|Posted on December 17, 2010|
Kids are very good at compartmentalizing; meaning they frequently put their values and behaviors in separate compartments. After a blow-up or conflict, struggling pre-teens and teens are quick to brush-over these events. Once the storm has died down, kids quickly move on as though nothing ever happened, and many even show anger if mom and dad attempt to bring the topic up again. Meanwhile mom and dad may take longer to process and understand what just happened. Episodes of behavior, whether it is lying, stealing, anger, drug use, shutting down, or bullying, frequently become landmines in the home for parents to tip-toe around. Not only are parents struggling and worrying about their children’s behavior, moreover they are at a loss in knowing how to address their concerns.
What is most problematic is not an anger outburst, or a single episode of behavior; it is the over-arching pattern of avoiding and compartmentalizing. All families have conflict, yet when families play out patterns over and over again without repairing or finding resolution, it is unlikely the pattern will change or improve. When kids are not held accountable, there is no impetus for change. When parents do not metaphorically hold up a mirror for kids to see a) their behavior clearly or b) how their behavior impacts others – chances are the family will get through one storm only for another storm to brew. Yet, how do parents hold their kids accountable when they fear it will create more conflict?
When kids compartmentalize their values (for example, most kids will say honesty and respect is important) and their behavior (while lying and showing disrespect), it becomes increasingly hard for kid’s behavior to match their values. This repetitive split can actually interfere with children’s emotional and moral development, and create suffering. Parents might think kids delight in tricking them, however when kids put more energy into finding short-cuts, lying, bullying and avoiding, they are not building confidence and esteem, and they may even feel worse about themselves.
All children have values, even children that are struggling. Parents can help their children become congruent in their words, actions and values. One way to do this is to keep putting children’s behavior back on their laps. “How do you feel about what happened yesterday?” “What does it feel like inside when you get so angry?” “What do you think will help you next time?” “What does it feel like when you shut-down?” “How do you feel now about the bullying?” “How do you want to deal with this problem?” When parents first elicit what their child thinks and feels they are attempting to connect the child to his or her own values and foster self-awareness, rather that stating their own parental thoughts, feelings and opinions. When parents emotionally react or lecture, kids get defensive, shut-down and blame parents, rather than looking at their own behavior. The lesson of self-awareness can easily be lost.
It is critical at times for parents to take themselves out of the equation, and allow kids to evaluate themselves. What does your child think about his choices? This can be a powerful reframe. If parents don’t allow the problem to rest on their child’s lap, the child can quickly find some way to blame the parent and avoid looking at his or her own behavior. Rather than having a conflict in the parent-child relationship, the child can struggle internally with how his behaviors do not always align with his values. Parents can have empathy for this process and reflect on how adults also struggle with living from their own values; the goal for the child is to grow in self-awareness, continually. With self-awareness comes congruence.
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