Parenting Your Inner Child

Parenting Your Inner Child

Most of us think we are adults because we have reach a certain chronological age, but psychologically , we are often pseudo adults. We are children in adult bodies, trying to do adult things. I think this may in part be where the term “adulting” comes from. We may be 35 physically, but deep inside of us is a five year old trying to navigate through adult life, attempting to maintain relationships and cope with adult stress. Every now and then the pressure becomes too much and our inner child is forced to make their needs and fears known.

What Is An Inner Child?

Inside of all of us there is a part that is frozen in time, stuck in the past. As therapists, especially those of us who deal with trauma, we call that part of us our inner child. Everyone has an inner child (at least one), but we experience our inner child in different ways.

Some of us have an inner child that is relatively well-behaved and quiet. He or she may be barely noticeable and only make their needs, concerns and fears known subtly and infrequently. It could be the anxiety we feel whenever we are talking to our boss, or the explainable way we suddenly feel small and unsure of ourselves when we have to give a presentation.

Others have an inner child that is more boisterous. He or she may make themselves known often and show up as a temper tantrum when we are frustrated with our partner (sometimes complete with yelling and throwing things), shutting down when we can’t find the words to express ourselves or a panic attack at the thought of being alone if our relationship fails.

Many of the destructive behaviors we have in our adult lives from infantile neediness, fear of abandonment and dependency to self-sabotaging behaviors, impulsivity and irresponsibility can be attributed to our inner child.

Why We Ignore Our Inner Child

Society tells us that when we become adults, we put away childish things. We are forced to ignore our inner child, the good and the bad. Our inner child not only holds our childhood hurts, traumas, fears and angers, but it also holds our innocence, awe, playfulness, sensitivity and wonder.

Remember the things you loved in childhood, the things that made you happy? When adults would ask you what you wanted to grow up to be maybe you said a pilot or an artist. As we grow up, most of us end up going into jobs and careers that have nothing to do with what made us happy or what we wanted to do as children, in large part because many of us were told that those dreams were childish and we needed realistic, more “adult” goals.

One way or another, we were taught to ignore our inner child almost completely which is why most adults are unaware of this unconscious part of them that sometimes throws their lives off balance seemingly out of the blue.

Because most adults are unaware of this inner child, they do not know how to meet his or her needs. This unawareness is what allows the inner child to take over and sometimes ruin relationships or cause us to act in ways that as adults, we know we shouldn’t.

In order to address our inner child and meet their needs appropriately, we have to first acknowledge and accept that he or she exist, and then take responsibility for parenting and loving our inner child.

When we are inattentive or neglectful to our inner child, we may find ourselves in situations where we are unconsciously looking to fill his or her needs through other people. We are basically asking someone else to parent our inner child and that can come in the form of dependency, toxic relationships and even substance abuse.

Our inner child most likely is looking for something he or she felt neglected of when we were children and as adults we can’t expect our parents or anyone else to go back and fix that. We have to do it. We have to attend to the needs of our inner child through love and support as well as set up boundaries and structure just like a parent would with a physical child.

Having a symbiotic relationship with our inner child will allow us to meet their needs in ways that are mutually beneficial to our adult side as well, instead of meeting their needs through ways that are inappropriate, impulsive and childish.

Explore your inner-child. Get to know them. Listen to them and find out what he or she needs.

Mother Wants To Change Four-Year-Old Daughter’s Name

Mother Wants To Change Four-Year-Old Daughter’s Name

I recently read an article about a mother who wants to change her four-year-old daughter’s name because she recently found it that it’s not as unique as she first thought.

The mother, who wished to remain anonymous, named her daughter Esmée, a name that at the time she hadn’t heard much in the last 20 years or so, but once her daughter started school,  she quickly learned that there were other girls who had that same name at her daughters school,  including two in her class.

The mother apparently is so upset to find out that her daughter’s name is a rarely popular name that she now is considering changing her name.

I have known parents who had a hard time settling on a name for their baby, including one who called her baby by the nickname “Yum Yum” up until the child was about one years old before she finally settled on a name.

While that may sound unusual, it’s not that uncommon. About 11% of parents end up regretting the name they initially pick for their child and end up changing it, but usually within the first year when it really doesn’t have an affect.

However, around one years of age, children began recognizing the sound of their names and around ages two or three, they begin developing a sense of identity which includes who they are in connection with their names.

Changing a child’s name after one years of age can create identity issues, insecurity and confusion within the child as to who they are. Imagine toddler tantrum on steroids in some cases.

My question is, what if whatever name she chooses for her daughter next, becomes popular in the next couple of years? Is she going to change her child’s name once again?

