How do you deal with defiance in teenagers? All teens can be defiant some of the time. It can be a sign of healthy development as teens work to assert their own identity, but what happens when it is the daily pattern?
For oppositional behavior to be a true mental health diagnosis, a child must show a pattern of symptoms of angry/irritable, argumentative/defiant behavior, or vindictiveness for at least six months. Children and adolescents with ODD may have trouble controlling their temper and are disobedient and defy authority figures. Teenagers who present with these symptoms often have a history of depression or anxiety that coincides with this disorder. Treatment and medication that addresses these issues can reduce disruptive behavior as well.
As you can imagine, individuals with oppositional defiance also have problems making or keeping friends, performing in school, and can’t hold on to a job. Big problems with their own emotional regulation create chaos in relationships inside and outside the home.
Parents can learn new skills to manage their child’s disruptive moods and behaviors. Modeling how to collaboratively solve problems and using natural consequences decreases arguments and fights.
Using harsh discipline or aggressive behavior toward teenagers causes the situation to be worse. Authoritarian styles of parenting make get some control of teen behavior in the short term but create more problems over the long term and may ruin relationships with teens as they grow into adulthood. It may push teens into social conduct problems that result in them having trouble with law enforcement and being removed by social services.
Professionals use a “Child Behavior Checklist” to screen for criteria that meet the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders definition of Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Other comorbid disorders may include ADHD, Conduct Disorder, Depressive or Bipolar Disorder, Intellectual Disability, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, Language and Expressive Disorders, Social Phobia, and Anxiety.
Individual and group therapy for teenagers can be helpful. Parents can also learn new skills for managing oppositional behaviors. Learning about attachment styles and generational patterns of trauma can also be beneficial. Reading books on normal teen development is also recommended.
If you need more help with your teen or want to learn how to better parent, contact Ron Huxley today and schedule a session.
What makes you afraid? Is it losing someone you love? Or is it having to see your dentist? Maybe you fear thunderstorms or heights or elevators.
Whatever it is, fear is normal. It’s how our body warns us of dangerous situations and that we should be careful.
Yet, sometimes, our fears can become so great that they hold us back from living up to our full potential. They fill us with dread and uncertainty that we soon become constantly stressed and anxious over the smallest things.
Although surprisingly, fear, in its positive form, can actually be good for us. It can inspire innovative ideas and motivate us to reach new heights.
So, we’re here today to help you make fear your friend. Follow the six tips below, and you’ll know how to turn what was once your foe into an ally.
Let’s get started.
Identify the Source
This is probably the hardest step, but it’s absolutely worth it. But first, you need to come to terms with the source of your fear in order to overcome it.
Being aware of the root cause will be difficult in the beginning, but it’ll make you stronger. You’ll no longer live in the shadow of that big, insurmountable fear.
You’ve come face-to-face with your fear. Now, it’s time to embrace it.
But before you do that, you have to actually admit that such-and-such scares you. There are several ways to do this. First, you can either say it aloud, preferably to someone else in a natural setting.
You can also write it down in a journal or diary. The point is to get it out of your head and into real life. That’s when your fear loses its control over you.
It also feels better to get it off your chest and share it with the world. You’ll be surprised to know just how many people are just as afraid as you are.
Fear makes us panic, and panic makes us do stupid things. In fact, studies show that when we panic, our prefrontal cortex shuts down. This is the region of our brain responsible for rational thinking.
So, case in point, learn how to think rationally despite your worries and panic. Make fear your friend, and you’ll be able to go a lot farther in life.
People deal with fear, stress, and anxiety in different ways. Some people like to be challenged and are great under pressure. Others find it better to work at their own pace without any tight deadlines looming overhead.
Whichever way you prefer, the important thing is not to let fear get the better of you. For example, say you’re afraid to speak in public. But then a colleague suddenly got sick and asked you to take over the presentation you’ve been preparing for weeks.
In this scenario, you have to pick whether you’ll let your fear overpower you or whether you’ll rise to the challenge.
The latter won’t be easy, but it’ll definitely be worth it in the long run. Be objective and tell yourself that others have held presentations before and have lived to tell about it. So, what’s the big deal?
Remember, your mind tends to blow things out of proportion. So, find a way to deal with the stress and take stock. It’s the only way you’ll be able to harness your fear and get the job done.
No one ever failed by having a strong support system. Surround yourself with people who encourage you to do better. These are the people who listen to you when you’re venting about your fears and anxiety, and they still choose to love you unconditionally.
A lot of research has been carried out on the benefits of having a support system. It empowers you with good coping skills while boosting your self-esteem and overall well-being.
Moreover, a sound support system can lower stress, anxiety, and depression rates.
Whenever you’re afraid, you’ll tend to focus on negative thoughts and emotions. But then, they fester in your mind and transform into this big, ugly thing that you can no longer control.
Why not try some positivity for a change? Remember, the mind is quite powerful; it just needs a small push in the right direction.
By thinking positively, you can overcome your fears and actually live to tell the tale! All you have to do is believe it, and everything else will fall into place.
Resiliency is the ability to adjust to life’s difficulties and overcome challenging and stressful situations. On a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being the highest, how resilient are you? How resilient is your child?
Resilient parents don’t automatically have resilient children. This can be frustrating for parents who want their kids to get motivated about school, say no to bad choices, or accept rejection and failures. If your child scores low on the resiliency scale, you can build new skills to help them grow emotionally and mentally.
Resilience has several attributes that parents would love to see in their children:
Emotional awareness and regulation
Inner drive or motivation
Future focus and readiness for change
Strong social connections/relationships
Physical health, sleep, and diet
Creating this in your child will be a process that occurs over time. The hope is that children will show these characteristics by the time they turn 18 and leave the home but even if it takes longer it is a goal parents will want to continue nurturing in them.
Don’t compare your child to others. Focus on the qualities of your child only! Comparisons places to much pressure on you and your child and will sabotage your efforts to develop this mental strength.
Parents have to model resiliency. You can’t preach resiliency if you don’t practice resiliency. Children will always do what you do over what you say. Put words and actions together to encourage resiliency.
Peers have a strong pull on children actions contrary to what your teenager tries to tell you. Be aware of who they are interacting with and work to know your children’s friends and their family, if possible. You don’t have to ban a friend you feel is the best influence on your child but you can talk with your them your concerns and offer suggestions on how to set boundaries and stand up for themselves and what they believe in.
Start with emotions. The more you validate and empathize with your child the stronger their conscience development. A strong moral compass will help your child overcome tough circumstances and follow the right path. This way you don’t have to be hovering over their shoulder every minute. If your child handles a situation poorly or makes a wrong decision, be empathic but encourage them to try again. Isn’t this how we all learn? Focusing on your child’s emotional awareness will produce more resilient people. about changes in behavior and encourage your child’s friends to be at your home and offer your supervision over them. Children with high emotional awareness will be more resilient people.
Young children will need to increase their emotional vocabulary. Label feelings, explore different feelings, validate positive and uncomfortable emotions. Make feelings ok and don’t push them down or brush them off but don’t over focus on them. A good healthy, emotional balance translates into greater resiliency.
Older children can have more complex conversations about feelings and social situations. Don’t shy away from cultural discussions and world situations. Use them to explore thoughts and ideas, helping the older child to see all sides of an issue. A more open-minded approach will rap children who have better judgment and compassion.
You can learn more about resiliency by consulting with Ron Huxley through a free online course at FamilyHealer.tv or schedule a session today.
If you don’t get the right amount of sleep, your mind cannot be at its best. You won’t function properly and may make some serious mistakes. Unfortunately, stress can cause people to stay awake at night. However, getting the right amount of sleep can help eventually reduce your stress levels.
To get better sleep, start exercising on a regular basis. While exercise may give you energy throughout the day, when you go to bed at night, it will help you to sleep better. You will have a quality sleep as well. Some people find that exercising in the evening causes them to be wired, and they can’t get to sleep. If you fall into this camp of people, consider doing your exercising in the morning. This way, you’ll use that energy burst throughout the day and will give you time to become tired.
Try to avoid using alcohol in excess. Although this seems counterintuitive as alcohol makes you sleepy, it causes you to fall into a deep sleep. You then wake up in the middle of the night and have a difficult time getting back to sleep. Without the alcohol, your sleep will be more even and allow you to sleep throughout the night. If you feel you must have alcohol, don’t have more than one drink.
See a doctor if you have sleeping problems that persist. Not getting enough sleep can lead to a decline in your health. Sleep recharges the body and allows it to function properly, including building up antibodies to fight off diseases. When you are deprived of sleep, a bunch of problems can arise because of it.
Hopefully, if you do resort to seeing a doctor, he will find solutions that are not drug-dependent. This may help your sleep problems in the short term but doesn’t do much to fix the reason why you are not getting sleep. Press your doctor for alternative solutions if drugs are being prescribed.
Consider learning meditation as that can relax the mind. It’s much easier to get good sleep when the mind is relaxed than when it is thinking about all the problems you are facing. Meditation won’t solve those problems. But, getting to sleep can help you to come up with solutions faster.
Eating at the proper times during the day and eating the right kinds of foods, can help you to sleep better at night, as well. If you have a heavy meal right before you are going to bed, you could suffer from indigestion, which will not lead to a good sleep at all.
Social media has become an integral part of our everyday lives. Parents use it, just like their children. However, on average, teenagers are the ones who spend the most time on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and similar platforms. These platforms confuse and frighten parents!
According to the report, Common Sense Media, teens spend about 9 hours on entertainment media, including social media, games, and TV, every day.
This means that teenagers spent more time with media and technology than with parents, school work, or physical activities.
Parents probably ask themselves: “Will my child become addicted to video games? Will this ruin their ability to think for themselves? What happens if my child is cyberbullied or becomes one? Could an online predator harm my child? Will continual screen use diminish their ability to know how to socialize normally?”
As a Child and Family Therapist, I believe parents are right to ask these questions. The issue is how to get to the answers!
Our current world makes getting answers challenging. Before the pandemic, many parents banned social media, screen use, and cell phone ownership from children, including their teenagers. After the pandemic, many children were isolated from peers without any possible way to connect. Parents had no choice but to let their children go online to stem the growing anxiety and depression their children were experiencing from the isolation. During the pandemic, children were doing school online, but many parents discovered they were “multitasking” and playing games online or talking to friends via social media while participating in school. Being online, for school or social connection, is now a regular part of our lives. It isn’t going away anytime soon.
Why are we concerned? Studies show that social media and online video games reduce our effectiveness in understanding human emotion and create a barrier to communicating deeply. There is no substitute for face-to-face interaction. The more teens spend online, the more shallow their communication and empathy skills could be. The teen years is a crucial time for skills that will sustain them in adulthood and the right mix requires real face-to-face interaction along with screen time.
Our brains use “mirror neurons” to understand others’ perspectives and emotions through an inner imitation of other people’s actions. These special neurons reproduce emotions and actions in ourselves. This can be outside of our awareness and contributes to “gut reactions” and inform us on knowing right from wrong. It is the key to developing empathy and compassion as our neurons mirror the pain witnessed in other people. When they feel it we feel it too.
Perhaps this is why cyberbullying has become such a problem with preteens and teenagers? Maybe they cannot feel the pain and suffering of the peers they are tormenting. Without that feedback loop, they lose the natural conscience we need in social situations. Mirror neurons are also a prime component of learning, and this might account for the massive drop in school grades and homework performance. There is more to learning than facts and information. The joy of learning and the social connections that physical schools provide are a necessary part of a teens social emotional growth.
Of course, not all teens are engaged in cyberbullying or looking at inappropriate content. Many really just want to have fun and connect with peers. Teens can learn valuable things online. Additionally, many teens have found groups that support and encourage them through unique challenges in life situations, like mental health or artistic/cultural pursuits. This can’t always be found in our local community. Balance is needed and parents may need to help teens find the good and minimize the bad.
Here are some tips to help you learn more about your teen’s social media interactions and help them if necessary:
Give yourself permission, as the parent, to ask your child about concerns they have or problems they have experienced. Maybe your teen never tells you anything because you never ask, or perhaps you ask in an anxious and condemning way. Don’t assume wrongdoing but don’t be in denial either.
If your teen gives you some pushback, don’t get offended when asked about social media use. These are normal human defenses. Just reassure them that you don’t believe they are doing something wrong but that you are curious and want to know more about social media and how it all works. Be curious and open-minded.
Get on social media yourself and learn how it works. Don’t depend on your teen to tell you everything or tell the right things. You can discover it yourself. I recommend parents friend or link to your child on various social media platforms – even though if they might think it weird. If they know you are online too and can see their content, they might think twice before posting something inappropriate. Sometimes being POTS (parent over the shoulder) has its benefits.
