If the small stuff like bad test grades, periodic fights with siblings, friendships that come and go, or occasional defiance with food does not faze you as a parent, the tough stuff will. Sometimes it is a gradual progression, sometimes it comes in waves, and sometimes it hits you all at once. Whatever the method, the tough stuff of parenting can catch you off guard and leave you questioning yourself, your family and your child.
Perhaps you are dealing with a child who has uncontrollable anger with outbursts so intense that they say hateful things, are uncharacteristically mean, threaten to harm themselves or others, or physically take their anger out on others. Perhaps you are dealing with a child who stays out all night, comes home acting differently, has questionable friends, lies frequently or displays other signs of potential substance abuse. Perhaps you are dealing with a child who has withdrawn from most social engagements, has no desire to be with any friends, whose grades are slipping, spend most of their time sleeping or has no interest in things they enjoyed before. Or perhaps you are dealing with a child who threatens to commit suicide, has marks on their arms and legs indicating cutting, has lost extreme amounts of weight, or seems to do things to gain excessive amounts of attention. Whichever situation you are dealing with, this is the tough stuff. So what do you do?
Don’t deny. A common philosophy is to blame yourself for your child’s behavior. This is encouraged in psychology with Freudian beliefs, in society where to admit your child has a problem means that there is something wrong with you, and in our own internal thoughts when we rather blame ourselves than to be honest with the situation. While your child’s behavior is at some point their responsibility and choice and not yours, there is something to be said for a little self-reflection. What is your child’s behavior telling you? Are they acting angry because you are suppressing anger? Are they demanding attention because they don’t feel loved? Are they withdrawing because they have been hurt by someone they trusted? Be honest with the situation and listen to the clues from your child’s behavior.
Deal with yourself first. Remember the instructions on an airplane, put your own mask first and then help your child. If your teenage child’s two year old temper tantrum is because they feel overwhelmed with all of the expectations placed on them, then look at the expectations that you have placed unnecessarily on them. More importantly, look at why those expectations have been placed. Are you placing expectations on your child that were placed on you? How do you feel about that? Or are you placing expectations that are inconsistent with your child’s talents and abilities just because others do the same to you? Again, be honest with yourself and see your child’s behavior as a reflection of the things you need to address that perhaps you have not addressed.
Do get help. More often than not, parents bring in their child to therapy to deal with their behavior but do not go to therapy to deal with their own behavior. It is so much easier to point the finger at your child and drag them into therapy instead of the dealing with your own issues. Therapy is most effective when the entire family admits that there is a problem and each person deals with their own issues separately and together. Your child will do far better in therapy when they see you doing better because of therapy. Be the example that your child needs and get help for your issues.
Many parents will admit that they need help parenting but few will actually take the first step of getting help. Even fewer will go into therapy for themselves before they send their child however; this is the best method for healing.
Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort. If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment. Or you can send me a quick email at firstname.lastname@example.org.