Have you ever asked yourself why our children sometimes say “I don’t care,” and how we as parents can navigate this challenging attitude?
In this episode, we peel back the layers of this mysterious ‘I don’t care’ attitude. We remind ourselves that when children push back, it’s essential not to take it personally. We discuss the importance of grounding our emotions, staying consistent, and expressing our love for our children, even when they are in their prickliest moods. We wrap up the episode with the importance of holding a grand vision for our children’s future, staying steady on the path, and nurturing their ability to tackle big feelings, problem-solve, and take responsibility. Whether you’re dealing with a strong-willed toddler, resistant preteen or a moody teenager, remember: you’re not alone in this journey of parenthood.
What you will learn on this episode:
– How to respond when your child exhibits an ‘I don’t care’ attitude
– The importance of acknowledging your own feelings when dealing with your child’s resistance or disconnection
– The impact of social media, hormonal changes, and developmental transitions on your child’s behavior
– Ways to consistently express your love and connection with your child, even during challenging times
– The importance of holding a grand vision for your child and staying steady on the path to achieving it.
I absolutely love to hear your thoughts and get your questions.
You can email me at: Leighagermann@gmail.com
I can’t wait to hear from you!
This podcast is not intended to provide mental health treatment. Leigh Germann is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and not a doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist. She does not provide diagnosis nor offer therapy through the LeighGermann.com website or in the information offered on the website. It is important that you do not disregard professional medical or mental health advice or delay seeking professional medical or mental health treatment because of any information on the LeighGermann.com website including but not limited to blogs, newsletter, videos, podcasts, e-books, programs, webinars, courses and other services. Leigh Germann and offerings on LeighGermann.com are not providing legal or financial advice, business advice, psychotherapy, supervision, religious advice, or medical advice. The information contained on this Website has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
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Sometimes we get messages from our children that make it hard for us to connect with them. In this episode, we’re answering questions about what to do when your child says I don’t care. This is Leadership Parenting, episode number 22. Did you know that resilience is the key to confidence and joy? As moms, it’s what we want for our kids, but it’s also what we need for ourselves. My name is Leigh Germann, I’m a therapist and I’m a mom. Join me as we explore the skills you need to know to be confident and joyful. Then get ready to teach these skills to your kids. This is Leadership Parenting, where you learn how to lead your family by showing them the way. Hi and welcome to Leadership Parenting.
Today we have another question and answer episode. This question comes at a great time. We’re talking a lot about connection and a lot about how to be connected with ourselves and how to be connected with others, how that works with our nervous system. We’re also talking about how to be connected with our children. With all this conversation about connection being top of mind, it’s really valuable to be able to talk about what happens when that connection feels like it’s not working so well or it’s being disrupted. So we do have a question about that and I’ll read the question and then we’ll jump into it. So this is from a mom who has five kids and her question is this what would you suggest for an 11 year old who will answer things with I don’t care? And then this mom gives us an example.
The other day we were going on a summer outing and she said I don’t want to go. And I told her we would love to have her, but if she doesn’t want to go she doesn’t have to. And in the end she said you’re just forcing me, so I’ll go. And so I told her that I wasn’t forcing her and it was her choice. But she kept saying you’re forcing me, so I’ll go, but I’m not going to have fun. And this mom said I’m not sure how to respond to her and the situation. Do you have suggestions? So I love this question and I love that it’s multifaceted and there’s a lot here that we don’t know, a lot of questions that I have if we were to kind of break this down and go deep.
But I think that there’s some really great things we can do, kind of in a formulaic pattern that will be helpful to all of us as we’re going in our parenting journey, so right away, what I hear from this mom is her dedication and her devotion to her child and her awareness of the relationship that they have. And I can hear that and I bet you can too the desire that she has to have that connection, the fact that there is not a positive response that comes with her invitation or that sense of engagement that that’s really bothering her. And in episode 18 we talked a lot about how important it is to connect with your kids, why they need it, and that it’s part of that attachment process that gives us a stable and steady home base from which your children can grow and develop and eventually launch into the world. So moments of connection help to build this attachment. And this mama is offering connection to her daughter in a fun in the form of a fun family outing and getting pushback, and it’s not just a no thanks, mom, but some mixed messages and even an accusation that she’s being forced to go, and it sounds like maybe this might be happening around some other things too, when she’s given choices. That’s the part that we’re not quite sure of, but we’re going to assume that the I don’t care is happening in some other areas too, and isn’t this so frustrating?
I think the hardest part of parenting is that feeling like someone is moving the goalpost on us, like, just as we’re doing all the things that we know are good and helpful for our kids to kind of hit the expectation that we’re going to have a winning goal here and then their needs change or what they used to think was awesome Now they think it’s dumb or like in this instance, this mom is offering a fun outing and her daughter is not responsive to it. So I think first it’s important to take a deep breath and acknowledge what we’re trying to do here and maybe even acknowledge our own feelings around really trying to do a good job for our kids and getting refused or rejected. And I know when we talk through it it’s easier to see that our child is just going through something, but in the moment it can feel so personal. So step one is going to be to take a breath and recognize that you care about your child and it can hurt a little bit to get rebuffed like this, and I think the phrase that I hear a lot from moms and that I heard a lot in my own mind is why are they giving me such a hard time, and I think that’s so natural because you know your intentions and your goals and if everyone would just cooperate, even at a bare minimum, everything would just be so good. Right Like?
I was watching one of my kids making dinner for their kids and she spent extra time choosing things she thought the kids would like and plan to fund dessert. And they got all kinds of pushback from the kids when it was time to come to the table. They didn’t want to stop playing and all of a sudden it just seemed like the food on their plate, even though they usually love it, they just seemed like they just didn’t like it and they were giving her such a hard time. And as parents, that’s the filter we look at things through. It’s our own experience, with our intentions and our hopes and expectations. We kind of can’t help having our first experience of what’s going on to get filtered through our own personal lens and with that we usually get some feelings. If we’re appreciated and make them happy make them happy in air quotes then we feel pretty good.
And if we get pushback from our kiddos, it feels like they’re giving us a hard time and sometimes we want to say can’t you just do what I ask or I’m giving you a choice here. Why do you have to make it so hard? And I remember feeling that way and multiply that by another child or two and it’s like how am I supposed to get through this day with everyone giving me such a hard time? It’s like herding cats and honestly I think that might be a decent description of parenting. On some days, at any given time, the list in a mom’s head probably looks nothing like the list in her kid’s head, and so there’s that mismatch, and it’s useful for us to consider that our kids do have lists or ideas in their heads of what they want to do or what they want to eat or how long they want to stay somewhere, and the older they get, the more they are going to have their own ideas of how they want things to go. And that’s where the herding cat analogy makes a lot of sense.
As a mom, I need to be in charge and make the final decisions, but I’m working with children whom I’m trying to raise to think for themselves. So if you have strong-minded children, you’re right on track. They’re supposed to be having some ideas and thoughts of their own. We just have to navigate that now in a way that honors their emerging independence and holds our authority as the leaders in the family. So that first step is acknowledging our own intention to try and do what we think is good and right, and all those feelings that come when it doesn’t get appreciated. Then I think step two is to recognize anytime our kids are giving us a hard time. It usually means that they are having a hard time themselves, and this is an important view to take, because it assumes your child does not have malintent towards you.
Their behavior has more to do with their struggles and they don’t have the skills to communicate it or work with it. So we’re working to not personalize something that feels very personal, and I bet you can remember being able to do this with your very little children. When your one year old is kicking and screaming and arching his back because he can’t get the toy he’s playing with to do the thing he wants it to, I bet you didn’t take that so personally. You could probably say, okay, you’re tired, this has been a long play date, or we’ve missed your window of getting food and now you’re melting down and you could swoop them up, get them home to nap or lunch. But as they grow and have better language and processing skills, you’ve seen them become more appreciative, you’ve seen them manage their mood sometimes and they seem like they’ve gained some skills and your expectation for their behavior increases, and that makes sense.
So when they regress or push back, it feels like such a regression, such a betrayal or at the very least, a mystery that throws us off balance. So we always begin by checking in to see how you’re feeling and being aware of it, so you can make some decisions and then have a helper thought my child is having a hard time because it allows you to depersonalize it and get to that place where you can be curious and you can even say my child is giving me a hard time because I know that’s how it feels. They’re giving me a hard time because they are having a hard time and that may be a little more accurate to you feel more accurate. But the focus is going to be on understanding it better so you can decide what to do, and curiosity and parenting really is our best friend. It can be hard to get curious when we feel injured or even mistreated, and so we need to acknowledge our hurt feelings and kind of attend to ourselves, because kids can say and do things that we are not expecting and it can take us by surprise and distract us from our ultimate role, which is to be a steady leader for them. Some kids will even try to shock us or push us away, just to test and see if we’ll stay the steady parent or whether we’ll melt down.
And I think kids have this desire to have power and then when they get it, it can so totally overwhelm them, and this is part of developmental growth for them. They are trying out their power, just like a toddler demands and demands to do it by myself, then absolutely gets overwhelmed with the thing they wanted to do, all by themselves. It’s like they can’t help it and we have to set the boundaries and let them try some things and then others. We just hold the boundary and keep steady. We keep loving them. No, I won’t let you have the sharp knife and run around. No, I won’t let you hit your sister or run ahead in the parking lot or have cookies for dinner and they’ll be upset. And we have to hold the connection with them and not take their upset personally.
So in this question today, this mom offers a fun event and gets a no and when she says okay, she then gets accused of forcing her daughter to go, which, of course, is not at all what she’s doing. So she’s kind of set up not getting any credit for inviting, no credit for giving the daughter space, and unfairly accused of something she’s definitely not doing. It is hard because, any way she goes, this mom is not making her daughter happy, at least not in this moment. So big breath acknowledge this is not fair. You’re doing everything responsible as a mom. You can tell yourself this is not personal, and I think this is the clue we have that our child is having a hard time. This daughter is having a hard time.
So our next step is to get curious. As I’m triaging a situation, the first thing I ask is is this behavior familiar and is it usual for her, for this 11 year old, or is it something unusual for her? And I want you to be thinking about behavior that way as well. We’re gonna generalize this mom’s question to a myriad of questions you might have about your children’s behavior. If the behavior is familiar, then you’re getting a little glimpse into your child’s style and the way that they’re using coping skills. That might help you translate what it is your child is actually dealing with?
My question about this 11 year old is does she have a history of withdrawing when she’s upset? Does she have a tough time asking directly for what she wants or expressing her feelings, or does she have a really tough time when she doesn’t get the things that she wants or isn’t able to kind of express her feelings in the way she’s not understood? I wonder about the other times that she says I don’t care. Is it that she isn’t good at voicing her preference? There’s a lot we don’t know here and that’s why I think it’s helpful to see if this is a pattern that’s been around awhile or this is a new behavior, because sometimes you as the parent can translate your child’s behaviors. I know something happened at school today that upset him because he never wants to eat when he’s upset, or I know something feels embarrassing, or she’s having some big feelings right now because she often says I don’t care when she has those things going on inside of her.
You’re looking at the clues and you’re kind of trying to translate the behavior, with the assumption that your child is not able to communicate that well to you. So if this is a brand new behavior. Then you can start to look for those clues to see if there was an event or something that might have happened that seemed to coincide with this specific behavior, because kids don’t always have the self-awareness to connect the dots to see that I’m feeling this way because this thing happened and I’m upset about it. And kids are notorious for saying you know, I’m really mad right now about this one thing, when what they’re really feeling upset about is something that happened at school or something that’s happening in the bigger picture. So I really think it’s a great idea to kind of for us as parents to step back and map it out, and I’ll often take a piece of paper.
I would do this with my kids and I’d do this with parents when we’re trying to figure this out for their children. We’ll take a piece of paper and do a little timeline of the last, maybe the last couple of days or maybe the last couple of weeks, or even look at the year and write out all the things that might be happening in their life from our perspective as a parent, and then pause, sometimes set it down and walk away for a minute and then come back and look at it again and add some of our thoughts or impressions as we imagine this scenario or this timeline from our children’s perspective, and we can sometimes start to see things that line up that might point to a reason why you’re seeing a behavior change in your child, and I call this an exercise where we connect the dots, or connecting the dots. It helps us increase our understanding of our child’s world, to include things maybe they don’t even see, and it’s pretty common to see behavior changes around the starting and ending of school, like transitions, especially within families with parental life changes or people having illnesses or divorces or moves, changes to friends, the birth of a new sibling or having an older sibling leave the home, and then there are all of the hormonal and developmental changes that are going on with our children. So that would be the first thing to check, to see if anything is happening that’s triggering this response. And the next thing to consider would be to look at the behavior through a developmental lens, and I think it’s helpful to be able to look at anything familiar, even if this is a familiar behavior sing over and over again, or especially if it’s new. We’re looking to see where your child is in age and what the developmental stage and tasks are for that age. So in general we can look at what 11-year-olds are dealing with, and of course this is a big range because you might have a really young 11-year-old and not much of it will fit yet, or an 11-year-old who’s there kind of on a fast track in developmental stages. So it’s helpful to at least start with a baseline developmental understanding of each age and stage for you to start to evaluate your child’s experience, a foundational idea of what you’re looking at, and then you know your child so you can kind of make an adaptation from there.
So at age 11, this kiddo is pre-adolescent, dealing with, or getting ready to deal with, a big shift in hormones, lots of awareness of things that she has not been aware of before this age. Think about all the social approval that gets really heavy around this time. And as an aside, by the way, this social approval is getting more and more impactful to younger children and I think it’s because of the use of social media, the awareness of social media at younger ages, that brings this into play for our younger children. And when you think about the freedom that a young child has to play, to make comments like whatever’s on their mind to wear what they want to wear. All of that they have a freedom to do without a sense of comparison to others when they’re little. When they’re little children without peer pressure and I mean there’s a little bit of social pressure around some behavior, but mostly children have a freedom without having a social media account. That’s measuring where they are in comparison. So the younger our kids have devices and accounts and start to enter that world, then we’re going to see this change developmentally, more of that pressure. So that’s kind of an aside. That’s probably a topic for another episode.
But in general, historically, adolescence is the time when social influence really becomes a higher priority and kids start to feel it and it can impact how they feel about themselves. So as a mom of an 11 year old, you really want a 12 year old, a 13 year old. You really want to be thinking about this adolescent change, this massive, massive change in hormones that this child is going through, and also thinking and processing and decision making changes. All of that is increasing around this time and control. This is a time when you’re going to see children who are really growing in their capabilities to have distinct preferences and make quite a few decisions on their own, they’re more competent in so many things and they may not need as much help as they did when they were younger. So preteens are testing out what they can do on their own and also preparing to go through some of the separation that needs to happen in adolescence to prepare them for adulthood.
So, in summary of all of that, if you’ve got a kiddo who has a lot of hormones, potentially feeling kind of moody at times, with lots of emotions that they’re trying to understand where they’re trying to fit into social situations, act and look more grown up, but still really wanting to feel close to their family like they always have, but also wanting to be very independent and not feeling as comfortable and in being dependent as they used to, they want to make their own decisions and they don’t want to make their own decisions. And it kind of reminds me of that toddler who wants to do it by themselves but then cries when you let them do it by themselves. And that’s what this 11 year old said right, I don’t want to go. Okay, you can stay. Well, you’re forcing me to go. It sounds so much like that toddler who’s torn between wanting independence and wanting dependence.
So if you can map your child on this developmental scale and kind of see is there any of this that might be going on? This is not something you ask your child straight up and do not say to them oh, you’re an 11 year old, you’re in a developmental phase that is sure to absolutely blow this up. This is a process that you’re doing in your own mind, maybe having conversations with your partner in private. You’re observing and recognizing that any of these things might be going on and it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a sign that something is wrong. It is a sign that it’s something that you need to navigate and you may need a little bit more of your attention focused and your time. But it’s not unusual to have these phases as kids are developing. So when your child pushes you away, it’s hitting on that connection that you have and it can be very disconcerting, especially if you’re not used to that behavior from them. It can feel really worrisome.
So what I love about this mom’s story is how she kept reassuring her daughter that she wasn’t forcing her and that she could just say okay and stay home, which actually would have probably been okay with this mom, if I can read in between the lines here and it sounds like this 11 year old was torn with wanting to go but also not wanting to go, so she passed the responsibility of that onto her mom and labeled it as being forced to go. Okay, why would she do that? I think it’s because it feels a whole lot safer to blame mom, who is safe and steady, than to think that this 11 year old feels out of control inside. She didn’t want to go and she didn’t want to stay home, probably felt kind of unsteady inside of her, and I imagine kids in these in between stages as having one foot in childhood and one foot in want to be adulthood, feeling so torn, wanting so much to not need to be with her family but wanting so much to be with her family and feeling moody. And I think when our kids push back like this, it reminds me of that saying it can be hard to hug a porcupine.
