Transforming Struggles with Kids into Parenting that Works
Kyle, a happy, active, strong-minded 5-year-old, was busy playing after dinner when he was supposed to be clearing the table. His dad called him repeatedly, trying to get his attention to come help. Kyle, seeming oblivious, did not respond and kept on playing.
Common scenario 1: Dad got angry, yelling louder and louder. “This has to stop! You are being selfish — you cannot keep doing this every night!” Eventually Kyle protested, then started crying and screaming. Dad struggled some more but finally gave up and told Kyle to go to his room for a timeout.
Common scenario 2: Dad got angry and frustrated, yelling, “Kyle, stop ignoring me! I expect you to listen to me when I talk to you.” After some attempts to force him and pull him into the kitchen, Kyle yelled back, “You can’t make me!” and stormed away. Dad finally gave up, but then didn’t read him a bedtime story. The next day he had a talk with Kyle about respect and consideration. Kyle put his head down and said he was sorry.
Kyle’s dad alternated between feeling self-righteous, when he viewed Kyle as selfish, and feeling bad and guilty, when he recognized that Kyle was scared, confused and ashamed. He was pained to see Kyle frightened by him, the way he felt with his dad.
What are the undesirable effects of parents’ reactions in these scenarios?
- Fuels control struggles and negative parent-child interactions.
- Promotes shame, anger and defiance in kids.
- Fails to demonstrate positive, effective ways to get others to help.
- Deprives kids of opportunities to be helpful and successful.
- Sets a negative example and reinforces tantrum-like behavior: escalating anger, and use of emotional force through guilt and withholding affection.
What caused this escalation?
- Reading negative intention into children’s behavior — a framework that sets parents up to be angry, which obstructs effective solutions.
- Getting into a rigid mindset and repeating ineffective “strategies.”
Some issues may be unconscious. Parents may unknowingly re-experience feelings from their own childhood, causing them to view parent-child situations through the lenses of the past. Buried feelings emerge, propelled by an automatic inner dialogue, which recreates past dynamics and perpetuates overreactions.
Common reactions with kids that come from the parents’ childhood feelings: