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Do You Understand Your Children?

Do You Understand Your Children?

Do You Understand Your Children?

My sons’ 7th grade science teacher invited parents to join a book club this April to share about adolescence. Being a psychologist and having been through two teenagers already I had already read the book, but was happy to re-read it to refresh myself. The book is Why Do They Act that Way?, by David Walsh (2004). I must say that I have found this book truly refreshing and no matter what you think you know as a professional or an experienced parent- kids are genius’ for showing us we know zero. Each child will be different and reminders of how the adolescent brain works is very important to staying on top of your game. Knowing why your child acts a certain way is key to knowing how to be a better parent. If you know your child gets sassy when they are hungry then call them out on this and encourage a snack before further discussion about a topic. If you know your child becomes more verbally and/or physically aggressive after excessive screen time, then inform your child you have observed this behavior and are limiting screen time and even possibly eliminating potentially violent game/shows. If you know your child throws tantrums/ yells at a sibling a lot, consider just grabbing the child into a loving hug- helping your child by controlling their body that they cannot and giving them positive attention at the same time.

I loved rereading this book because it made me accountable for all the areas of parenting that I wasn’t doing well- luckily I took that well. While this book is referencing the adolescent brain- it applies to all children. One point made in the book is to talk naturally to your child about everything from birth all the way through adulthood. Waiting until your teen is a teen to talk about menstrual cycles, body changes, relationships, drugs, sex, etc is too late. Teens really will have trouble believing you know what you are talking about if you only mention something once. Many parents are uncomfortable talking to their kids about life events such as body changes, drugs, sex, death, divorce, etc. My advice is to just start talking, but keep it brief. Be aware of opportunities to mention something, such as reading a book to your child that mentions a character feeling a certain way or noticing changes- you can quickly ask if they have similar feelings…. Leave a book about the subject lying around the family room and then mention it at a later date. When something happens in a movie or show seize the opportunity to share this with your child and make sure they understand what it was really about.

I personally feel it is extremely important as a parent to teach our children how to talk about difficult topics and to become comfortable by recognizing this is all part of life. Some families believe we encourage children to do things by talking about them, but this is very inaccurate. Telling your 8 year old that one day they may see one of their friends smoking cigarettes and the friend may offer them one is not encouraging your child to smoke, but preparing them for how to handle the situation. Just the other night my daughters brand new hamster died while I was out at dinner. She did not know as she was sleeping. My friends at dinner told me to make up a story about how it died or to try and get a new one before she woke up. I disagreed with all of that. The hamster died because she forgot to give him water all day because she and her friends were playing with him outside his cage and the poor thing dehydrated (they are so tiny, who knew that would happen within 12 hours). The next morning as expected she came to tell me her hamster was missing. I informed her that he died and explained that two main things happened to cause this death- she had him in the sun by the pool and left him in his carrier without water all day. She was heartbroken. We buried him in the backyard. She then said with tears in her eyes, “I know this is terrible, but can I get another one.” I told her it’s not terrible and maybe in a few weeks we will get another one, but for now I need her to feel the sadness and understand that we did not take care of this living being and we cannot take that lack of responsibility lightly. Life lessons are hard, but she understood and one week has gone by with her sad off and on, but also with her immediately recognizing rules for her friends and that she has to take charge and be responsible for her things.
Another topic Walsh talks about is parenting styles, which are good to be aware of yourself. A couple weeks ago I checked in with my kids on how they see me as a parent. I explained the different styles of parenting using terms I like from Kids are Worth It by Barbara Coloroso, 2002 (Jellyfish- let’s kids do whatever they want, Brick Wall- commands kids to do only what they say, and Backbone- flexible, sets boundaries but also hears out needs of child and may bend in their direction if needs are within parental values/boundaries and allows growth for the child). Big guess for the kind of parent we should all be. I asked my children what kind of parent they saw me as being- at first my son hesitated, not my daughter- she blurted out “you are in between jellyfish and backbone, mom.” My son agreed with her and I think I surprised them by agreeing too. I told them my goal is always to be backbone but sometimes I get caught up in them being so good most of the time that I give in to things or I’m too tired and give in. It’s hard being a kid and even more difficult being a parent. But our job is to ultimately produce someone that will make their way on their own in the world and contribute positively to our society. Children and teens must have boundaries and consistency from the parents. This allows them to feel safe and give them freedom to grow/learn. We are not in this alone, find places/people you can trust with your children and make them your outer family support system. Most importantly, do not be afraid to admit mistakes to your children or retract something you feel was shouted out in anger versus made with a clear mind. This is how we all learn.

Mistie Eltrich
Mistie has worked with children all her life, making it an official career when she became a School Psychologist in 1998. Pursuing her dream, in 2001, Mistie earned her doctorate degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University. She has worked in schools with children pre-school through high school, but mostly preschool through elementary aged schools. She also worked in a special needs school (Gillen Brewer) in NYC. However, her biggest job has been to parent her four children (two were easier births as they are her step children- none the less hers). Being a parent is a constant review for her career and sanity, but most importantly her joy.

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