him: in exchange for the ride, Drew would put sweatpants and a sweatshirt on for the ride. Drew initially started to engage reflexively in a control struggle, but Steve did not take the bait. Aware that they could persuade but not control the other, or use physical or psychological force, they managed to stay in the mindset of negotiating. Neither was happy having to compromise. But they smiled proudly as they told this story from the perspective of brothers on the same team.
Therapy helped Steve and Drew become less polarized and see that they struggled with counterparts of the same dynamic and that they were not so different from each other after all. As the brothers learned to solve differences together without force, they experienced a true sense of empowerment and the possibility of freedom from the inner world of the past that entrapped them.
Negative Effects of Authoritarian Parenting
Power plays can unconsciously protect people from a feeling of separation, loss of control and helplessness. But demanding submission and obedience can backfire. It can teach children dependency and automatic behavior and discourage the development of problem-solving, judgment and autonomous thinking. Requiring children to surrender themselves leads to the development of a false self, precluding authentic relationships and impeding the development of identity and self-reliance. Further, forcing obedience breeds aggression, resentment, and the need to escape through disobedience or becoming submerged.
Ultimately, in this case, Kate was able to loosen her hold over her sons, recognizing that she was unintentionally passing on family dynamics that created aggression, fragility and division instead of strength. As these patterns were made explicit, they could be changed, freeing Steve and Drew from expectations that did not fit them, and creating a space among them to accept and navigate differences.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Sabrina, 18, was a freshman away at college. Shortly after she arrived at school she found out that her parents had just split up. Sabrina also soon discovered that her dad had been having an affair since she was in high school, and was still involved with the other woman.
Sabrina came across as superficially tough and apathetic but her hurt and desire for connection were just beneath the surface. She said she had no idea why she felt so bad – so depressed and anxious – and that there was no good reason for it. However, when the topic of her dad came up, Sabrina became visibly distressed. She was adamant that she didn’t want to talk about him, didn’t want to have anything to do with him, and “didn’t care” – but often ended up talking about him anyway. Also, Sabrina frequently commented that if she met her dad’s girlfriend she would “punch her in the face.”
Sabrina’s attitude towards her dad was a change of heart from how she felt towards him growing up. Even though he wasn’t around all the time, she felt a strong connection and identification with him. In this regard, she talked about how she was never a “girly girl ” like her sister, and how she and her dad were both good at math and science.
Sabrina always did well in school until she went off to college. She was caught off guard this year when she began feeling homesick and out of her element – lost in a large school in the engineering department. Sabrina was noticeably hard on herself, hating that she was “weak and pathetic” and criticizing herself for not being able to focus on her work or get better. Her depression made it hard to concentrate and she found herself constantly ruminating, “What if I fail?” and worried about disappointing her parents. The pressure led to a repetitive spiral of poor grades and increasing panic, guilt and shame. Sabrina became uncertain of what she was good at or interested in, losing her focus and direction.
Sabrina didn’t tell anyone what she was going through and felt lonely and isolated. She didn’t want to talk to her dad and felt protective of her mom, fearful of burdening her. Sabrina mostly pretended things were fine, though occasionally dropping some conspicuous hints to her mom about wishing she (Sabrina) were dead.
Sabina’s mom, Deb, was in the throes of grief and depression following the breakup of her marriage. She wanted to help Sabrina and seemed loving but, at the same time, needed her daughter to be ok and was generally oblivious to what Sabrina was going through. Deb often gave quick advice or geared the conversation to her own problems, not taking seriously Sabrina’s expressions of desperation about whether she could survive.
Sabrina’s dad, Sam, was a high achieving, very successful engineer He held Sabrina to similarly high standards, confident (as she had been) that she would flourish in a related field. He seemed to love Sabrina more than anything but was somewhat emotionally immature – clueless about how to manage their relationship. Though he frequently came across as critical, reactive and not easily empathic or tuned in to feelings, he also seemed ingenuous, and was himself easily hurt.