Parenting teens on social media might feel like the old adage: “If you can’t beat them, join them,” and that is exactly what this is…You can’t beat them, so you better join them in the online world!
If you have concerns about what your child is doing or they actively resist you finding out what they are posting or doing or who their friends are, that could be a red flag to pay attention to. Don’t go all “hair on fire” on them. Just note your concern and firmly investigate further. Don’t let a their resistance deter you. Ask questions of them, their friends, their friend’s parents, and look at their media on their devices when they sit them down. Yeah, they will get annoyed. They will live.
I tell parents, who have real concerns about their children’s social media use, insist on having all passwords, account names and even stalk them online! Sounds harsh? It is better to have an irritated teen than an exploited one or one in deep trouble with the school or law. Even the most innocent child can get caught up in things way beyond their developmental capacity to deal with…I have seen it happen many times over. Many teens have hidden accounts, back up phone in case you take theirs, borrow their friends phone, etc.
You are allowed to remove all devices if needed. They may have been gifts to your child, but that gift was intended to be used correctly and safely. As a side note, many teens who lose their devices start finding more outside entertainment or real world social interactions to engage in…they frequently come out of their rooms and talk to parents. Wow, so strange, but true.
Because of this fact, take a “social media fast” for the whole family from time to time. Ban all social media and screen use for a day or a weekend. Provide lots of fun alternatives and food. Food is always helpful! Once you get past the grumbling, the home atmosphere might become more positive.
Don’t focus so much on controlling the child as managing the media. Shaming and condemning don’t get positive results, and children can seek revenge. Be respectful but firm, loving but insistent. Tell them you are removing the devices because THEY are causing too many problems or distractions. You just want to help the ENTIRE family find a better focus and social interaction, not just the teenager, right?
Make discussions about the world and its problem a regular thing. Teenagers want and need support, and they don’t have adult wisdom and experience to manage life’s difficulties. You have to open the space to have these conversations. It may be awkward at first, but making them a normal car-ride conversation or over an after-school snack can open your child up to share their fears, anxiety, and needs.
Parents of teens cannot effectively use control to manage them. You have to use influence if you want to have a lasting effect. Your goal for this developmental stage is to train them for adulthood. It’s only a few years away. If you tell them what to do all the time versus helping them with the best solution and sometimes experience the negative consequences of life, they won’t be ready.
Parenting a teen is like when your child learned to walk. You couldn’t catch them every time but had to let them stumble and fall on occasions. You protected them against any serious threats (sharp objects, going into the street), but you cautiously walked alongside, encouraging and cheering on their successful steps until walking was natural. You can do this for social media and screen use too. Walk alongside them. Protect but don’t smother them. Steer them in the right direction and remove them from obvious dangerous situations. Bring a balance of off-screen activities to the family. And in the end, they will protect themselves, and be better human beings.
A common struggle for modern people is a disconnection between the head and heart. We know one thing to be true, in our head, but we don’t feel or experience that truth, in our hearts or lives. We might have “Know-ledge” that someone love us (a partner, family, friend) but we don’t feel or experience the “know-ing.”
The result of this disconnection is a wide rage of negative emotions and physiological reactions. This lack, of knowing in our hearts, is rapidly creating anxiety in the world. The manifestation is broken relationships, depression and suicidal ideations, and addiction to handle pain. A simple remedy is to reconnect the head and heart.
Neuroscience provides the key to reconnecting head and heart through the new science of neuroplasticity. This refers to the brains ability to reorganize into new networks and mental patterns. It used to be believed that the brain and nervous system only grew during childhood and then stopped. All our learned patterns were fixed once we were adults or at least drastically slowed down. We know know that this is not true.
Learning can occur across the lifespan and the brain can reroute circuits, repattern networks, and even create new brain matter in response to new social emotional inputs, environmental influences, repeated practices, and even small amounts of psychological stress (yes, stress). The brain can also relearn skills, like speaking and motor movement, following brain damage.
Because the brain can be redesigned it is called “plastic” or moldable. Children are an example of neuroplasticity. Developmentally, they are “experience-dependent” coming into the world with neuro-hardware possessing basic operating instructions but needing software or experiences from loving caregivers to program the brain and its resulting behaviors or actions.
