Parenting is a difficult job. Every child is different and has unique needs for attention, learning, and setting limits. Children change as they grow and so do their needs. Behavior problems crop up when children struggle with the challenges before them or don’t know how to talk about their feelings.
Parents strive to do their best, but when they get exhausted, their coping skills break down and they end up using unproductive parenting and discipline methods. The relationship between parent and child deteriorates, making parenting even harder.
There are many styles of parenting, and parents try their best, but research shows that most parents use one or more of the following unproductive strategies.
The dismissive parent
- Uses distraction to shut down their children’s emotions (Your favorite TV show is coming on!)
- Believes feelings are irrational, so they don’t count (You have to stop over-reacting.)
- Feels uncomfortable when their children get emotional (You’re too sensitive!)
Children of dismissive parents learn that negative feelings are wrong, inappropriate, or invalid. They may have somatic complaints, such as stomach aches or headaches. They may stop trusting their instincts, lose self-confidence, and make poor decisions.
The disapproving parent
- Shames the child for having emotions (You’re being a cry baby!)
- Views the child’s emotions as manipulative (You can cry all you want; I’m not giving in.)
- Focuses on obedience and control (I said stop crying, now!)
Children of disapproving parents often are rebellious and defiant, getting into trouble at home and at school. Or, they may shut down, becoming withdrawn or depressed. Some learn to lie or become secretive. Some become people-pleasers. Children of disapproving parents are often rebellious and defiant.
The passive parent
- Gives in to stop the child’s emotional expression (Okay! Go out tonight if you want to!)
- Tolerates inappropriate emotional expression (Yelling, throwing things, or hitting doesn’t matter because you were upset.)
- Believes that emotional expression is a trait that cannot be changed (He’s always been sensitive.)
Children of passive parents can have trouble regulating their emotions so they go to emotional extremes; they have trouble concentrating, forming friendships or getting along with other children; they believe that if they keep escalating they will get their way; they don’t follow rules, they expect others to do things their way; they use emotions as the main basis for making decisions.
There is a technique called emotion coaching that allows parents to help their children cope with challenges, opens up communication and restores the parenting relationship. Emotion coaching has been studied extensively and is known to produce results. We teach parents emotion coaching to help their children cope with challenges. When children misbehave, break the rules, or react with strong emotions, parents who use emotion coaching see the problem as a teaching moment.
The emotion coaching parent
- Asks questions and listens to their child (What’s wrong?)
- Empathizes and validates their child’s feelings (I can see how that would bother you.)
- Helps their child label emotions (So, you are feeling angry right now.)
- Helps their child make the connection between frustrations and emotions (When he didn’t let you play, you felt angry.)
- Emphasizes that being upset is no excuse for bad behavior (Even if you’re angry, you still can’t throw things.)
- Teaches their child problem-solving skills (What can you do next time something like this happens?)
- Enforces responsibility for their child’s behavior (I want you to apologize to her)
Children of emotion coaching parents learn to trust their feelings, regulate their emotions, and address frustrations and problems. They have high self-esteem and get along well with others. They are easy to be around, because they recover from emotional distress easily.
Parenting is a challenge, even under the best of circumstances. If you are struggling with how to handle your child’s behavior, family therapy may help you learn to respond to your child’s behavior productively and enhance your relationship.
If you would like more information about how we help parents struggling with their children’s behavior problems, call us at 866-588-0477 or E-mail us to schedule a free, confidential phone consultation with one of our clinicians.