Sam expressed his love and caring for Sabrina by giving her money and advice. On the one hand, he seemed to feel guilty when he recognized how much he hurt her by having the affair. But – on the other- he was mad about her ongoing anger towards him, arguing self-righteously that he, also, was entitled to happiness. Sam was very focused on wanting Sabrina to meet his girlfriend and be friendly with her – which would help his life be less divided. “Why should Sabrina be mad at her? And how long do I have to let her be mad at me? Plenty of families go through this. This can’t be all my fault. She’s just manipulating me into feeling bad. Sabrina’s problem is that she likes to blame everyone else but herself for her problems and failures.”
Sabrina was shocked, confused and devastated at the news of her parents’ divorce and her dad’s affair. She experienced her connection with her dad as having been severed, Disoriented by the thought of her dad as disloyal, she no longer could -or wanted to- identify with him and was too hurt and mad to let herself feel any connection to him. But the angrier she was, the more badness, guilt, and depression she felt. In addition, because the affair was secretly going on while she was still at home, she also felt she could no longer trust herself and her own instincts.
Children internalize how their parents see them and their expectations.
Sabrina’s adjustment to the pressures and challenges of college was impacted by the breaking apart of her relationship with her dad, an important part of her identity. Growing up, she internalized her dad’s positive view of her, as well as his criticism, high expectations, and easy disappointment in her. This relational pattern, combined with Sam’s inconsistent presence at home, was a recipe for a strong but insecure attachment to her dad even before the current episode. With this fragile foundation, Sabrina was especially vulnerable in the wake of rifts and loss in relationships.
Children come to experience themselves through the eyes of their parents – shaping their attitude towards themselves. Sabrina’s anger and disconnect from her dad, particularly in a context of failing grades, thwarted her ability to hold in mind the sustaining support of his positive view of her. She became progressively anxious and immobilized in the face of academic demands – taking on the role of “critical dad” with herself.
On the surface Sabrina blamed her dad for what he did and said she’d never forgive him. However, she was also quick to defend him and insist he was not the cause of her problems, maintaining that there was just something wrong with her. Sabrina initially refused to have me talk with her dad or allow him to join a session to begin a dialogue with him. She said it wouldn’t make a difference anyway because he would never apologize for what he did, or for anything – for that matter, acknowledging that an apology could be something that might help.
Anger and indifference may be self-protective.
Sabrina’s opposition to trying to work things out with her dad allowed her to maintain a self-protective posture of anger and indifference. Despite her protests, however, she eventually gave in to the part of herself that longed for connection, and agreed to allow me to talk with both parents and participate in sessions with each.
In family therapy with her mom, Sabrina told her mom how she felt. With help, Deb was able to recognize the importance of tolerating her daughter’s pain, and was able to be present with her in her distress, rather than deflect it. This helped Sabrina feel “seen” and comforted, lessening her desperation, but still not making up for her broken relationship with her dad.
Therapy With Dad
In individual sessions, Sabrina’s dad seemed eager to understand his daughter and repair their relationship. At times, he struggled – retreating to the original story he told himself about her being at fault. However, like Sabrina, Sam easily felt bad and guilty, making him want to run away. Both Sabrina and her dad tried to ward off the self-loathing and pain that accompanied their guilt, vacillating between feeling bad about themselves and then using anger at the other to escape these feelings.
Sabrina’s shame and self-recrimination, however, was a reaction to the internalized critical voice of her dad, not the result of any actual wrongdoing.
In Sam’s case, unlike Sabrina’s, there was “legitimate guilt “ – a built-in response of conscience designed to alert us that we did something wrong and betrayed our own morals. When guilt turns into self- loathing or self-punishment, however, it loses its utilitarian, evolutionary function by turning us inward towards our suffering – rather than outward towards making amends in relationships.
What should dad do to make things better?
Sam needed to bear and “own” the legitimate part of the guilt he felt, instead of projecting it in the form of blame, or sinking into despair.
