Does your child complain that you don’t understand him/her? Your response: I know what is good for you and I know what are struggling with because, I struggled too at your age with the same things. Kid: But you don’t understand me. Parent: I understand that if you don’t buckle down and do what you need to do, you’ll be lucky to get a job working in a fast food joint, if you graduate.
- Parental Statements: I just can’t stand this anymore, we’ve given you so much, not have to struggle like we did, we love you and want the best for you, we want to be proud of you, your just ungrateful and full of anger, I don’t know what else to take away from you, I really don’t like you this way, you are a painful wart on the back of humanity, you leave me feeling helpless, angry, confused and you name it.
- The Child’s Statements: You just don’t understand me, I hate you, etc, I can’t wait to just get out of here, you suck, home sucks, school sucks or maybe so does life in general.
If this sounds familiar or it’s variation, I want to give you some new hope. You need support right now if things are spinning in a downward spiral. You need a therapist who will work with the child and parents to get everyone on the same page. First of all, an angry person is in defensive mode and cannot process new information. The anger is a sign of the fight-flight stress response (primitive survival mode thinking) to something that you need to understand. Usually this is not fully understood by the child because they don’t have the capacity to look at it from a comfortable distance and process it. You as parent just need to know nothing goes in when somebody is angry and upset. Stop beating your head on a brick wall by trying to explain and reason. The only time to talk to your child in a reflective way is when everyone is in a calm state. The brain circuits are in receptive mode when both the right left hemispheres are both working together and the emergency circuits of the limbic system are quieted down and less reactive. In anger, the child is just trying to survive, is defensive, ready for flight, fight or just shutting down in isolation. Put in simpler terms, the brain that is calm is less chaotic, less ruminating, less rigid and more able to be flexible toward problem solving. The parent needs to learn about the child’s challenge at the time of worry and concern that generates this core of negativity. You must learn a new way of listening, attuning to the child’s struggles. If this is not worked on, the struggle will lead to more distancing rather than reciprocity between the two of you. At the bottom of rage, may be hurt, confusion, shame, feelings of inadequacy and worry. When you address the outcome of their laziness, not doing their work, not being dependable, not staying on task and all the things that go along with not doing their job as you see it, then you are missing the child’s main issue. It is something that they’re experiencing that they cannot even articulate. It is like something right in their face that feels bigger than they can put into words because it’s all new to the developing child. For example, when there are body changes associated with puberty, these are not only external, but also hormonal, and brain changes with new experiencing, perceptions, feelings, wishes and wants. There are not only external changes, but also new brain connectivity. They need time to grow into their new ever-changing embodied brains and the meanings they attribute to everything going on inside and outside themselves. They desperately want to feel less weird and more normal and acceptable. They may be anxious and upset because they are losing their old familiar selves. Like one youngster shared with me, “I used to feel smart, now I feel like I’m just barely able to keep up”. Girls at age 9 or 10 may be concerned about their appearances, maybe feeling that they are getting too fat or that they’re concerned about being accepted by the female peers as well as how to better deal with all the feelings of embarrassment that they face given their anxiety going through these changes. For pubertal boys, common concerns may involve gender identification (what do I do with all the sexual feelings that are flooding me), capacity to compete as well as feeling acceptable. Boys may complain feeling as if they’re falling apart. Understand that teens and younger kids can’t even voice or totally comprehend the cause of their worry and concern, as it is right in their face. When you remind them of the reality of what they need to do, they feel you miss the point in being with them in the moment of their concerns and crisis.
How can you be a good enough parent? First of all, it’s their reality that needs to be understood. It is not about the future reality that needs to be focused on at their crisis moment. The child is quite aware of your worry and concern, but they don’t know how to deal with the emotional flooding. It is difficult for parents to attune themselves to their youngster, when the parent is also worried and concerned about the child grim future. One mother may believe for example that if she doesn’t keep her early adolescent busy every moment of the day, that he or she may become involved in drugs as a way to find comfort and get into even more difficulties. It’s difficult for the parent to, if they have never slowed down enough to look inside themselves, to be able to do this with their child. In our affluent community of high achieving parents, consider the older teen preparing to go off to college. Many may be terrified. Their parents may have been academic stars and highly successful. How will I measure up, especially when I can’t concentrate on my studies in a state of worrisome anxiety? One failed exam has much more meaning to such a child. At this older age, therapy is focused helping the young adult develop his or her own unique psychological space. They learn to focus on the here and now and learn to modulate the negative feeling states associated with past and future worries. I believe that you can come home again to be with family, when the family can also learn to value the new struggles the young adult is navigating. This is something that I help families with particularly around college vacation times. It’s the therapist’s job working with the child sometimes with family members and sometimes not, helping the older child become aware of their separateness, uniqueness as a budding adults.
If you are locked in a struggle with your youngster and are feeling more helpless, I invite you to explore more of my blogs to hopefully find that there are many ways to regain hope in this ever-changing pathway called life. Feel free to give me a call, if you wish (630-527-1631, Dr. Kraus). I am happy to listen when I have time. There are no dumb questions and each situation calls for individualized creative solution. You are very important to your family, even if they don’t always see eye to eye with you. There is a book entitled, The Dance of Anger (about couples) that also fits this dance between child and parents.