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BOO!…Be Afraid Of…the kids?

October 29, 2010

Goblins and witches are out in costume this weekend.  But for some parents, mischief night continues past Halloween. I counseled three sets of parents this week, who talked with me about being afraid of their kids.  Their fears were different. One father was afraid that his substance abusing teenager might attack him physically. An aging parent  worried about whether (and how) to broach a sensitive topic in hopes that her  adult daughter would open up. A third parent described a child’s verbal abusiveness. The tables had turned on these parents, as had the notion of who was in charge, in control, and in power in their relationships. While children begin life and relationship in a highly dependent position, the asymmetrical relationship fig 1between parent and child can eventually flip to one in which the child, growing or grown, uses the very power of the relationship bond to scare a parent into silence. Unhealed injuries between parent and child can become combustible over time. After all, no matter how hard parents try, children are sometimes emotionally hurt by parents, and perhaps surprisingly to kids, parents also get hurt by kids.

What’s a parent to do? First let’s dispense with the notion that power works. If you use power to win your point with your child, please note that eventually power will be used against you. Remember in all lifelong relationships, it’s trust not power that creates closeness.But by all means: Set limits… drug or alcohol-infused explosions are off-limits. You won’t get anywhere when a substance is in the mix for either parent or child alike.  Next, don’t withdraw out of fear, but engage.  Listen for the softer hurt feelings underneath a child’s angry stance.  Talk about the worries you have for your child. Own up to your own responsibility. Figure out what’s reasonable to expect, and whether your expectations are fair.  If they are, hold your child accountable.Offer kindness and understanding with one hand and limits that are in a child’s best interests with the other. And please consider seeking professional help if the goblins are still flying long after Halloween.

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