Category Archives: Parenting

Inquisitive Parent: “My dad asks too many questions. Why is he so nosy?”

"Take Off"—Blue Angels by Mimi Stuart© Live the Life you Desire

“Take Off”—Blue Angels by Mimi Stuart ©

It’s normal for parents to want to connect with their kids. Asking questions or wanting to give advice may be the way they attempt to connect with them.

It’s almost always best not to become reactive, angry or recalcitrant, particularly when your parent is well-intentioned. Instead, try to preempt your dad by finding a way to make that connection without having to answer questions that you don’t feel like answering.

You could find a way to approach him first. Have a few questions ready for him. For example, ask him about his youth, early jobs, school, friends, difficulties, challenges, movies, books, where he got his political leanings etc. before he gets a chance to ask you too much.

When he asks you something, give a brief answer without getting defensive, and then say, “What about you, Dad, when did you go on your first date?” You might not be very curious, but it will take the focus off of you, and the answer could be interesting.

You could also disclose some information about yourself that you don’t mind disclosing before he starts asking questions. Talk about an event at school, at work or in the news. If you make the effort to connect and converse on your terms, he may not be as interested in inquiring about the private details of your life.

If you persist in keeping everything completely private, that will only provoke his interest. For instance, if you never mention anything about whom you’re dating, he will be more interested than if you give him just the basic information in a nonchalant tone of voice.

The best defense is a good offense, although in this case we’re not talking about a fight, but about an attempt to make a human connection.

One day if you have kids, you too may stumble a bit in trying to make a connection.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Too Much Attachment: ‘Honey, you’re so smart and talented!’”

Read “Dreading intrusive questions at family gatherings: ‘It’s none of your business!’”

“I worry a lot over my adult children and I often call them to give advice.”

"Tempest" by Mimi Stuart ©  Live the Life you Desire

“Tempest” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Fear is an important emotion that signals there is potential danger. Being aware of danger makes it possible for us to protect ourselves and others from jeopardy.

Worry

Worry, however, is an ineffective state of anxiety where we repeatedly imagine all sorts of negative possibilities. Once our children are young adults and off to college or work, worry on our part degrades the quality of our lives rather than helps our children. While unfortunate things do happen, there is a point where worrying about our children doesn’t help and in fact sometimes can make things worse.

Too much warning

When you continually warn your adult children of all the dangers in the world, it often causes them to be less careful. Even with young children you should make sure not to be overly anxious or you will lose credibility with them. Moreover, you will annoy them by infantilizing them and implying that that they are not capable of thinking on their own.

Imagine being a child. If an adult is constantly warning you of danger, you don’t take on responsibility and accountability for looking for those dangers yourself. Moreover, you soon see the warnings as being exaggerated. So the reckless part of you wants to act out. The degree to which someone focuses on telling you to be careful is the degree to which you will either become overly fearful or overly reckless, and sometimes ironically both.

Learning to evaluate risk

The best way to learn to evaluate risk is by having many experiences of evaluating risk, and sometimes making mistakes and facing the consequences. When you know that you are accountable for yourself, you tend to put more effort into evaluating situations and making decisions.

Children need to be able to make mistakes, sometimes painful, within the context of a safe environment. Of course, small children need to be kept safe. Over time, however, parents should gradually allow their children more leeway to think about the choices they make. Certainly by the time their children become adults, parents are only cultivating codependence, resentment, and rebellion by inundating their children with lectures and warnings.

Thus, if you tend to worry and frequently give caution to your adult children or excessively give warning to your younger children, you need to take stock, gain some self-discipline and resist focusing on your children. If you rarely give advice, the advice you do give will be taken more seriously.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “I am overwhelmed by worry.”

Read “I fear something bad is going to happen. It feels like the end of the world.”

Read “I found out my daughter has cancer. All I can do is cry and worry.”

Grit: “You’re absolutely amazing Honey!”

Indomitable Spirit, Apa SherpaIt turns out the greatest indicator of success is not IQ, family wealth, good looks, or artificially-induced “self-esteem,” but something Angela Lee Duckworth calls “grit,” which is the ability to persevere at working hard despite the failures and challenges that confront us on a daily basis.

Imagine being a child whose parents’ ongoing commentary is, “You’re so smart. Look what you’ve done! You are amazing!” At first, such adulation might make you feel good, particularly when you’re two years old. Pretty soon, however, you realize that others are as smart or smarter than you and you begin doubting your parents. You fear being found out, which often leads to a lack of motivation. You unconsciously fear that any aspiration might lead to disappointment and embarrassment when you are found to be lacking your parents’ high assessment and expectations.