Doing so would allow him to begin to truly take responsibility for his actions by accepting the consequences – his daughter’s anger at him. In this way, a space would be created for Sabrina’s feelings and the burden of her guilt for having them would be lifted.
Sabrina needed her dad to feel bad about what he did, not primarily so that he could be punished and suffer, but as a way to get him to “know” her experience of hurt and rejection– which she had no other way to communicate.
Through the unconscious process of projective identification, Sabrina tried to get through to her dad – making him feel bad and pushed away, the way he made her feel. Once Sam was able to recognize this behavior as a communication he needed to receive, rather than react to, Sabrina became noticeably calmer and more contained.
As he understood these dynamics, Sam felt more empathy for his daughter and was able to apologize for what he did and express regret. He realized that Sabrina’s anger did not mean she really hated him, or that he had to suffer and couldn’t allow himself to also be happy. This awareness, along with recognizing that accepting her feelings was the only route towards mending their relationship, freed him up to tolerate however his daughter felt towards him, even if it was unpleasant.
Sam learned to notice Sabrina’s anger and respond by telling her that he “got” that she was mad at him and why– and that, in spite of it being difficult for him, he was ok. Concurrently, he began working towards allowing himself to feel remorse without self-recrimination.
Sam also recognized that he had imposed his own standards for himself onto Sabrina, pressuring and constraining her. He owned up to having been critical of her and pointed out to her that he could see she learned this from him. He told her he thought she was now treating herself the way he had treated her – demanding that she meet expectations, or suffer demoralization. Taking ownership of ways he treated Sabrina allowed these powerful patterns – now in an orbit of their own inside her – to potentially free up and become available for change.
Sam struggled to accept that Sabrina was a different person from him. He wanted to embrace that, let go of needing her to be someone else, and help her develop in her own right. Sabrina in turn began spending more time with her dad. Though reluctant to trust him, or seem forgiving or praiseworthy of his efforts, she was noticeably less resistant to him and less tormented within herself. With this progress, Sabrina was able to accept help from her dad and address the other issues in her life.
Tips For Parents
• When your child is mad at you, or says he/she hates you, remember that these are states – not permanent conditions or truths.
• Take a leap of faith. Reassure yourself that teens will likely “come back” to you. Remember that this will happen sooner if you can accept, and be interested in, how they feel and not need them to feel otherwise or lecture them about your own feelings. (How teens handle their anger, however, is another issue and is “your business” in terms of what is acceptable or not.)
• Try not to be reactive or defensive – this will likely escalate or prolong how your teen is feeling. Recognize that hurt is often underneath anger. Try to manage your own feelings of rejection and anger.
• Know that equanimity in the face of your teen’s anger is privately comforting and sustaining to your teen. This composure is a reminder that the relationship will not be destroyed if they are angry and that your love is not contingent on their reassuring you.
• Consider your teen’s perspective and your role in the situation. Take responsibility for your part and apologize. Remember that you are a role model.
• Prepare yourself for your teen’s anger towards you and practice. Picture “holding your own” – reminding yourself that this is difficult but that you can tolerate it, and that your teen’s feelings now do not mean she will forever hate you.
• When your teen’s anger is received as a communication (vs acted upon), and then you as a parent understand and articulate it back to him/her, the feelings can be “digested” rather than harbored or acted out.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
What should parents do when they discover that their young teen or pre-teen has been looking at pornography sites online? And what does it mean?
Based on a survey of online victimization conducted by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, only a small percentage of kids seek out pornography on purpose, and most respond appropriately by quickly leaving the site, though few report such incidents to parents (Wolak et al., 2006). Exposure to sexually explicit content online can occur very easily through a misdirected “google” search using a innocent word such as “toy”, a misspelled word or URL, a misleading website or email, or a link or photo sent by a peer or through spam (Wolak et al, 2007).
When evaluating what it means that your child is viewing sexually explicit material, before reacting or drawing conclusions, the first step is to assess the situation to find out what is really going on and whether there is a problem. Is this an ongoing issue? How many times has this occurred? Does this seem to be a habit? Are there other changes in behavior, mood or sleep? Is your child isolating himself?