The infant brain is primed for social contact and seeks healthy attachments. If those attachments are missed or the attachment bond is frightening, as in case of abused and neglected children, the result is a child with severe emotional and behavioral disturbances.
Fortunatley, if a chlid did not “inherit” a healthy attachment, an adult, through deep inner work and repairing with healthy adult partners, can “earn” their lost security.
NOTE: You can learn more about attachment in our free online course at Traumatoolbox.com
Here is a simple two-step practice that has been proven to change the brain in a positive way and connect the head to the heart:
1. Activate your head. What is you WANT to believe but don’t currently feel is true? Write this statement out on a piece of paper and say it outloud. Of course, it will not FEEL true because it is your head that is saying it, not your heart.
2. Activate your heart. Picture this statement “as if” it were true. Hold that image in your heart while you take slow, deep breaths. The breathing will keep the body from overriding the statements as not true. It just wants to protect you from hurt or disappoinment. Ignore it, or better yet, thank it for trying to protect you and continue to picture it.
This is not “whoo-whoo” philosphy. This is science. Research has proven that daily expressions of gratitude create literal changes in brain structure and mental functions. This is measureable change! The brain looks for reasons to validate what it believes. If you believe that you people are rude to you, your reticular activating system (a group of neural connectsion in your brain stem that play a crucial role in maintaining behavioral arousl, direct focus, and conciousness) will filter sensor input to be congruent with the thoughts you think about yourself and your world. The brain validates what you believe! If you think people are rude, you will see rude people everwhere. They are not hard to find…
If you think that people are kind and generous toward you, the reticular activating system will filter out the rude people and notice only kind and generous people. In turn, this will reinforce your knowledge of kind and generous people, and increase your knowing additional kind and generous people, developing new neural pathways in the physical brain so you have new mental capacity and memories, and new moods and behaviors will develop.
If this doesn’t convince you, listen to this interesting fact:
The heart is a more power, electrical object than your brain! The heart is about 100,000 times stronger electrically and up to 5000 ties stronger magnetically than the brain. Although imperceptible to us, the heart give off an electromagnetic (EEG) field that can be measured up to three feet away from our bodies. It you are depressed, angry, bitter…can others experience it whether they mentally understand it or not? Of course, they can. Ask any highly sensitive person and they will tell you how challenging it is to be in a room with another sad or angry person. The emotional field will shift their emotional state as well unless they mentally (head and hearts connection again) rehearse this this feeling is not their but belongs to others.
Here’s another fact:
The heart is not just a blood-pumping organ, it is a sensory organ. It acts as a “sophisticated information encoding and processing center that enables it to learn, remember, and make independent functional decisions.”
An emotion is e-motion or energy in motion. It is not just thoughts, in our head, that direct our lives. Our heart is an important area of personal and spiritual growth as well. We need it to have healthy relationships, make successful business decisions, and overcome traumatic events. This latter area is called “neuroresilience” as is a term coined by Ron Huxley in his online course: TraumaToolbox.com
It is really time to stop using our heads without connecting our hearts. Use the two-step practice, allow the principle of neuroplasticity to affect new change, and find more freedom in thoughts and emotions.
Parental alienation is a controversial diagnosis but a common concern in modern-day divorce. Psychology and legal professions disagree on using the term Parental Alienation. Still, both fields recognize the harm that parents can do to one another and their children in a high-conflict divorce.
What is parental alienation, and why is it so controversial? According to Wikipedia, parental alienation “describes a process through which a child becomes estranged from a parent due to the psychological manipulation of another parent. The child’s estrangement may manifest itself as fear, disrespect, or hostility toward the distant parent and may extend to additional relatives or parties.”
The controversy involves whether this action is a form of child abuse, family violence, or a criminal act. It should not be used as a formal diagnosis and may not be allowable in a legal court battle. However, it is useful to know the behavioral characteristics of a parent or child to navigate this painful reality of modern-day divorce.
“The theory of parental alienation has been asserted within legal proceedings as a basis for awarding custody to a parent who alleges estrangement, or to modify custody in favor of that parent. Courts have generally rejected parental alienation as a valid scientific theory. Still, some courts have allowed the concept to be argued as relevant to determining the child’s best interest when making a custody determination. Legal professionals recognize that alienating behaviors are common in child custody cases, but are cautious about accepting the concept of parental alienation.” (Wikipedia)
Parental alienation places the child in a “loyalty bind” where they must choose between parents. To resolve this inner conflict, they will start to prefer one parent over the other. They may refuse to go with the non-preferred parents when it is their time for custody, and they may make false claims or accusations against the non-preferred parent.
