Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

Attention Parents: Are You a Control Freak?

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog

not-really-a-control-freak

I have to admit it: I am a recovering control freak.

Of course there are degrees of this freakiness but if one is anywhere on the continuum, it’s time to take a hard look at your behavior, as I did, and understand how it might be hurting rather than helping the child or teenager you love with all your heart. As a provider of counseling and psychotherapy, and especially as a mother, I wrestled for a long time trying to define the word “control” and examine my parenting style to see if it characterized my interactions with my children. Once I began to really understand the devious nature of control, I identified it and went to work on understanding its origin and making changes to my parenting approach.

Controlling can take many forms and most of us shudder at the idea that we would embody this characteristic. We may justify our actions by saying, “but I would do anything for my child,” “I want to make sure he doesn’t get into trouble, “I want her to be more responsible.” Some examples of control may include:

– Offering an abundance of unsolicited “advice” that we think is helpful. This often entails phrases, such as, “you need to …” and “you should …”
– Reminding our children repeatedly to do their homework, chores, tidy their room, eat, not eat, etc.
– Modeling high standards of achievement with the expectation that our kids will attain those standards
– Expecting our children to conform to our cultural notion of politeness, maturity, style of dress
– Having ideas of what is “the right way” to do something—and imposing that on our child
– Expecting our children to suppress their emotion and “stop making a big deal about it,” “get over it,” or “grow up”
– Predominantly praising our children for things that are meaningful to us, e.g. good grades, winning the competition, making the swim team

The paradox here is that parents who use a lot of control tactics are most often responding to an inner sense of anxiety or powerlessness they experienced as children. For example, if a woman, in her own childhood, was praised only when she came home with good grades or was first on the track team, it may be that she learned (consciously or unconsciously) to equate love and acceptance with accomplishment. Thus, getting a child to behave in a certain way may alleviate anxiety or powerlessness parents experienced in their own childhoods—bringing peace of mind, a sense of order and predictability, and often the external recognition they craved as children.

The problem with control is in the insidious messages it sends to a child or young adult: I don’t believe you can be responsible for yourself; you don’t make wise choices; you need me to take care of you. The irony is that our child learns the very powerlessness we ourselves experienced as children, and by which we are still bound.

Isn’t control synonymous with parenting?
The answer is, ‘no.” A parent’s role is to guide, develop, and educate a child so he or she transitions into an adult who is capable of fully functioning in the world and holds him/herself accountable for his/her choices. This is no simple feat, to be sure, and the subject has been worthy of many books. Establishing firm structure, while respecting, inviting, validating, and gently challenging our children are the keys to healthy parenting, as is admitting mistakes. Letting go of control may mean allowing your child to mess things up or fail, both of which, paradoxically, will stand him/her in good stead on the road of life.

If you feel what you’ve read so far resonates for you as a parent, don’t feel hopeless, helpless, or that you have failed your child. It’s never too late to change the patterns of our relating with those we love. Reflect on your own childhood, attempt to identify aspects of controlling behavior, and consider if counseling may be helpful.

Recommended reading on parenting: The Heart of Parenting: Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. By John Gottman, Ph.D.

To read about parenting teenagers, specifically, please see my blog, titled: A Few Tips for Surviving Teenage Turbulence.

Are You Optimizing your Public School Options to Help Your Child?

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog

As a provider of therapy and school counseling services, it’s apparent to me that parents often have no idea how to optimize public school options to make sure kids who are going through a difficult time are well supported in their academic environment. School counselors (who are not therapists), for the most part, have huge numbers of kids that they are overseeing, with ratios sometimes as high as 1 to 400. Some are academic advisors only; some are personal and social counselors; and others have dual functions. Understanding your school’s resources and using them are very much worth a parent’s time in an effort to help their child.

Kids spend almost 30 hours of their week in the school setting, so it can make a significant difference to your child if you let teachers and the school counselor be aware of issues such as low self esteem, depression, learning disorders, anxiety, fears of bullying or any ongoing bulling that you know about. Similarly, it’s in your child’s best interest that teachers and counselors be informed about family changes such as separation, divorce, death, illness, remarriage, and blended families. While, as parents, we may sometimes feel we want to keep certain events in our lives private from school, the benefit to your child when school personnel are informed far outweighs the drawbacks. In addition to teachers being more kind, sensitive to and patient with your child’s behavioral changes, counselors can often form a special bond with your child and check in with him/her one or more times a week. If your child needs more formal support, 504 Plans or Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) may be called for to put in place and will require involvement of the school psychologist.

The best way to communicate with your school’s personnel is by telephone with a follow up e-mail referring to your conversation and your request for assistance. Documenting your requests and the school’s agreed interventions or measures of support is recommended. It will be up to you to be your child’s best advocate and make sure what the school agreed to is followed through on. For children who need extensive accommodations as part of Individualized Education Plans, if affordable, parents may wish to hire an education advocate to guide them through the IEP process and optimize services.

During difficult and changing times, school can become a major stressor for your child. When parents and schools work together, the school environment can be one that offers children greatly needed support and predictability to navigate those difficult times.