I think someone wrote a book about that too. I can’t remember exactly, but a lot of times our kids will give us a very porcupine kind of response and this is a time when I think it’s a challenge for us to continue responding to them in a really loving and kind way, which it sounds like this mom totally did. It’s hard to do because it can seem like no matter what you do, it’s going to be wrong and no matter how you go in for that hug, you’re going to get a little stabbed by those porcupine quills. And this just doesn’t happen with our tweens. It happens with kids at all stages, in all ages times when they just feel so grumpy and upset and it’s hard for them to accept our love and direction and it can be really hard for us to offer it when they are so prickly. And I think that shows up in adolescence with kids as kind of a normal behavior. And that’s hard for us with our teens because teens and preteens often feel that ambivalence inside of themselves. They feel pretty porcupine like inside and it just kind of comes out in their expressions to us as parents.
So I think looking to see if this is a sign of something that’s really bothering her and she’s just kind of showing her distress through some irritability, that would be the purpose of mapping things out and seeing if everything was okay and if there is something specific that might be contributing to her not wanting to go and be with the family. And if this is the case, I think we just have to hug that porcupine, and the way to do that would be to say in your most softened, kind voice well, I’m really not forcing you. I would be okay if you wanted to stay at home, but, to be honest, I would miss you if you didn’t come with us, because I love when you’re with us. Either way, I support you. Now she might come back. That’s guilting me, mom, and once again, that’s a porcupine response. Your job is to hold steady and she might come back with. Well, you’re forcing me to go. Then I think you ignore it and you just let her come. She obviously wants to come because, in spite of your permission to stay home there, she is ready to go.
I like to think about how often when I feel ruffled inside and just grumpy and how nothing feels right, like I can be in my favorite clothes and eating my favorite food and it’s just like it’s not right, it doesn’t feel good to me. I don’t know if you ever, maybe I’m the only one that feels that way, maybe I’m still stuck in adolescence, but every once in a while I get that moody feeling and it can just make me grumpy and I think maybe that’s okay. As adults we try to really learn to manage that so it doesn’t hurt other people. But our kids, especially our preteens and our teens, they don’t know how to do that very well. So I want you to always do this grounding of your own emotions, the centering I call it centering where you go to your center. They are not your center. You are your center and calm inside first, where you check in and you notice how you’re feeling. You notice what you might be thinking. You notice especially if you’ve got that angry or defensive feeling or that hurt feeling or that anxious feeling. Then there’s probably a thought there that’s reacting to what your child is saying and it’s normal.
It’s important to be able to ground yourself and not personalize what they’re doing, and a great way to do that is to have some kind of anchor statement or belief that you can go to, that you can say to yourself over and over again. One of the ones that helped me a lot was no matter what my child’s going through, I’m going to be here to help them figure it out. My job is not to make them happy, my job is to help them know they are loved. So that’s a shift for us. I still have to work on that right now with my adult children. They don’t expect me to make them happy, but when I hear they’re having some hard time or they don’t feel good, I take a deep breath and remember what my role is. It’s to stand by their side and support them when things are hard and celebrate, of course, with them when things are going well, but my job is not to make their life happy. My best reason to support why we should tell ourselves this is because it’s impossible for us to make our children happy, even though we have the illusion that we can sometimes.
So I think having that permission to let our children feel what they’re feeling and hold steady for them, even when they’re in a grumpy mood, it might look like this I’m so glad you’re coming with us and then, if she’s unhappy in the back seat, you can put an arm around her or you can smile at her, or you can offer to give her a sip of your drink and just be steady while she works through it. You could ask her in the moment when it’s private, when you’re first asking her, if she wants to go Not in front of everyone else, of course, is everything okay. Would you like to talk about it. And if she’s in a really emotional struggle, you might not get a positive response, at which point you would proceed with a welcome to come along and just not argue about whether you’re forcing her, because ultimately both of you know that you’re not. Then later, when things seem to return to normal and she’s feeling more herself, you might ask her one or a couple of these questions. Maybe not all of them, might feel a little bit like an inquisition, but you might find one or two of these questions that would be helpful. When we went out on that outing the other day, you weren’t quite sure whether you wanted to go. Would there have been a better way for me to ask you what might have helped you feel a little bit better? Help me understand why it was so hard for you that day. I think, circling back around, when things are calmer and the moment has passed, it’s a great time to revisit things with that same acceptance and openness to understand, and of course you would be much calmer at that point, right, so easier to hold that steadiness for them.
