The Seven Worst Things Parents Do
"What could turn intelligent, independent-minded adults into virtual wimps?"
Barbara Walters asked this question at the beginning of a recent ABC News 20/20 segment about small children tyrannically controlling their parents. During this valuable piece of television journalism, viewers were subjected to videotaped scenes of a mother climbing in and out of bed with her little child. For several hours, the child manipulated the mother, bargained, sabotaged and pretty much ran the show, and Mom just kept playing the game. We watched another child who had a whole cup filled with toothbrushes in an obviously failed attempt to get the child to brush his teeth by giving him "choices." We watched a child whine about wanting a can of soda with breakfast. Her mother said "no," but her father almost immediately turned around and gave the soda to his daughter "to keep peace." It's hard enough to watch these painful examples of well-intentioned parents trying methods that seem logical on the surface--but don't work. It is even harder to watch children who, if allowed to continue running the show, will be psychiatric basket-cases by the time they reach adulthood.
A Family in Trouble
Eric and Pamela first approached us during a break at a seminar we were presenting. They wanted to know how to handle what they described as a normal problem their son was having. They seemed appropriately tentative about how much detail to offer, saying that he was a little resistant to brushing his teeth twice a day. We responded with an answer that matched the detail we were given; they seemed satisfied with the answer, and we moved on to the next person in line.
Eight weeks later, we noticed a new appointment in our book for an Eric and Pamela Jamison. When we greeted them at their first appointment, we recognized them as the couple who had asked the question several weeks before. Bobby, their five-year old son, indeed resisted brushing his teeth on a regular basis, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. He also threw tantrums whenever he didn't get his way. Subsequent systematic measurement indicated that he was having as many as four major tantrums per day. He typically refused to eat what Pamela prepared for dinner, demanding something different, and then refusing to eat that after Pamela had gone out of her way to prepare it just for him. Bedtime was a nightmare that was causing an increasingly dangerous rift between Eric and Pamela, and mornings before work were so stressful that Eric was seriously thinking of moving out for fear that he might do something harmful to Bobby.
And there was more. Much more. But as we listened to their family structure unfold, what struck us most was the family's lack of definition. We were witnessing a family that had been unraveling for months and was now on the verge of despair. We told Eric and Pamela the following:
We will continue with this family's story, and their successful resolution of their
problem, in chapter 11.
>©1999 John and Linda Friel. All rights reserved. Reprinted from The 7 Worst Things Parents Do by John C. Friel, Ph.D. and Linda D. Friel, M.A. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.
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