Is your anxiety making you a controlling parent?

"In an uncertain world, we often feel desperate for absolutes. It's the human response to fear."

--Dr. Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly

I think all parents feel a certain amount of "am I doing this right?!" anxiety. The stakes seem so incredibly high. We don't want to mess our kids up. And lets face it, when it comes to parenting, uncertainty abounds. So, we read pregnancy or parenting books. We ask the mom whose baby is napping what her secret is. We troll blogs or Facebook looking for answers or reassurance. Basically, we just want to know that it'll be ok. That we're doing the right thing for our kids. That we're not being too permissive, or too strict, too controlling or too lax. We're always waiting to feel like we've finally got this parenting thing figured out.

For some, a certain rigidity starts to take hold, as that fear of messing up wraps it's cold tentacles around our hearts. That fear is so uncomfortable, that we start to seek absolutes, clear-cut "must do it this way or else!" methods. As if there were one right way, one trick, one secret to getting kids to nap, or to potty train them or to get them to do their homework. Somehow if we could just figure out that trick, the rest would be so much easier. So in response, we get controlling and rigid, instead of flexible and curious. And guess what results when kids feel controlled? They push back. They whine. And everything feels like more of a battle. Pretty draining, right?

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WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COACHING AND THERAPY?

I get asked pretty often-- "what's the difference between coaching and therapy?"

Well for starters, therapy focuses on you and oftentimes addresses symptoms such as depression or anxiety. As a parent, when you aren't feeling like yourself, it can have real ramifications for the rest of the family. It is key to take the time to get relief, both for your sake and for your family's. I urge parents to incorporate counseling, meditation, exercise and slowing down to help address the emotions that are interfering in your day-to-day. For some folks, a session or two is all it takes to "right the ship." For others with more long standing symptoms (eg, "I've always been a worrier,"), it may take a bit longer to shift those thoughts and feelings. But it can be done! In therapy, I use a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and supportive therapies, with a strong focus on self care and self regulation. CBT has a fairly intuitive underlying concept, namely that your thoughts affect your feelings and behaviors. Helping clients examine their negative, distorted thoughts using a more balanced and realistic lens can make a huge difference both as a person and a parent. 

While in parenting coaching we certainly look at how you are doing, the main focus is on improving the relationship with your child. As a parent, I know how easy it is to get overwhelmed and having some outside help can really help shift the negative dynamics at play at home. The peaceful parenting approach is practical, and it works. There are three main ideas. The first is the need to regulate yourself as a parent. So, stopping yourself from yelling, pausing to breathe and not reacting as if the situation is an emergency is key. The next and most important piece is fostering connection. We truly cannot force our kids to comply--instead we have to use the power of our relationship. This means taking the time to connect and build a warm, loving relationship so that our child will not want to endanger that connection, and will instead, follow our guidance. The last part, is to coach and not to control our kids. Studies have shown that spanking and time outs are truly ineffective as means of guidance. When children misbehave, it's actually a sign that there is something wrong physically (hunger, fatigue) or within the relationship, but not with the child. Mind you, this is not permissive parenting, where anything goes and the child has the run of the house. On the contrary, the idea is to maintain limits but use empathy to see your child's point of view. 

So would you like to work on you or on your relationship with your child? In some cases, I even offer a bit of both coaching and therapy, which can be a good option as well. I am happy to speak and offer additional guidance on which option is best for you.