One reason for alienation and loyalty binds is to view what is in the “best interest” from a legal vs. a psychological perspective. From a legal view, child custody is determined by “who the child belongs to” vs. a psychological view of “who belongs to the child.”
This is not merely semantics. Many people could belong to the child’s emotional security. The legal viewpoint is rigid and creates one winner and multiple losers in the custody situation.
In high-conflict divorce situations where alienation may occur, all family members can engage professional support and guidance. Family therapists and mediators can be essential to reduce estrangement and manipulation and set a straightforward course of behaviors to prevent harm to children and their parents.
A parent coach is a professional who helps parents cultivate better relationships with their children. A coach provides insight, education, and direction that is concrete and practical. Although similar to therapy, coaching focuses more on short-term plans than processing emotions or working through past traumas. It doesn’t mean that parent coaching can’t provide this type of processing, but it is not its primary focus.
Parenting coaches help in a variety of ways:
Behavioral problems help parents find strength-based ways to address children’s challenges, such as sibling rivalry, defiance, talking back, aggression, running away, meltdowns, and more.
Parenting self-care, managing adult stressors, and find balance in work, family, and social life.
Cope with transitions and crises that occur in life and the world. With all of its effects on schooling, work, and isolation, our current pandemic is a common crisis all parents must learn to manage.
Developmental and emotional concerns in children need expert insight and detailed plans when depression, anxiety, or delays present themselves.
Any family structure can utilize parent coaching. The traditional family of yesterday is the nontraditional of today. It can include two parents families, divorced parents, single parents, grandparents raising grandchildren, foster and adoptive parenting, same-sex parents, and multigenerational families.
Coaches typically have a master’s degree or higher in education or family counseling or completed a parent coaching certification. They should have experience in the specific area of specialty, such as aggressive teenagers or adoption.
Coaching sessions are usually briefer than traditional therapy with 1 to 5 sessions. Each session has a specific outcome with homework to test “in the field” and then feedback and further revision until a parent feels change is happening.
Ron Huxley is a licensed marriage and family therapist with 30 years of experience in parenting, family therapy, and specialized clinical issues, such as anxiety and trauma. He has served as the director of several clinical programs that utilized a coaching model. He is the author of the book “Love and Limits: Achieving a Balance in Parenting” and founder of the FamilyHealer.tv online school. You can set up a coaching or therapy appointment with him now. Just click here to schedule a time.
Emotional Intelligence is one of the most important attributes of success at home and school (and later in life, in business). This is because EQ is about being self-aware and socially sophisticated. The better children are at understanding and managing the world of emotion and social interactions, the better they will be at controlling anxiety.
Another way of looking at EQ is to say that “emotional intelligence is being able to feel an emotion without having to act on it.”
Emotional IQ Training
Howard Gardner, a psychologist at the Harvard School of Education, has suggested that there are many different types of intelligence, not just academic (linguistic and math) ones. He refers to these as talents that all children possess, male or female. Being able to use these talents is what makes people successful and satisfied in life. Peter Salovey, another psychologist, refines Gardner’s talents into five main domains of emotional intelligence:
Knowing one’s emotions
Recognizing emotions in others
and Handling relationships.
In order to help boy and girls develop all of these areas of emotional intelligence and use it to cope with stress and anxiety, we have to intentionally implement “learning opportunities” into their daily lives. The more skills that we provide our children in understanding their emotions, recognizing stress, and feeling confident to manage it, the more adept our children will be in finding freedom from fears and anxiety. It is the avoidance or lack of confidence emotionally that causes anxiety to be so intimidating.
Gender Differences In Emotional Intelligence
FACT: Girls are 2x as likely to develop anxiety than boys.
FACT: Boys use aggression to express most of their emotions.
Research has shown that girls develop language skills much sooner than boys and are more articulate when it comes to expressing themselves emotionally. This natural advantage and the de-emphasis on emotional training for boys, lead males to communicate their emotions behaviorally. This may be why so many boys get into fights, play competitive sports, or act aggressively towards others. It is their way of communicating their feelings. And anger is the socially acceptable spokesperson for all of those feelings, be they positive or negative.