And if you have a child who answers with I don’t care a lot. You kind of have to figure out what might be going on, because there are lots of different kinds of I don’t care responses. The kind that comes when you’re disciplining them and they defiantly tell you that what you’re asking them to do or the consequence you’re giving them is not going to affect them at all. That I don’t care can come across as really really a fight. Right, they’re offering you very little connection and kind of laying down the gauntlet. In this case, your child’s response does not mean that you’ve chosen the wrong consequence or that you have to find a harsher one that’s going to really make them care. Instead, just hold steady with your plan. Do not take the bait.
A lot of kids feel embarrassed when they get in trouble and saying I don’t care is a fast way to disconnect from that feeling. I think kids deep down really want to please their parents At least. They love that feeling of having a parent approve of them. So when they feel in trouble they don’t have that approval. It can feel bad and scary enough to shut off feelings with an I don’t care response and as a parent we can affirm our connection and love for them. Even as we explain the consequence, you can say I know how much you try, you are a good kid. This was hard and we can keep working on it. You’re showing them that they can make mistakes and still be lovable. Don’t believe that they don’t care and don’t argue with them about it. Just simply state your affirmation of their value and stay calm and steady. If the I don’t care is meant to get out of doing something they may feel is too hard, once again, don’t argue. Instead, you might try to translate the thing they are really trying to say.
If you have a child who says I don’t care about getting my homework done, you might say let’s find out why you don’t want to do your homework. Is it kind of hard? Does it feel kind of boring to you? And I could see how it might take away from your playing. You may not get an answer, but keep engaging off and on. Give them space, then circle back around. I know yesterday you said you didn’t care about getting your homework done, but I know that might mean there’s something about doing a homework that feels hard for you. Let’s see if we can figure out how to help you feel better about this. Do you see the benevolence in that? Here’s my favorite word benevolent. You’re assuming goodness. You’re assuming your child’s having a hard time and you’re not necessarily taking it head on with them and kind of saying, what’s the matter? You having a hard time with this, but rather you’re translating it. Hmm, I’m going to assume that you probably do care about this. Once again, you don’t have to say those words, but in your reaction to them you’re looking kind of to solve the problem at a deeper level. Finally, I think you also want to look at how your children are handling their life in general, how they’re engaging in their life in general.
A lot of kids I see who give that shrug of their shoulders and drop the I don’t care phrase actually do care and maybe they care a little too much, like almost an anxiety level of caring. Sometimes saying I don’t care is an easier way of dealing with all the pressure or anxiety that they feel inside and in the nervous system. This happens when we drop down into that dorsal where we just kind of collapse. We just let go and say you know, forget it. I just I’m giving up, I’m giving in, and anxiety can cause this and anxiety itself can create a lot of feelings of hopelessness and lead to a feeling of depression. So if your child says I don’t care and then they’re staying in their room or they’re not involved in the things they used to care about, or they’re withdrawing or disconnecting a lot of the time, having trouble with sleep or problem with problem with grades or going to school. They might be dealing with something that needs extra attention from you and maybe even from other helpers. There are many signs of depression, and not caring is one of them. So if you have any concerns about this, you can reach out to your family doctor or a mental health provider to see if there might be a deeper problem going on.
So we’ve got a lot of curiosity going on right, a lot of observation, and that’s why we’re training to be steady, self aware and regulated, so we can be detectives and problem solvers and handle all of the emotional roller coaster rides. We go on with our children and it’s not their fault, I promise you they don’t lay in their beds at night plotting the things they can do to make us miserable. They’re working things out. They’re uneducated, inexperienced, overwhelmed by big feelings and just being kids as they grow. I think as parents, it’s helpful to have a vision in mind for what we’re going for in our parenting, and it should be a big, grand vision, kind of an end result that we’re seeing a far off in the distance and I’m going to stress a far off in the distance.
I have a vision of my child as an adult, capable of connecting to her values, regulating her emotions, being responsible and independent as a human being, and I see my relationship with her as respectful and, having grown from dependence to independence and hopefully landing at this respectful relationship in which she knows I’m forever on her team when she needs an extra hand or a hug or any support at all, this is a grand vision, it’s a beautiful vision, it’s a value based vision and it’s way way out in the future. It helps to have it in your mind because in moments like this it’s important to know that that’s probably what we’re judging our child’s behavior against. Is this grand goal that we have? And the goal is not the problem. It’s a beautiful goal, it’s a beautiful vision.