Find out how your child has encountered these sites. Does anyone else at home frequent these websites or suffer from a hidden sexual addiction? When others at home with access to the computer – have a hidden sex addiction, children are exposed to such material with or without the parent’s knowledge, giving the child more opportunity and temptation to explore such websites themselves.
What are the sites the child is going to and what is he looking at? For example, the meaning and effect of looking up the word “sex” on “ehow.com” (a website that is an “encyclopedia” of sorts on how to do anything) is different from watching porn videos online. Children may look for, or view, sites at first out of curiosity after having stumbled upon them – or to find out about sex. When the motivation is curiosity, the diagnosis could simply be: “teenager” or: “preteen”, the impact benign, and prognosis good.
However, viewing pornography, especially in an ongoing way, can have potentially detrimental effects on children, and may be motivated or perpetuated by loneliness, isolation and compulsion.
What are the potential negative effects of viewing online pornography?
In the absence of any context, and without having learned about or known healthy sexuality, children may experience depictions of sex as confusing and take the images they see to be representative models of adult behavior. They are thereby introduced to sex before they are ready through images they do not understand, which often involve sexual deviations, and sex detached from relationship or meaning, responsibility, and intimacy.
Children are most at risk when they are repeatedly exposed to images that are over-stimulating and potentially addictive. If viewed compulsively and accompanied by sexual release through masturbating, internet pornography can have a desensitizing effect, requiring greater intensity and frequency as well as causing deviant sexuality to seem like the norm.
Cybersex addiction functions in a similar way to any other addiction, leading to a cycle of preoccupation, compulsion, acting out, isolation, self-absorption, shame and depression as well as distorted views of real relationships and intimacy. However, not everyone exposed to pornography becomes addicted to it.
Teens who are most susceptible to addiction are those who cannot rely on parents to provide a consistent source of contact and comfort to help them regulate their emotional state. Such families include, but are not limited to, those where a parent may suffer from an addiction – including alcohol – or fail to be emotionally available for other reasons. Children from these families are vulnerable – they often have low self- esteem and feel alone. They learn not to trust or depend on others, and find ways to comfort and stimulate themselves which do not involve people and which are reliably available to them and within their control.
Another danger teens are exposed to online is unwanted sexual solicitation. Teens are the most vulnerable of any age group to such unwanted sexual advances (Wolak et.al, 2006.) One in 7 teens reported having been subjected to unwanted provocations – the majority of which involved invitations to meet offline, asking teens to talk about sex or answer sexual questions, or asking teens for sexually explicit photos.
A related hazard for teens online involves “sexting” – sending sexually explicit photos usually over cell phones or sometimes over the internet. Sexting is most commonly engaged in by teens with their peers and usually involves peer pressure. Sexting often creates an expectation of “hooking up” (sex) on the part of the recipient, and increases the pressure to have sex, and likelihood of it occurring, during the next encounter. Sexting is risky in this way and, also, because it often leads to unforeseen reputation disasters that may be irreparable. This often begins with a photo sent to a boyfriend or potential boyfriend, which then – unbeknownst to the sender – is passed around and forwarded to the recipient’s friends and “contacts”, like a chain letter, spreading out of control. In addition, these photos, of course, can resurface later on and be used for blackmail or to wreak havoc on a person’s career.
The surest way to protect teens is to be aware of what is going on with them, and within your family, and make it safe for them to talk to you. Finding out that your child has viewed internet pornography is not cause for panic. Most children and teens do not suffer from sex addictions. And when they do, this problem is usually secondary to other secret or hidden issues in the family affecting them, which must be the focus of treatment along with the teen’s symptom.
To keep teens out of harm’s way, the key is being their ally and helping them collaborate with you in wanting to be safe. If you are not on the same side, your teen will find a way to outsmart or work around even the best technology and well-thought out rules. Remember… the relationship you have with your child and his perception of you as trustworthy and reasonable is the most protective factor against all the dangers faced by teens today.
Tips for Parents
• The key is to remain calm. Use a neutral and non-judgmental tone in talking to teens, taking care not to lecture, yell, blame or shame them for their behavior or for hiding it. Prepare yourself in advance so that you can be in the right mindset for an open conversation.
• Be frank and upfront. Do not lie or test them to see if they will confess the truth. Let them know you are aware that they have have been looking at some websites that can be confusing and harmful to children.
• Explain the dangers. The dangers are:
1. You can easily get addicted to viewing these images because they trick you into feeling pleasure and excitement. You may not realize it until it’s too late. Once you get addicted you feel compelled to keep doing it, aren’t in control, and it’s hard to stop.
2. The images can be sexually exciting and that can make you want more and more. Eventually the things that would naturally create sexual excitement will no longer have that effect.
3. Going to these sites can make you feel ashamed and bad about yourself, and then you have to hide this behavior from people,
4. The images will mislead you. You won’t be able to tell what’s normal sexual behavior and what isn’t.
5. Viewing these images repeatedly can have negative effects on development of healthy sexuality and that will affect your relationships in the future.
• Educate teens about predators on line. Inform them that teens are targeted by predators – “grooming” them by appealing to teens’ interest in and curiosity about romance, sex, and risk-taking. Predators disguise their age and identity – and use tricks that make them seem like they are your friend, in order to get you to you trust and confide in them, preparing to manipulate and use you.
• Let them know that just like you have rules about where it is safe to go in the real world there are the same rules about the virtual world. Some places are dangerous and are especially dangerous because they pull you in and can make it hard to stop going there.
• Explain that you will keep an eye on where they go online in order to protect them. Explain the rules they need to follow to be safe online.
• Explain and answer questions that help them understand the basis for rules and guidelines. Don’t be mysterious or make the sites seem forbidden.
• Don’t be controlling or authoritarian.
• Avoid getting into a power struggle – you will ultimately lose. If teens comply to be obedient, to avoid punishment, or avoid disappointing you, they are more apt to rebel, go behind your back, and/or lie to you.
• Show an interest in who their online buddies are, just like you are interested in their other friends.
• Familiarize yourself with internet safety guidelines for parents, including learning acronyms teens use when they text and IM each other.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Parents may have a clear vision of their child’s “potential.” When this is discrepant from kids’ actual performance, they may fear their children’s futures. Even more unnerving is when kids don’t share these visions or worries. It’s enough to make any parent want to shake them into shape.
“Potential,” however, must incorporate personality, developmental and emotional factors which impinge on resilience and capacity. For example, bright kids may get poor grades when they are unable to withstand pressure, or when energies are consumed by urgent concerns such as fitting in socially or fear of failing.
Why is it so important that our kids live up to our expectations of them?
The obvious answer is that we want what is best for them.
But what we see in children and what we need them to be may be confounded by fears and biases from our own upbringing. Unconsciously denied or disowned aspects of ourselves can be projected onto others, even our kids, and seen in them. When this happens, a conflict that really exists within ourselves is responded to in others. For example, if we feel trapped by responsibility and commitments, we may feel contemptuous of a friend who is making more frivolous choices — thinking, “I would never do that,” but maybe secretly envious.
Worse, if we see evidence of such triggering traits in our children we may get anxious — and then fooled into thinking we are acting strictly on their behalf. If we’ve always had to be “strong” — in control — or “perfect,” we may react to kids’ apparent lack of discipline, because we learned to experience these behaviors in ourselves as unacceptable. We then easily become determined that our kids prove themselves, which helps us feel less anxious, regardless of the actual effect on our kids.
I am reminded of a man — a brilliant engineer, from a family of academics. He was pushed hard to succeed, but later became depressed, lamenting about why his own son, a creative, unconventional kid with a sharp wit and warm spirit, wasn’t very driven or disciplined in school, unlike his brother’s kids. Secretly ashamed of him, he continually feared whether his son would make it in life.