Why, in our modern society, do we continue to see this pattern of emotional deficiency in boys? Is it simply a matter of biology and not something that we can control. Although nature is a significant part of personality and social/emotional development, I don’t believe that is the answer.
In most societies around the globe, girls receive more “training” on how to process a full range of emotions that do boys. Research proves that biological is not as powerful a reason for this as you might think. A lot has to do with nurture and modeling.
Research and common sense suggest that we give our sons undivided attention every day. This means full attention, not partial or half. Don’t engage in cooking, cleaning, reading or anything else that might detract from the attention given. Playing a game or working on a project, side-by-side, with minimal words is enough. Jerrold Lee Shapiro, Ph.D., in his book, The Measure of a Man: Becoming the Father You Wish Your Father Had Been, states that while men and women experience emotions similarly, they may share those emotions differently. Men, due to past Emotional IQ training, are used to indirectly communicating with one another. This is what, Dr. Shapiro calls “side-by-side” or “shoulder-to-shoulder” communication. Moms tend to prefer the more “face-to-face”, direct approach.
Dr. Shapiro talks about the different styles of communicating emotions by men and women: “Men have long been criticized for either having no feelings or having the wrong ones, or being unable to describe them. It is true that males in our society are trained to deny, ignore, cover up, and rise above feelings. However, we do have them all the time. It is important that we express our feelings to our children in male ways. It is customary for men to be most open, for example, while they are working on a joint project together (i.e., shoulder to shoulder).”
It is also important that mom’s and dads encourage boys to express the full range of emotions. Past social conditioning that only some emotions, namely anger, are acceptable need to be removed. All emotions are valid. Be receptive to a baby’s sadness and discomfort as well as his cooing and giggles. Ask toddlers and school-age boys if they are feeling sad or tired and empathize with those feelings. Tell older boys that it is normal to feel awkward or anxious and have open discussions about his relationships with girls, other boys, siblings, teachers, and family.
When boys do express themselves aggressively or act rambunctious, look below the anger. While it is true that boys, on the average, do play more aggressively, don’t let that prevent you from checking for underlying emotions of sadness or anxiety. Remember that acting out means just that. Boys often act out their feelings of hurt and loss. Labels those feelings for them if they are obvious or ask them about their feelings if they are not. Reflect on their behavior by stating, “You seem to be upset about this situation. I wonder if you are feelings hurt/sad/anxious by it.” Model complex feelings by admitting you often get angry when you feel these other emotions too. It is often difficult for young children to understand that people can have more than one emotion at a time.
Be willing to express your love and empathy openly and generously. Loving your son will not “baby” him, “spoil” him, or make him a “sissy.” It will make him more self-assured, confident, and secure. When a dad is openly affectionate toward his son, a very deep message about manhood and emotions is communicated. Tell your son that you love him as much as you wish. Give him hugs and take opportunities to play with him.
This still begs the question as to why girls are more likely to be anxious than boys. Aren’t they more socially trained to express feelings? Yes, but boys have one advantage over girls in this area…They tend to externalize their feelings whereas girls internalize it more. This results in girls being more anxious about their bodies, negatively affected by social ostracism, inadequate, sad and lonely.
Mental health data supports that girls are more like to miss school due to overwhelming feelings of sadness and contemplate suicide and/or engage in self-harm behaviors when situations feel more emotionally overwhelming. Helping them develop their EQ will be a powerful deterrent to these risk factors.
Expectations, Pressure, and Failure
There is a high correlation between children’s anxiety and parents high expectations. Parents want the best for their children but sometimes this can translate into unnecessary pressure on the child. Children who are pressured to perform and made to feel guilty or ashamed at not being the best are most likely to develop anxiety disorders. Parents need to take a look at themselves and their own drives to be perfect, look good to others, and issues around failure. They may be projecting their own “junk” onto their children. High expectations can lead to children making irrational conclusions about their failures. A child might state that “I failed my math test because I am dumb. I will always be dumb and I will never do well in math.” Parents need to be empathic when they hear these types of statements. Don’t criticise them for the irrationality. Help them redirect their perspectives with positive statements, such as: “You failed the test because it was a very hard test and you didn’t have much study time. You will do well next time and we will work on it together.”