To better understand the underlying problem, we have to better understand the mother who went through some tough times in her childhood due to having a very common name.

The mother wrote, “Every time I hear my real name I shudder,”.

For the mother, this may have in fact been pretty traumatic and something she has never overcome. What she doesn’t understand however is that individuality will come from her daughter’s unique personality, not her name.

Many parents try to relive or redo their lives through their children, but this can be very unfair to the child. Changing this child’s name, in my opinion, would be a very selfish and vain act.

I’m not saying that if the mother did change the child’s name that it would be a traumatic, horrible, life changing mistake. It may have no real affect or long term affect on the child at all. What I am saying however is that there is more to a person than their name. The child may decide to be called something totally different when they get older anyway.

For example, I knew a teenager who’s mother named her Lorraine because the name meant a lot to her.  She was very shocked and even upset when she found out that the kids in school called her daughter “Rain” and many had no idea her birth name was Lorraine. The the mother, Lorraine had a special connection, but to her daughter, it had no such connection, but “Rain” did. It was her way of being unique and special.

More importantly, parents have to be careful to not hand down their issues to their children. They should allow their children to be unique in their own right because they already are, no matter if their name is Susan or Rain.

The Narcissistic Parent

3049_how-to-get-hired-at-your-next-job-interview_1“I do not love; I do not love anybody except myself. That is a rather shocking thing to admit. I have none of the selfless love of my mother. I have none of the plodding, practical love. . . . . I am, to be blunt and concise, in love only with myself, my puny being with its small inadequate breasts and meager, thin talents. I am capable of affection for those who reflect my own world.” – Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath, the poet and author of the quote above was a narcissistic parent who committed perhaps the most selfish and narcissistic act of all. She killed herself by sticking her head in a gas oven while her two children were asleep in the same apartment. She did however seal off  their rooms with towels so that they would live. Why? Most likely so someone could carry on her memory and mourn for her after death.

How do you think this affected her children? Well her daughter, Freida Hughes is an English poet and painter, but she’s been married three times and is currently divorced. Her son, Nicholas Hughes, suffered from depression and hung himself in 2009.

What Is A Narcissist?

To the outside world, a narcissistic parent may appear to be the perfect example of a gentleman or a loving, supportive mother who is passionate about her kids. However, to the child of a narcissistic parent, they are living a constant nightmare of never being good enough and being constantly reminded of it.

A narcissist is someone who has an inflated sense of self-worth. This is different from what’s considered “healthy narcissism” in which you believe in yourself and your abilities in a realistic fashion. You have good self-esteem, but can empathize with other people and aren’t devastated by mistakes or criticism. Your self worth isn’t dependent on other people admiring you.

On the other hand there is “malignant narcissism”, in which the person has a very fragile sense of self that is dependent on how other people see them. These people have an unrealistic, inflated sense which they use to hide insecurities and shame. They need to be praised, admired and approved by others and are deeply hurt by criticism and honest feedback. Their relationships with others tend to be superficial as they focus mostly on how other people reflect on them with little or no care about the other persons feelings. They believe they are better than everyone else, special even, but can get very sensitive and angry when faced with critique.

For a narcissist, everything is always about them. They are extremely selfish individuals who never give recognition, gratitude or appreciation to those around them. It’s “me, me, me” all day, all the time. If they ask you, “How is your day?” and you reply, “Horrible, I just totaled my new Mustang”, they may reply, “I had a Mustang once. A 1968 convertible. Man I loved that car. Brought it brand new off the showroom floor…”. They really don’t care about you and are only looking for opportunities to talk about and inflate themselves.

Imagine growing up having this type of person as a parent? Someone who is practically incapable of loving anyone other than themselves, when as a parent, you have to give so much love to a child.

Why then would a narcissist have children?

A narcissist does not have a child for the reasons most people do. They do not have children because they want to love and nourish another person, they do so in order to create mirrors of themselves and to create an automatic relationship where they have power and control over someone.

Having control over other people is the narcissists ultimate goal. From an early age the child of a narcissist learns to realize that they exits to please their parent and to be a reflection of them.

Like any child, the children of narcissist will try to please their parent, going through great lengths of anguish and frustration to please someone who will never be pleased for long. One day, if they are lucky, they will realize that it’s the parent who is not quite right, not them.

Until then, these children learn that they are a reflection on their parent and will try to mold themselves, mentally and behaviorally into being that perfect representation their parent wants.

This creates much anxiety as the child is continuously trying to be what they are not in order to please the parent and when they fail, which they will time and time again, they are exposed to punishment that can range from physical to psychological.