Father described himself as a “nerd” growing up — he studied a lot but, bullied by his peers and socially awkward, he was lonely. In his struggle to help his son who had learning and emotional problems, he was pained by feeling ashamed and critical of him. In working with teachers, he came to learn that his son was a hero at school, risking his own social status to defend kids from being bullied and, though not always well behaved, boldly stood up for justice. The father’s feelings and perceptions of his son changed (as did the boy’s) as he came to feel an essential truth about his kid — that he not only had strengths the father did not but, also, that had his son been his classmate growing up, he would have protected him.
What are the effects on our children of our disappointment or satisfaction with them?
Children come to see themselves through our eyes. Research shows that brain and emotional development is shaped by the interpersonal rhythm between parent and child. Psychologically and neurobiologically, they form their sense of themselves and ability to regulate emotions from how we see and relate to them and ourselves. They internalize our reactions to them, which become the blueprint of how they react to their own mistakes, frustrations, successes, disappointments. Fortunately, brains and minds are molded by experiences throughout life.
We can detect when unconsciously disguised agendas have made their way into our reactions and judgment because we feel a determined, rigid and anxiety-driven need for a particular behavior or outcome from our kids. We can help children learn to bear frustration and disappointment –by bearing it ourselves — letting go of the temptation to rescue them from failure, and maintaining faith and perspective. Responding from positive motivation and acceptance rather than fear will help kids do the same.
Kids are most likely to do their best when parents set realistic goals consistent with kids’ interests and personalities, and focus on valuing and developing their unique strengths. Once the stakes are not so high, it is easier for kids to take initiative, test themselves and persevere without being held back by fear. If children come to see themselves through our eyes, taming our own anxieties and expectations will allow them to flourish. Then we may have the fortune to find what they offer which — though perhaps not what we had expected — is a gift engraved with their signature.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Peer relationships are vital to children’s development. It’s the arena in which they learn to make decisions, to lead or follow, to become considerate and loyal, and to recover from mistakes. As parents we can have some influence over our children’s choice of friends. Here’s how you can be helpful while still encouraging your child’s independence.
Many parents unwittingly pressure their kids to make friends. They fret if their children aren’t invited to every birthday party. They are devastated whenever their kids are rejected by the “in” crowd. But when you push for more popularity, your children get the message that something is wrong with them if they aren’t part of what I call the charismatic kids. Also, if you emphasize popularity or being part of the clique, your children may become followers who go along blindly with the crowd.
Encourage Quality Over Quantity
The number of friends your children have is less important than having one or two good friends. I know a dad whose eleven-year-old son has a couple of close friends but prefers not to socialize as much as his father thinks he should. This dad is constantly saying, “What are you doing this weekend? Why don’t you call someone? Why don’t you invite a bunch of kids over? I’ll get a pizza.” I imagine the boy sees his father as disappointed that his son is not more popular.
If children are left out or picked on by their peer group, help them recognize that it is not necessarily their fault. Reassure them that it is normal, though painful, to be “in” one week and “out” the next.
Sometimes these popularity contents can be more upsetting to parents than to kids. Many children are more resilient that we give them credit for. Try to ride the waves of friendship fads, remembering that young people are fickle and peer groups are constantly in a state of flux.
Don’t Interfere Without Good Reason
Unless your children’s friends are leading them into potentially hazardous situations, resist meddling in their friendships. If you suspect that risky behavior is involved, remind your children about your clear, firm rules. Tell them,” Safety is a non-negotiable issue in this family.”
Otherwise, allow children opportunities to negotiate their own issues and differences. Kids need time among themselves to learn how to develop their own rules, to share and take turns, to play fair, and to recover from bruised egos. Certainly there are times and places for adult supervision, but try to intervene only when necessary. Of course, you must step in if your child is constantly a victim or is repeatedly picked on, rejected, or humiliated. A helpful resource for parents on bullying is a book by Charlene Gianetti and Margaret Sagarese entitled “Cliques: 8 Steps to Help Your Child Survive the Social Jungle” (Broadway Books, 2001).
