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Don't be afraid of your children

By John Rosemond, Tribune News Service on

"Are you afraid of your child/children?" I query folks who testify to children who frequently engage in flagrant antisocial behavior – tantrums, brazen disrespect, and belligerent disobedience being the top three.

I cannot recall an exception to parents – hundreds and counting – answering "Yes." Therefore, it seems that fear of one's child and major discipline problems are somehow related. Which came first? I suspect they develop simultaneously. Misbehavior begets anxiety, then downright fear, which begets even more outrageous misbehavior, begetting even more paralyzing fear, and so on. If pressed on the issue, I'd say the misbehavior comes first. A toddler's terribleness is capable of destroying romantic fantasies concerning human nature, rendering parents emotionally traumatized, in one day.

Invariably, the parents are looking for some consequence-based discipline method that can only be obtained from a victim of the ivory tower, but no method is going to work as long as they are afraid. What are they afraid of, anyway? They tell me, in so many words, that they never imagined a child who was loved could act so badly; that they feel powerless in the face of his tyrannical tirades; that they interpret his badness to mean they are bad parents.

They are entrapped in confusion, disillusionment, anger, guilt, self-doubt, and overwhelming anxiety. The syndrome is incapacitating. It drives many of these folks to seek the help of mental health professionals whose modus operandi can be reduced to test, diagnose, and medicate. Do things get better? For some, perhaps, but having been there, I long ago concluded that playing it by the book might make things less obvious in the short run but never "sticks." Furthermore, that sort of formulaic approach usually worsens things in the long haul.

The "trick," if you will, is for these parents to grasp the paradoxical importance of not caring. Their problem is that they care what their child thinks and feels. They assign deep philosophical meaning to their child's outbursts, which are nothing but equal parts dumb and insane. Their new parenting mantra must become, "We no longer care how you feel about the decisions we make, what you think of us at any given moment, how you want things to go around here, and the like, but be assured, if it came down to the last seat in the lifeboat, it's yours." Benevolent detachment in the age of parent-child bonding? Like I said, it's paradoxical.

 

The parents need to learn to substitute compassion for fear, anger, guilt, and other emotional responses that lead straight to efforts at negotiation; that is, any and all efforts to pacify the child. They must be willing, in other words, for things to get worse for a time. There is much truth in the well-known adage.

Compassion? Yes indeed. The child is in pain. There is no such thing as a happy child who cannot stop acting in no one's best interests, least of all his own. Under the circumstances, teaching the parents to embody and properly convey authority amounts to a rescue operation. Proper consequences – making the child offers he cannot refuse, but will anyway because he's not thinking straight – are part of the recipe but proper consequences absent a proper parental attitude will accomplish nothing in the long run.

As they say about baseball pitching, it's all in the delivery.

(c)2020 John Rosemond Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC
 

 

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