“I better not try this new sport. I don’t want to look like a beginner.”

“I’m not going to study for this test. It’s too embarrassing If I study and do poorly. Instead I’ll point out how stupid the teacher is.”

“I’ll make it look like it’s my decision not to try. I would hate to appear average after trying.”

Now imagine being a child whose parents never give their approval and in fact spend most of their time criticizing you. It would make you feel angry, depressed and horrible about yourself. It might, however, lead you to try harder to win their approval. Yet if you do succeed in the outside world and even if you do eventually get their approval, you will still have that inner voice that never thinks you’re good enough. Again you live with a fear of being found to be inadequate because no matter what external success you achieve, you can’t get rid of the feeling that you are inferior. Living with an inner critic that says you’re worthless is a painful way to go through life.

What kind of parenting then is likely to foster your children’s grit and not leave them with a tyrannical inner critic? Inborn personality traits and genetics do influence how a particular child grows and develops in a particular environment. In general, however, a child is likely to develop self-motivation, healthy self-esteem, and an ability to persevere through frustration and failure under the following conditions:

1. The parent does not excessively judge the child in a negative manner, particularly in a general way, “That’s terrible. You’re lazy. You’ll never get it right.”

2. The parent does not lavish implausible praise upon the child, particularly in a general way, “That’s amazing. You’re fantastic. You’re the best, the smartest, the best-looking.”

3. The parent does give occasional specific constructive guidance. “Try moving your arm like this when you throw the ball.” “Maybe you want to try this,” or “Approach it this way.”

4. The parent does give specific statements of approval on occasion, such as “It looks like you worked hard for those good grades.” “That color blue gives the painting a feeling of peace.” “I enjoyed listening to your speech.” Note that if approval occurs twenty times a day, it will feel as though the parent is trying to boost the child’s self-esteem. The child will infer from this that the parent thinks the child needs such boosting because the parent thinks he or she is inadequate. In other words, constant efforts to give approval backfire.

5. The family appreciates hard work more than natural talent. “I appreciate the time you spent helping me.” “I admire your persistence.”

6. When there’s a setback or failure, the parent does not over-react either negatively or positively. For example, the parent does not say, “Oh no. I knew this would happen! You should have studied harder!” Or “Don’t worry honey, you really are the best. I’ll help you next time.” Instead the parent remains neutral and caring, but not over-involved. “I’m sure you will figure out what you need to do to make it work.”

7. Most importantly, the child grows up with a belief that effort and practice lead to improvement, rather than with a belief that the IQ and talents you’re born with are fixed. Simply learning about current research on the neuro-plasticity of our brain encourages a growth mind-set, which, in turn, is proven to promote hard work and self-motivation.

Self-motivation, self-control and self-possession are key to developing courage and grit. A person loses motivation when others push too much, get too involved or overreact. The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand, as Vince Lombardi, the great football coach, has put it. Ultimately, failure and being undeterred by failure are prerequisites to success in life, for Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts. ~Winston Churchill.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Seeking approval: ‘Why doesn’t my father appreciate me and all that I have accomplished?’”

Watch “Authoritarian vs Permissive Parenting.”

Read Guest Author SAM VAKNIN, PhD: “Can’t Get My Mother’s Voice Out of My Head!”

“Here’s a cookie. Now stop fussing.”

"'Kayab'" The Mayan Collection by Mimi Stuart ©  Live the Life you Desire

“‘Kayab'” The Mayan Collection by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Some parents will try anything to stop a child’s fussiness or crying. These parents are often responding to their own anxiety more than the child’s urgent situation and real need.

Infants, of course, should be looked after immediately when they cry because there probably is an urgent need. But over time, it’s best to allow the child to start handling his or her own anxiety without rushing in with a quick fix.

One of the most important skills in dealing with life challenges is learning to handle one’s own discomfort in the face of anxiety. If children are given sweets or drinks whenever they are fussy, they are encouraged to use their emotions to manipulate others to get something. They are also prevented from learning to soothe themselves when they feel anxious.

They are being trained to use food or drink to soothe their anxiety. People who as children have always been distracted by food or drink when they’re upset have been neurologically hard wired to seek food, drink or attention the moment they feel anxious.

People learn to deal with apprehension and unfamiliar circumstances in early childhood. Anxiety is simply a physical state of increased attentiveness in the face of an unknown situation. Anything new or unknown in life provokes some anxiety. So if children don’t learn to deal with anxiety without having to consume something, they may end up consuming a lot more than is healthy for them.

