Early on in my practice as a therapist, I worked with a lovely but troubled young family from Maryland. These were parents of an 8-year old child who struggled with his mood. He often had emotional ‘melt-downs’ at school and home that involved severe tantrums and oppositional behaviour.
One evening when they came to see me for an appointment, the boy was wearing a t-shirt that read: “My Family is Afraid of Me.” Funny enough in a tongue in cheek sort of way. But for this family it spoke volumes about their issues. This was a trio where the power dynamics were consistently in favor of the child. Every effort was made by his parents to ensure he wouldn’t become upset or angry or dislike the outcome of something, even if that meant never saying the word “no” to him. When I gently confronted his parents about this, their response was simple enough: “We don’t want him to be mad at us.”
As a therapist, I work with a lot of concerned parents. But as a mother, I also hear from a lot of worrisome parents in regular social circles. More and more these days, it seems that parents are becoming increasingly anxious at the prospect of their children “not liking them.” This could be understandable with respect to older kids, but I’m talking more about young children ages 2 through 12 here. As a result, parents may have a tendency to placate their children more than would be considered healthy in order to avoid being seen as “the bad guy.” The problem with this approach is that the child may not learn an important life lesson: It’s ok to be disappointed and it’s a part of life!
Young children experience the highest level of physical and emotional dependency on their caregivers. The attachment patterns established with parents during early childhood form the foundation for how we relate to others as adults. Among other things, a healthy attachment is a relationship in which the parties can express both positive and negative emotions, without feeling a threat to the existence of the underlying bond and relationship.
At the end of the day, young children aren’t looking to their parents for friendship. They are looking to us for structure and limits, whether they realize it or not. The world at their tender age is confusing without them. They are also looking for guidance on how to navigate an often frustrating and unpredictable world in which they learn sooner or later that we don’t always get what we want. Help them understand this and cope with it early on. Teach them that expressing the appropriate emotion, in the right amount, and at the right time is important and won’t threaten a healthy loving relationship. As a parent, do what you think is best and don’t worry if your child gets angry with you for it. Let them. Believe me; they’ll get over it. And when they’re old enough, they might even thank you for it.
NKS Therapy offers services such as Career Counselling Toronto, Couples Counselling Toronto, Relationship Counselling Toronto, Family Counselling Toronto, Psychoeducational Assessment Toronto, Toronto Mental Health Services, Psychotherapy for Depression Toronto, Toronto Psychologist Services, and Child Psychologist Toronto Services. Call us today at 416-745-4745. We love to help.
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