Monthly Archives: June 2013

Helping Your Child Face Their Fears

I had a patient a long time ago who was extraordinarily emotionally unbalanced. She came from the wackiest family you could ever imagine and she had been on many different drugs. I remember asking her what she took.  “Whatever’s available,” she said.  I was surprised she wasn’t dead.  However, she was a remarkable person, and as time went on, she got better and better. She ended up becoming a professional in the medical industry and was very good at her job.

One day in a session, she became terribly upset and started storming around my office.   She pointed to my diplomas and other things hanging on the walls, shouting about how I’d accomplished so much more than her even though we were the same age.   I simply said, “We can’t compare ourselves.  I had to walk across a field – you had to dig yourself out of a hole.  If I had to crawl out of the hole you did, I don’t know where I’d be.”

Some people have to overcome a lot inside of them to get from point A to point B.  Others slide from point A to point B with very little road rash.  Some of you are scared to death of going to a party whereas others walk in with a bottle of wine and say, “Where’s the food?”

Part of anxiety is genetic and some of it is learned. Many parents are so concerned about their kids never feeling hurt, embarrassed or uncomfortable that when they have to face something on their own in the world, they can’t cope. Kids have to learn that life is sometimes disappointing and that just when three good things happen, one bad thing can come and hit you in the mouth.

So when your child is afraid, how can you help them face their fears?

Believe it or not, the most powerful tool for helping a child overcome their anxiety is simple: talking!  When something is in your head, it’s like a malformed monster.  It doesn’t have dimensions or clarity – it’s just fear with scariness attached to it.  But when you describe the fear out loud, you turn the dimensionless feeling into something tangible.  It’s now a thing you can put in front of you and look at, and it loses power.  When it’s inside, it’s all-powerful, but on the outside, we have power against it.

The more articulate a child is about their fears, the better they will handle being shy and fearful.  That’s why talking is so important.  You can make it a game.  Ask your child, “If what you are afraid of were an animal, what kind of animal would it be?  If it were a thing, what kind of thing would it be? What color would it be?” They will not only have fun trying to describe their fear with colors, textures, sizes, and sounds, but they will feel a sense of power and control over what it is and what it means to them.  They can now see it, hit it, push it, pinch it, and put it in a box.

Let’s say, for example, that your child is afraid of a monster in their closet or under their bed.  Ask them what the monster looks like, how big it is, and how much it weighs.  Have them define it in three dimensions.  Then say, “How do you think we could take care of this? OK, here’s what we’re going to do.  I have this special blanket, and if I capture this creature with the blanket and put it in the trash, it can’t get out.”  Do this and your kid will go right to sleep.

At any age, it’s incredibly impressive when someone is afraid to do something but does it anyway. So parents, if you take away anything from this blog, it should be this: When your child is afraid of doing something but does it anyway, support them out their ears.

*A Not-So-Fun-Factoid: What is the biggest fear for kids? Their parents getting divorced!  On average, kids will tell you that they would rather a parent be dead than divorced.  If their parent is dead, they don’t feel left behind on purpose or see their parents fighting or establishing new families with new kids. With a divorce, the gates of hell are opened permanently and the torture never ends.  The number one thing kids call about on my program is, “My parents are divorced and I don’t see my mom or dad.”

How to Shelf the Selfishness in Your Marriage

Everyone is selfish when they get married. In the beginning, it’s all about “I’m in love,” “I’m getting married,” “Something wonderful is happening to me,” and “I love the way this person makes me feel.”  And although this me-centered narcissism is normal, if you fail to transition out of it, your marriage is sure to fail within three to seven years, especially if you have kids.

I can’t tell you how many callers I get on my program wanting to know, “How can I make my spouse ______?” The blank could be “do chores the way I want,” “spend less money,” or “change their attitude.”  However, the bottom line is you can’t make anyone do anything. That’s why I say to choose wisely before you get married in the first place.  If you’re the only one in the relationship ever being selfless, you’ve made a mistake.

Marriage is about giving more than you have to, not constantly wanting more.  Your spouse is not your slave or fairy godmother.  It’s not always about your needs, your hurts, your feelings, your time, and your schedule.  Marriage takes compromise and a willingness to lose fights and arguments. It’s the acts of sacrifice sprinkled throughout a marriage that make love deep.

The best time to put yourself out for your spouse is when he or she is not at their best.  Have you ever been in a pissy mood and someone acted sweetly? I bet you snapped out of it almost instantly.  Listen to your spouse, hug them, give them a back rub or a gift, or plop them in the tub with you. Do whatever it takes despite how you feel.  Selflessness costs you something, but it protects the relationship.

Your job when you get married is not to sit there with a scorecard of all the things you’re getting.  It’s to throw away all scorecards and figure out each day how you can make your spouse feel happy that they’re alive and married to you.

For further discussion of this topic, read my book, The Proper Care and Feeding of Marriage.

Be Their Parent, Not Their Friend

Even the best parents in the world can produce crappy kids. On the flip side, some of the worst parents can produce really wonderful, functioning kids.  That’s the reality.  However, it’s also the exception. Just because it happens doesn’t give you license to be a crappy parent.

My basic definition of a crappy parent is someone who doesn’t have parenting on their agenda.  Parents today are, by and large, self-absorbed. There’s very little focus on discipline, integrity, boundaries, fairness, and honesty, much less spirituality.  That’s because they’re busy with others things that are more important to them than parenting.

One in four parents polled say they don’t tell their kids off because they want them to have an easier life.  But that’s a total lie. It’s the parents who want to have the easier life. They’re so busy with their work schedules and social lives that they let their kids do whatever they want rather than be bothered with the hassle of disciplining them.  They hand them over to nannies, day care centers, and baby sitters, and go on their way.  I’d say almost half of women, if not more, would have a kid on Monday, go back to work on Wednesday, and not look back or feel guilty. They’d be as happy as peach pie to not have to deal with “the little brat”.

The reality is, we’re no longer a kid-centric society. According to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, close to 40 percent of working mothers are the sole or primary breadwinners of their families (that’s up from just 11 percent in 1960).  What’s even more striking: 60 percent of “breadwinner moms” aren’t married.  Three-quarters of adults say that the increasing number of women working has made it harder for parents to raise children.  With Mom out working, divorcing, screwing around, bringing new boyfriends into the house, and remarrying, it’s no wonder kids don’t respect their parents! Today, you can look a kid in the face and they’ll spit in your eye.

In general, parents need to stop being so deathly afraid of upsetting their kids.  When your child does something wrong, quit blaming others and suing schools and coaches because you don’t want your self-entitled little sweetheart to have hurt feelings. It’s time to stop being our kids’ friends and be their parents.