When your child is fussy, and not in danger, pain, or real need, you should remain relaxed and calm. Actually, it’s usually helpful to remain calm. Having the demeanor of a good pilot or nurse, the parent’s attitude should be one that conveys to the child “Don’t worry, everything will be okay. You’ll figure it out. Be patient and you’ll be fine.”

This is not to say that parents shouldn’t respond to their children’s real needs. But they should not rush to the rescue with cream-puffs and root beer as a way to deal with the child’s discomfort. The more children experience new situations without reaching for a pacifier or cookie, the more confident they will feel in the face of challenges in the future. This means that it’s important for parents to learn to deal with their anxiety as well.

Research shows that those who are able to defer gratification are much more successful in life. Check out The Marshmallow Experiment.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read  “Too Much Attachment:  ‘Honey, you’re so smart and talented!’”

Read  “Good-enough Parenting:  ‘I feel so bad when I let my children down.’”

Read “Overfunctioning and underfunctioning:  ‘If I don’t take care of things, nothing will ever get done.’”

“Come on, three more bites of dinner.”

"Intimidator" Theo Fleury by Mimi Stuart©  Live the Life you Desire

“Intimidator” Theo Fleury by Mimi Stuart©
Live the Life you Desire

Except in rare cases, children instinctively know when and how much they need to eat. Telling a child to finish dinner is unnecessary, annoying, and controlling. It often leads to unhealthy emotional reactions to the natural process of eating only when hungry.

Other than reasonable rules, such as no unhealthy snacks before dinner, not serving yourself more than you can finish, or not having junk food and candy in the house, it’s best not to vigilantly control how much your child eats.

When children receive a lot of attention over how much or what they eat, their behavior relating to food becomes a way to get a response from those around them. It may become a way to gain a sense of control, to get attention, to rebel, or to get approval. These are not healthy reasons to determine how much or what to eat.

Children go through phases of eating little and eating a lot. When they do not receive too much external direction, they learn to pay attention and respond appropriately to their own physical needs. This is one of the area’s in a child’s life where more freedom is healthy, as long as there’s not too much junk food available.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Watch “Authoritarian vs Permissive Parenting.”

Read “My parent was controlling.” How we develop Defense Mechanisms (Part I)

Read “Parenting too Strictly: ‘Because I said so!’”

Seeking approval:
“Why doesn’t my father appreciate me and all that I have accomplished?”

"Bicicletas para Alquilar" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Bicicletas para Alquilar” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

In the presence of close family members we sometimes revert back to being a child. We may still crave the approval that we feel we never felt we received.

Yet the trouble with seeking approval is threefold:

1. The approval we seek may be sought from someone who is incapable of giving it.

2. The more we yearn for that outside approval, the less likely we are to receive it. Often people who are reluctant to give approval are negatively triggered by those who yearn for it.

3. By the time we are adults, the disapproval we sense has become internalized. Therefore, we have to generate the approval we seek within ourselves rather than seeking it from others.

Even if your father finally sees the light and says, “You are amazing! I’m so proud of you,” you will probably not feel that magical feeling of self-worth you’ve desired for so long. By the time you’re an adult, the feeling of inadequacy stems from your internalized father—that internal negative voice that has been with you so long.

Transforming the internal voice

Now it is up to you to transform the voice in your head. This may be as difficult as transforming your real father. However, it’s a relief to know that we actually have considerable control over our own thinking.

We can develop new habits of thinking and thereby create that sought-after approval or desired harmony. You need to catch yourself every time you have a negative thought and replace it with a positive one.

For instance, when you hear an inner voice saying, “You’ll probably botch your interview,” replace it with, “I will prepare for this interview as well as I can.” When you say to yourself, “I’m the dumbest person here,” with “Nobody here is perfect; I’ll just do my best.” After fifty or a hundred thought replacements, each successive one becomes easier. After a few hundred or thousand replacements, your habit will have changed.

Or replace the thought, “I’m never good enough for him to appreciate me,” with a more positive thought: “Too bad for him that he isn’t able to show appreciation, but I know I did a good job.” After many such replacements, more constructive thinking will come automatically and you will no longer crave that approval from the outside.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Feeling Shame: ‘I’m not worthy to be loved.’”

Read “Rebuilding your Life: ‘How do I silence their abusive voices in my head, stop being hard on myself and start living?’”