“Nooooo, Mommy, Noooooo! Don’t GO!” screams the little fighting octopus fastened to your legs. It can be heart wrenching and embarrassing to pry your child away from you, and inconvenient when you’ve got a time constraint. (Why is my child the only one who gets hysterical every time we try to leave childcare to go to the church service?)
I have coached numerous parents of kids with separation anxiety, and there seems to be patterns of common underlying issues that feed this challenge:
- A child’s sensory sensitivities can make busy or less familiar environments over-stimulating, or just generally increase a child’s anxiety.
- Family stress – A chaotic family schedule or outside source of stress creates insecurity and hinders quality, joy-filled attention from a parent.
- Parents’ anxiety or guilt about their child’s distress during separation inadvertently sends a message expressed through non-verbals that, “You should be upset. I’m doing a terrible thing by leaving you!”
Will my kids choose good friends? Will they do well academically? Will they make wise choices when I’m not around to guide them? It’s normal to consider questions like these. However, if the answer is “no” to any of those reflective questions, anxiety can begin to rise and often a parent’s effort to control their child rises right along with it. It’s the brain’s natural coping response – when feeling internally out of control, we try to take charge of the situation to feel less anxious. This kind of reaction can become problematic, because we are not wise or helpful parents when we’re anxious and controlling. (Imagine how it would feel to have a boss at work engaging with a dip in your performance by anxiously reading your emails and checking every report!)
The Anxiety and Control Cycle
Anxiety and Control are partners in crime. They rob us of joy, contentment and peace. They rob our kids of encouragement and independence. In my parenting, and as I’ve coached parents over the years, I’ve noticed the spiraling impact of anxiety and control:
The more anxious I am about my child, the more likely I am to project a negative future for them, and the more likely they are to begin living out that projection. This makes it easy it is for me to rationalize doing things for them that they ought to be responsible for themselves, which builds their resentment and resistance towards me, which feeds my anxiety… and the beat goes on.
There are challenging kids, and there are “over-the-top” challenging kids. Research suggests that around 15% of all children are considered highly sensitive. What does this mean for parents of kids who exhibit these characteristics? More importantly, what kinds of behaviors classify as highly sensitive? Knowing that your child may be more sensitive than most need not be overly burdensome, there are many strategies for helping highly sensitive children thrive. Are any of the following comments true about your child? If so, read on to discover positive ways to help your child celebrate their uniqueness and succeed.
Does this sound like your child?
“Dressing is always an ordeal for my daughter. No tags, and sometimes no socks, because the seams drive her crazy.”
“My teen has never been a touchy kid. It used to be tough to get him to slow down for a hug, but now he even pulls away and acts like I’ve violated his space.”
“My child is such a picky eater. I feel like I’m always special order cooking from the ‘brown and white’ food group.”
“My son just can’t sit still – he’s always squirming and wiggling. It’s almost impossible to get him to slow down, look me in the eye and really listen.”
“My daughter’s mood swings are extreme and sometimes very sudden. The littlest things can set her off. Talk about intense! Her meltdowns wear me out.”
“My child is easily over-stimulated. Large groups of kids, crowded places or busy stores are usually a prescription for trouble.”
These comments are from parents who have one thing in common: highly sensitive children! These kids are easily overwhelmed by intense or aversive sensations from their body or their surroundings. They are almost always kids with highly sensitive nervous systems, and their challenging behavior is about much more than defiance or disobedience.
Over the years, Lynne and I have worked with many families who struggle with the same issues. Time and again, we see how a change in perspective can transform a parent-child relationship from one of tension to one filled with grace. When it comes to school, grades and performance, there is often a minefield of conflict over expectations. Parents often believe that they need to create change in their child to see improvement in work ethic and performance when it comes to grades. The truth is, change best starts with the parent.
Read on to learn how one mother and daughter set aside conflict and embraced grace for homework success without nagging:
Misty anxiously told me about her seventh grade daughter, Greta.
“Her grades are tanking! She’s sassy and defiant most of the time! I know she is capable of so much more, but she won’t dig in and live up to her potential. I check her grades every day. I’ve withheld privileges, created charts, offered rewards, and constantly reminded her. But it keeps getting worse. Our fights get louder by the day!”
When you’re constantly fighting with kids who don’t live up to their potential, we suggest a new approach, a new fight: the fight of faith to walk in the “fruit of the spirit.”
Getting an education is a tremendous privilege. Most parents recognize that future opportunities are built on many layers of learning that happen during the school years. That’s why when kids make poor choices at school, either behavioral or academic, parents usually get pretty upset. If we are honest, it’s mostly because we think our kids’ bad judgment or irresponsibility reflects poorly on US! But really, their behavior is THEIR “report card” and not ours. As school approaches, take some time to prepare your children to be responsible for themselves this school year.
Heading back to school can be an anxious and stressful time for kids — and for parents, too! New schedules, new notebooks, new teachers and classmates add up to a lot of excitement and oftentimes, anxiety. All that change can get everyone in the family into a tizzy. One important element to consider is the way in which a parent or caregiver can intentionally help children face the upcoming school year, especially if they are feeling nervous about school. Here are a few proactive tips to help smooth the transition this fall:
Photo: upyanose | iStockphoto.com
Parents sometimes feel like hostages to the intense demands of their children, intimidated into submission with the threat of “the big gun” – a deafening meltdown. One of our online course participants asked for help:
Our 3 1/2 year old son often wants a specific plate or cup. So if we set him up with one that he doesn’t like, he can be very vocal about it. Sometimes our initial reaction is something like “It doesn’t matter if you have the blue cup or the orange cup. Why can’t you be flexible & move on?!?! Get over it!” But perhaps he wants to exercise his choice & preference.
James Lee | Flickr
Today we’d like to introduce you to Joel and Amy. We’ve invited them to share their story of learning to parent their two sons.
There is a wise old tale that is told about the frog in the pot. If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will hop out. But, if you start the frog out in a pot of room-temperature water and then turn on the burner, the frog will remain in the pot, not attempting to hop out even when the water is boiling. That’s pretty much how someone could describe our family situation over the years: we just got used to the “water” in our house getting hotter and hotter as we kept trying to control our children and they kept reacting.
Photo Credit: 3dv1n iStockphoto.com
Have you ever noticed that kids rarely misbehave when they feel truly happy and deeply secure? There’s a reason for this.
When our children misbehave, there is almost always underlying discouragement or anxiety that drives the misbehavior. Rushing to address the misbehavior without understanding the discouragement often backfires, in one of two ways:
- It fuels the power struggle flames and misbehavior escalates.
- The intensity of effort to make it stop “works” to curb misbehavior in the short run, but feeds the discouragement, which feeds further misbehavior in the long run.
It doesn’t have to be this way.