Listen to Your Child First without always trying to Solve Their Problems
The stronger a child’s self-confidence, the better they’ll be able to resist negative influences of peers. Help strengthen children’s egos by listening attentively when they’re having trouble with friends.
Don’t jump right in with ready-made solutions or criticism. Instead of over-reacting, invite children to tell you what happened. They’re not likely to open up if you go through the roof.
For example, your son comes home in tears because his friends ridiculed him for backing out of a scheme to shoplift. Don’t yell, “You’re not spending time with those kids ever again!” Instead, listen to his anguish about being ridiculed.
Encourage him to talk about his feelings, and praise him for being strong and taking an unpopular stand. You might say, “I know that was tough. I’m proud of you for not going along with them. I’m wondering though, if these are the kids you really enjoy being with.”
Accept Their Right to Choose Their Friends
Keep in mind that you and your child have widely varying tastes and opinions. She may be attracted to people whom you don’t relate to at all, just as you and she probably don’t share the same tastes in food, music, or movies.
Try to respect your children’s right to choose their friends even when their choices don’t appeal to you. When your child mentions a new best friend, don’t grill him with lots of intrusive questions. Withhold your judgment. Even if you don’t like some of his friends, don’t automatically denigrate them, especially without any evidence of harmful behavior. For many kids, the peers you disparage become all the more attractive.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Most parents wish their kids would plunge into new situations and make friends easily. Instead shy and cautious children cling to our legs or hang on the sidelines. When someone they don’t know or are not comfortable with talks to them, they lower their eyes and don’t answer. When they refuse to try an unfamiliar activity, we push them to participate. We become disappointed, annoyed, or frustrated with them when they aren’t as outgoing as we’d like.
Let’s take a closer look at shyness:
Try a little understanding. Many of us don’t think of ourselves as shy, but remember how you felt when you walked into an office full of new co-workers or attended a party where you knew no one? Butterflies in your stomach? Everybody is shy to some extent, but most adults learn to find ways to cope because we’ve discovered that hanging back doesn’t work for us. Children haven’t yet learned how to cope with the unfamiliar so they feel even more ill-at-ease and self-conscious.
Recognize that your child doesn’t choose to be shy. He doesn’t cling to you to get your goat. He genuinely feels uncomfortable in new or strange settings. Some researchers say that two out of five children are shy by nature. This temperament trait is believed to be partly genetic. Some kids are born shy, just as they are born with brown eyes or curly hair. We can’t re-engineer this inborn characteristic, but we can help kids become more relaxed and adaptable.
Helpful. If you recognize a pattern in the way your child reacts to new people or situations, expect some resistance. Then give him extra time to become comfortable. For example, if he signs up for karate and wants to quit after the first class, you could suggest that he sit and watch the next session or discuss it with the instructor. Make it clear that this will be your child’s decision. By giving him some choice in the matter, you support his autonomy. That helps him feel that he has some control and gives him a little more confidence about venturing into uncharted waters.
Curb the criticism. A shy child hears enough criticism – from herself and others. Whenever an adult pushes her (“Don’t be so timid! Just audition for the school play. You’ll land a role if you’d only try.”) she gets the message that there’s something wrong with her for not participating. She probably hears her own voice carping, “I’m such a chicken for not trying out for that play.” Children who are naturally reserved are often teased and criticized so they begin to believe this quality is a personal shortcoming. This undermines self-confidence and does little to encourage them to try new things or be more outgoing.
Avoid labeling. When kids repeatedly hear “He’s always shy” or “She’s the shy one in the family,” their hesitancy about trying new things is only reinforced. Labeled “shy,” they continue to react that way and live up to the expectation. The label can also translate into negative descriptions, such as “awkward, withdrawn, a wallflower,” which are hardly confidence-builders.