These children are often mentally on edge and tormented by the unpredictable and sometimes confusing nature of the narcissistic parent. They may think over and over again that they are a failure, that something is wrong with them . The child may experience a great deal of shame and low self esteem because they don’t feel constantly loved. They are taught that they are only as good as the parent says they are and that they’ll only be loved if they are completely compliant.

Take for example a child who throws a tantrum in the store. Most parents may remove the child, redirect them, or try some other tactic to calm the child down. A narcissistic parent is likely to chastise the child by saying something like, “You’re a spoiled little brat. You always find a way to ruin my life.” Such harsh words for a narcissist are nothing, even directed at their own child.

On the other side of this poor parent-child attachment is neglect. The narcissist parent may be so self-absorbed that the child is neglected and nearly forgotten. Their needs, desires and aspiration always thrown aside for the sake of the parents’ wants and desires.

For example, a daughter going to her high school prom may have all of her desires for the dress she wants and the way she wants her hair styled cast away in favor of what her mom wants her to wear and wants her hair styled. If she doesn’t go along with this and protests, then her mother may call her an ungrateful child and refuse to help her with her big night.

Later in life, these children grow up and often develop narcissism themselves or end up in drama filled relationships with toxic partners because they grew up believing that they were bad and don’t deserve good things to happen to them. They often question if they are deserving of love.

In a healthy relationship with a healthy partner, these individuals wouldn’t know how to respond to unconditional love and would be filled with so much anxiety and discomfort. Understandably they would seek out other individuals who are emotionally unavailable, cold and critical just like the narcissistic parent they grew up with. It’s familiar and sadly, even comfortable to them.

Hopefully, through good relationships, friendships and sometimes therapy, these children are able to recover from the wombs of growing up with a narcissistic parent and not succumb to them.





Defending Fatherhood: The Impact Of Fathers And Father Figures On Children

Defending Fatherhood: The Impact Of Fathers And Father Figures On Children

bi-fathers-day-istockThe other day I came across a clip of actor Terry Crews as a guest on the show The View. In the clip, Terry Crews was basically defending fatherhood and I was somewhat amazed at how at times it seemed like one or more of the hosts of The View kept trying to attack fatherhood (the clip is at the end of the page). I realized that fatherhood in general is greatly under valued in today’s society.

So many of us have grown up without reliable fathers or father figures in our lives that we diminish the importance of fathers. So many women have been forced to raise children without a decent man in their children’s lives that they start to believe that a child having a father or father figure is an option that they’d prefer to do without.

As men we have to take some blame in this. Many of us have let or children and women down so much that we are considered elective pieces of the family dynamic and are often made to feel that way. Some women will try so hard to prove that they don’t need a man that they will also imply that their children don’t need a father either.

I’m not just talking about single mothers either. Even in marriages the father is often relegated to a relatively small role in raising the children. Sometimes fathers withdraw nearly completely from the task of helping raise the children, believing that child-rearing is a woman’s job and all they have to do is provide.

And while many single mothers do awesome jobs raising well-rounded children, especially the ones that have to, more often than not, those children struggle from the absence of a strong, positive male role model in their lives.

I am not saying that any man will do. Some men are bad fathers, bad role models or just bad people in general. They will do more harm to a child’s development than good. However, there are many good men who want and try to be good fathers, but are limited or not allowed to because of their child’s mother.

When I worked as a children’s therapist I ran into many women who moved multiple states away just to punish their child’s father. They were mad at him for whatever reason and decided to not only distance themselves from him, but to distance him from his children as punishment.

Many single mothers push their child’s father away either by making it extremely hard on him to see his children, or by turning the children against him. They want to make the father feel unwanted and unneeded and if the man isn’t strong enough, he may give up and walk away or greatly diminish his involvement in his child’s life.

Most of the times these children not only suffered from behavioral problems like stress, depression and anxiety, but many of them, especially the young boys ended up acting out in ways that the mother couldn’t handle, especially as they got bigger.

Many of the boys became disrespectful to the mother and women in general. They did poorly in school, got in trouble with the law and basically became unruly and why wouldn’t they? They were trying to figure out how to grow into a man without any decent examples and so they come up with their own, either modeling other young men, poor examples from their neighborhoods, or rappers, athletes or other celebrities.

Some of these same women often sent their boys back to live with their fathers once they got too out of hand, but by then the father-child bond has usually been so disrupted that the father doesn’t know how to effectively parent that child and the child has little understanding or respect for a parent who has been absent from their lives over a period of time.