EQ is NOT Innate
When children are born, they have neurons but no connections and so everything can feel stressful. The connections are created through experiences with parents and peers. Over time, through many, many experiences, children develop the skills they need to understand themselves and the social-emotional world around them. Allow them the safety to go through this process of trial and error. Be a coach to them as they learn. Don’t be too quick to tell them how to do something, manage friendship quarrels, or find solutions to frustrating situations.
Name Them to Tame Them
The best Emotional IQ strategies are the simplest. Putting names to feelings helps children communicate and master them. Fears and anxiety can appear so large and overwhelming that children don’t know how to cope. Giving them a name makes seem smaller and more manageable.
Parents can say “Anxiety wants to make you have a bad day and tell you that you can’t remember anything when you take a test. He’s such a pest, isn’t he?”
“It is very frustrating when your brother won’t share his video game with you.”
“Worry wants us to argue in the car about getting to school on time but let’s listen to the music instead.”
“When you get afraid, it makes your heart beat fast. Feel it? Good thing we can use our breathing exercises to slow it down. Let’s do it together.”
Using imaginative labels for anxiety and its entourage of characters (worry, fear, panic, frustration, perfectionism) helps children externalize their emotions and have more confidence to control them(selves).
Naming emotions are centered in the left hemisphere of the brain in a small region called Brocas Area. Our right hemisphere lacks the verbal labeling of the left but is able to process images and bodily sensations that go along with feelings. Naming our fears allows both hemispheres of the brain to work together. Strong emotions, like anxiety, panic and phobias will hijack the thinking brain as a protective function to real or perceived danger. Using words to describe them puts the thinking brain back in charge and sends signals to the body to be calm and peaceful.
Once a child learns to name their own emotions, they can better recognize emotions in others. This makes them skilled at handling anxiety, feeling confident, and being socially competent. A great combination!
EQ Habits for the home
Parents and children can use some simple habits to improve EQ and decrease anxiety:
1. Use a diary to describe one emotional experience per day.
2. Do “emotional weather” check-ins every morning to be more aware of our feelings states.
3. Practice identifying emotions in others nonverbal behavior and make a scavenger list of feelings to see how many you can spot per day.
4. Watch movies and call out the feelings spotted in others on the screen.
5. Write a list of negative feelings and then write down their opposites. Pick one positive and have a family plan to experience that through outings, research, etc.
6. Use dramatic play to act out feelings in puppets, artwork, music, poetry, dance/movement, character voices, fictional stories.
Where do we start?
The most natural place is the home. And the most natural person is a mom or dad. We need to be more conscious about what and how we are teaching emotional literacy to our children. Handling any and all emotions make us better equipped to tackle anxiety. Don’t sit passively by and wait till there is a big issue. Go after it now! If anxiety has already become a big problem, you can use Emotional IQ skills to uproot anxiety and build new, more adaptable reactions instead.
There is some interesting research on the link between depressed dads and its effects on their children. This supports much of the posts I have written on the importance of father/child bond. The research is summarized by Child-Psych.org at http://bit.ly/mvo6nu: “The current study used a nationally representative sample of fathers of one year-olds, 1,746 dads in total.
The men answered questions in four different areas: interactive play (e.g., peek-a-boo), speech and language interactions, reading to the child, and spanking. Whether or not the fathers had talked with their child’s pediatrician during the past year was also assessed. Seven percent of the fathers in the study reported being depressed during the past year. Seventy-seven percent of these dads also had spoken with the pediatrician over the past year… there were no differences between fathers that were not depressed and those that were in their reports of playing interactive games and singing songs/nursery rhymes with their children. Depressed dads were less likely to read to their one year-olds and much more likely to spank them.”
Conclusions of this study focused on the relationship between a fathers well-being and the child emotional and academic abilities later in life. As you might expect, the higher the depression in dad, the lower the functioning of the child. In addition, there is a connection between how aggressive dads were in their discipline. A higher percentage of dads spanked or acted out of anger with their children. Why do I keep harping on this topic? I want dads to be aware of and accept how vital there role is in the life of their children. I want others (moms and society in general) to be more mindful of the need to educate and support dads in this role. As men, we don’t get the same amount of formal or informal training to be parents as moms. More focus is needed for men to rise to the challenge of parenting.