I actually have parents do a worksheet and work on a process to envision for their child, to hold a vision for their child of what they want, what they’re looking for their end result to be from the grand vision to the skill set that the kids need to know. But there is a path to getting there and when we hold our vision in our minds, it’s important to see it as the end result, not where we’re supposed to be today. We’re on the path to getting there. It’s so easy for me to get anxious because what I’m seeing right now seems so far away from where I want my child to be, and we start to panic a little and get worried that we’ll have a kid who’s antisocial or can’t share, can’t be empathic or even doesn’t care about anything All the things that are devastating to our vision but so normal at the many developmental stages on the path to that vision. So, having a long game in mind and holding the vision with confidence that you’re not there yet, kids need to be able to struggle with these changes and stages and hormones and feelings, and we need to steady, be steady and hold the faith you will get there, we will get there.
This is your intention as a parent. Your intention is to keep working for the skills and the awareness and the abilities that are part of your vision for your child, and your intention helps you know what your role is, not to make them happy or have them display these skills right now not entirely not, yet your role is to stay by their side as they try out this mind and body they’ve been given to not take their having a hard time personally, and sometimes, yes, it involves you setting boundaries around what they do If it’s unsafe or harmful to your others. Their behavior is something you have always boundried if it was unsafe. With their feelings and their moods, they’re test driving and they need you to remain calm and keep holding on to them as they learn. So I’m grateful for this question and the chance we’ve had to walk through the process of doing these things.
Let’s review that process really quickly. One centering ourselves, regulating our emotions and not taking things personally when our kids are having a hard time, so we can stay curious and open to problem solving. Two, considering if there’s something going on in our child’s life that’s affecting them and they don’t have the awareness or the language to communicate and process it. Three, being aware of developmental stages, so we can view our child’s behavior with understanding and compassion and map it and get ideas of how to help them gain the skills to get through that stage. And that helps us not be so panicky. By the way, too, we see that they’re right where they’re supposed to be. Number four, looking for patterns and what they may be communicating to us so we can translate the needs our kids are having, particularly what they’re having a hard time expressing and working through themselves. And five, finally, holding the vision of our children’s success in our minds and giving ourselves permission to be on the path rather than worrying about not being there yet.
So I’ll close today with a story that impacted my parenting profoundly. When I was in my very first job, I worked at an adolescent psychiatric hospital Fabulous experience and I worked with a mentor who was just brilliant. And during my time there she got married and I was at her wedding, and at her wedding reception she gave a toast to her father and she told the story of being a teenager, 14 or 15 years old, and overhearing her parents talking about her. She heard her mom worrying, listing all the things she wasn’t doing right, things that her mom thought were going to cause her great problems in her future. And, like so many of us moms, her mom was racing ahead in her mind, worrying that her daughter would make all these terrible life altering mistakes and fretting about it like we do, probably because she cared so deeply about her right.
And then my mentor said she heard her dad respond back to her mom. I know our girl, I know her heart. She’s trying hard and she will be okay. She’s going to get there. We don’t have to worry. We just have to keep believing in her. And then my mentor said in her toast Daddy, I’ve always heard your voice in my head reminding me that I am okay and that you believe in me. It has carried me through all of the hard times in my life.
I remembered that story years later, when I had kids going through hard times, and it didn’t mean that I had to ignore warning signs or avoid teaching or giving consequences, but it meant that our kids care about what we think about them. They need us to hold the vision and be steady as we help them along the path, and I’m grateful we can do that Keep telling them that we care and when they say they don’t and we tell them in so many ways, even by continuing to invite them and working with them and holding our connection with them, even when they seemingly want to disconnect. It is a hard job being a parent, but you are cut out for it. Just give yourself love, compassion and some care. We need to stay filled up to do this sometimes draining work. Thank you for your questions. Keep them coming and keep holding the vision and holding on to yourselves and your kids, and I’ll see you next week.
The Leadership Parenting Podcast is for general information purposes only. It is not therapy and should not take the place of meeting with a qualified mental health professional. The information on this podcast is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition, illness or disease. It’s also not intended to be legal, medical or therapeutic advice. Please consult your doctor or mental health professional for your individual circumstances. Thanks again and take care.