While I feel that it is extra important that boys have a good male role model, no matter if it’s their biological father, stepfather, uncle, coach, teacher or any other reliable, nurturing, male, it is important that girls have a father figure as well as I wrote in my post absent fathers can lead to depression in teenage girls.

Healthy and respectful male role models can teach young girls how they should expect men to treat them. While at the same time, even fathers who are in the house that are angry and disrespectful to the mother are more likely to have children that develop anxiety, are withdrawn and are more likely to have unhealthy relationships.

So you see, it’s not just about having a man around, it has to be someone who is giving positively to the child’s social-emotional well-being.

Dr. David Popenoe, one of the pioneers of the young field of research into fathers and fatherhood says, “Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring.”

Involved fathers have an impact on a child’s emotional health, cognitive ability and educational outcomes.

Children with involved and nurturing fathers are more likely to be emotionally secure, confident, willing to explore their surroundings and end up with better social relationships. They are less likely to get in trouble at school, have disruptive behaviors or develop anxiety and depression.

Studies suggest that fathers who are nurturing, involved and playful with their infants end up having children with better linguistic skills, cognitive skills and higher IQs.

Toddlers with involved fathers tend to start school more academically ready, more patient and less likely to get frustrated or stressed when compared to toddlers with absent fathers or fathers who aren’t involved.

Adolescents and teenagers with involved, active and nurturing fathers tend to have better intellectual functioning, better verbal skills and higher academic achievement.

All of these benefits are amplified if that involved, nurturing male is the biological father, but it doesn’t have to be in order to still see positive benefits.

I’m not saying that any man will do, or even any biological father because any idiot can become a dad, it doesn’t mean that they will be the best role model for a child. What I am saying is that having a father figure is just as important as having a mother figure for every child. Fathers have a powerful and important impact on the development and health of a child.

Are You In Tune With Your Teenager?

teens_parents_istock_000003860067sma-fullWhile working with teens I’ve noticed that there are certain differences between those who are doing well academically, socially and mentally and those who aren’t.

For the most part, teens that are doing well have parents/guardians that show interest in them and their ideas and actually listen to them.

Teens who are doing well report that they feel connected to their parents/guardians, not only because they show an interest in their teens, but because their parents/guardians take time to  find out what is going on in their lives.

Of course this makes sense, because teens who feel connected to their parents/guardians have more at risk when it comes to making decisions or taking risks.

When these teens are faced with risky decisions such as using a substance, skipping school or having sex, they are more likely to think about how their decision will affect their parents/guardians and their relationship with them.

These teens don’t want to disappoint their parents or lose their trust and are more likely to be open to their parents advice, compared to teens who don’t feel connected to their parents/guardians.

Teens who don’t feel as connected to their parents/guardians or don’t believe that their parents/guardians are genuinely interested in them, are more likely to take more risks without thinking about the consequences those risks may have on their relationship with their parent/guardian.

They are less likely to be interested in school, to be open and honest with their parents/guardians, to be well-adjusted or to avoid the many traps that await them as teenagers.

When parents are responsive, connected and supportive with their teens, it makes it easier to tackle some of the tougher issues such as discipline and setting rules/boundaries.

Even if you are a really strict parent, your rules won’t receive much lasting respect from your teenager, unless they also believe that you care about them.

I meet parents everyday who are strict on their teens, but their teens have major academic and discipline problems outside of the home. When I sit down with these families, it’s usually clear to me from the start, that they are not connected.

A large part of my job then becomes trying to bridge that gap and create a connection between the parents/guardian and their teenager.

It’s not enough to simple parent a teenager, and you don’t have to be their friend, but you have to engage them, connect with them and make them feel supportive.

You can take advantage of everyday opportunities to connect with your teen, such as while watching television, driving to/from school, dinner time or even setting specific times for a “date” with your teen.

Find out what’s going on in your teen’s life. Make sure to ask questions about their activities and interests. It may seem strange or even uncomfortable at first, but with time it will become easier and feel more natural.

Connecting with your teen may be harder than you expect, depending on the nature of your relationship. Some teens can be tough to get through to and are resentful or argumentative.

The teen years are largely about trying to find independence, so it’s only natural that your teen will challenge things you have taught or are trying to teach them as they try to form their own identity.

Your teen may think that you are being nosy and initially become resistant if you haven’t had a good relationship before this, but be genuine and eventually they will respond in-kind.

Don’t give up however. Chances are they are listening, even when you think they aren’t, and they will remember the lessons you are trying to get through to them. Keeping your messages brief will help with some of that resistance, as teens generally don’t like to be lectured to.

Learn to understand your teen through observing them and learn to respect your teen by listening to what they have to say.