Instead, choose your words more carefully when you speak with your child — and
especially when you talk about him in front of others. An empathic statement like “It’s okay to take a little extra time to get used to new things” shows a child that you understand and accept his feelings. This is much more effective than a negative comment like “Why are you always so timid?” When speaking to a teacher or other adult, it’s more constructive to explain “I hope you’ll understand that Rick tends to be somewhat reserved in unfamiliar settings” than to say, “He’s always so shy.”
Build on strengths. Reticent kids often have low self-esteem, particularly if they’ve been viewed as quiet and shy for a long time. They probably aren’t the most popular kids at school. They tend to be the last child chosen by their peers for the team. Because they’re reluctant to raise their hands in class, their intelligence may be under-appreciated. But you know your child’s strengths, and you can help boost his self-confidence and pride in himself.
Helpful: If your daughter has few friends her own age, you could encourage her to play with younger children who will undoubtedly look up to her. A child who resists going to friends’ homes will be more comfortable if he invites them to his house, so suggest he invite friends over. Point out that his particular talent – in math or art – could help tutor other kids. If your child doesn’t speak up in class, talk with the teacher about helping ease her into small group discussions or encourage her to express herself through written or artistic work.
At home, don’t let your more outgoing children overshadow a reserved child. Let the dominating kids know that they need to stop and give their quieter sibling equal time.
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Children who are naturally bashful will probably always feel somewhat anxious in unfamiliar settings, but they can be taught certain skills to become more at ease. For example, teach them how to answer the telephone in a clear voice and take messages. This builds confidence without having to look a stranger in the eye.
Before going to any new event – a birthday party, large family gathering or religious ceremony – talk with your child about what to expect. The more specific information kids have – about who will be there, how long the event will last, what exotic foods may be offered – the more their fears will be relieved. They’ll also be more comfortable if you do some role-playing in advance. (“Pretend I’m Uncle Charles, and I come up to you with my hand outstretched. What will you do and say?”) Parents often overlook the fact that all children benefit when taught basic manners — how to shake hands, introduce themselves, look people in the eye. Knowing these social skills gives children reassurance that they won’t stick their feet in their mouths.
Finally, keep in mind that a shy nature isn’t a bad thing. Kids who are slow to warm up are less likely to follow the crowd and take potentially dangerous risks. For instance, shy children are less likely to get in a car with a stranger. And clingy four-year-olds tend to grow up to become more cautious teenagers who tend to wait and size up a situation before engaging in risky behavior with friends.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Sometimes it’s hard for parents to know how to walk that thin line between being too permissive and too authoritarian. Especially for those of us who had parents who were overly strict, we may go to the other extreme by being too indulgent with our kids.
Many parents give in too easily because they don’t want to see their children upset or unhappy. Grandparents can get away with overindulging their grandchildren, but you can’t-because part of the job description of a caring, effective parent is to set reasonable limits. But it takes skill and practice to avoid giving in, especially when kids try to get us to turn “no” into “yes” by whining, having tantrums or telling us how mean or unfair we are. Here are some suggestions to avoid spoiling your child:When you have to say no, mean it. Say it firmly without a question mark in your voice. It’s not always easy to stick to your guns, but it’s your job! Children won’t thank you for it either. They may even tell you they hate you, so don’t take it personally.
Be willing to be unpopular with your kids.* Give yourself permission to say no and give them permission to be angry and upset with you. Don’t allow your child to decide what is acceptable and what isn’t.
Have clear rules, especially about safety or the values of your home. But don’t have too many. Choose your battles and don’t sweat the small stuff. Before you make a big fuss over something, ask yourself, “will this matter a week from now?” Some parents in my workshops find it helpful to make a list of the non-negotiable rules in their house, and to post it on the refrigerator as a visual reminder.
Try not to make impulsive threats or bribes. When we’re furious, exhausted or stressed out, we sometimes make threats that we’re not likely to carry out. When you feel like you’re about to lose your cool, try taking an adult time out.
Shower your children with time, not material things. Most kids have too many toys, anyway. Remember that the best gifts you can give your children are those occasional moments of your undivided attention.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
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