Some other things you can do to foster a close relationship with your child according to

  • Spend time together regularly, doing things your teen enjoys
  • Talk openly and honestly
  • use positive communication skills, especially when there is conflict. For example, think before you speak and acknowledge your teen’s point-of-view so he or she knows you are listening.
  • Acknowledge the positive qualities and behaviors of your teenager.

A quick self-check includes:

  • Do you praise your teen for accomplishments, even the small ones?
  • Do you spend time each day talking with your teenager?
  • Do you regularly have meals with your teen and other family members?
  • Are you familiar with your teen’s favorite interest and hobbies?
  • Do you know your teen’s friends?

As I stated in a previous post, the teen years is not the time to stop parenting your teen, but your role as a parent changes just as your child changes from a kid to a young adult. They still need your guidance and for you to effectively guide them, you have to be connected with them.

Your Teenager Needs and Wants Your Guidance

Group of Teens_397

If you are a parent of a teenager, you probably have worried at one point in time about the many issues that face them including drugs, alcohol and tobacco use, dangerous driving, sexual activity, school, peer and social issues.

You’ve probably also worried about losing the influence you have over your teen as they start trying to branch out and find their own identity in the world.

We all know that teenagers face many challenges and changes in the world, and many teenagers like to act as if they can face and deal with these challenges alone.

As a matter of fact, many teens may actually believe that they don’t need any help, but as adults that care about the teens in our lives, we know that’s not always the case.

Teens need guidance. Teens actually want (although they may never admit to it) your help and guidance (just as they actually want rules and limitations).

As a parent, you may think that once your child becomes a teenager, you can sort of step back and let them grow up on their own, stepping in only when they get into trouble, but that is the wrong approach.

Your job as a parent isn’t over, it’s just changing.

Many parents who think like what I just described above, end up with spoiled kids who take no real responsibility for their lives and their actions.

They often believe that they are entitled to many things others have to work hard for and end up becoming young adults and adults with a host of intra and interpersonal problems.

There is some good news however.

If you watch the news or work with a certain population of teens as I do, it’s easy to think that teens today are worse than teens have ever been in history, but that’s actually not true.

Compared to their parents generation, teens today are less likely to become pregnant, smoke, use drugs and alcohol, drop out of school, or commit a violent crime.

They are more likely to volunteer and explore their spiritual side than ever. They are also more tolerant and are more likely to have friends of different races, socio-economic status, religion and ethnic groups.  They are also more likely to say tey have positive relationships with their parents.

All the hard work society has put into improving teens is paying off, but not without the help and involvement of parents.

Research shows that teens want and expect their parents to play key roles in their lives. They want advice and guidance and they remember your wise words, even when they act as if they are not listening.

The troubled teens I work with usually come from households where they are lacking parenting or have a parent or parents that don’t know how to be parents. Some are just “bad” parents while others are too busy with their own lives to actively parent their teens.

Despite all the good news about teens, the fact is, the dangers are still there. Any parent can attest to that. If they weren’t, there would be no need for my services  and I and all the counselors I know who work with teens, are largely overwhelmed with the number of teens that need counseling.

The problems facing teens are often similar and yet different for each one, and some may surprise you.

Like the fact that rural teens tend to have more drug and alcohol problems than urban teens, and that 30% of high school teens reported driving with someone who has been drinking at least once in the last month.

The teens years are much like when your child first learned to walk. Remember how they would look for something to hold onto such as a table or your leg to help steady themselves?

Sometimes they even freaked out when they couldn’t find something to hold on to, but you were usually their to help guide and protect them and make sure that they didn’t hurt themselves.

Although you stayed close enough to help them not hurt themselves if they started to fall, you also gave them enough room to learn and practice their new abilities and watched with joy as they grew in confidence from crawling, to walking, and eventually running.

Adolescence is very similar.

Your teen needs you to be there as they try to find themselves in the world, or they will find something else to hold onto just as they did as toddlers learning how to walk.

If you are not there for them to hold on to, they will potentially find drugs, alcohol, sex, bad influential friends, crime, you name it.

If you are lucky they will find good friends, healthy and safe adults, teachers, counselors, etc., but you want to be the person who guides your child.

You want to be the person that helps your child navigate through the barriers, which means you have to be close enough to give advice and to answer their questions honestly, but far enough away to allow them to start making and learning from their own decisions.

The adolescence are an exciting and scary part of life. Your teens are changing and growing and although they may start to look like adults, their decision making, risk/reward system are far from fully developed, so they still need you to be their for them, or they will look for and find something/someone else, good or bad.