Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Apple of His Eye

A very important element of responsive parenting is the emotional quality of the interactions between the child and the parent.  How responsive the parent is to the child’s needs and the use of encouragement, praise and physical affection are important. Adolescents who receive parental warmth tend to engage less in antisocial behavior and engage in more positive behavior.  When adolescents feel valued, accepted and loved, they are more inclined to internalize parental values and accept parents’ rules and attitudes.[1] 

When a child feels loved, he will feel special. God communicated that special love to Israel by referring to them as the apple of his eye (Deut 32:10). A child who is shown through the love of her parents that she is unique will develop a healthy self-esteem.

Children develop cognitive and emotional capabilities early in life primarily due to observing the model of their parents.  If children see such behaviors as helping, sharing and serving, they internalize those behaviors and use them.  Research suggests that many of these behaviors are acquired through the daily exchanges of the household between the children and the parents.  When a parent explains to the child the reason for changing a behavior or implementing a new behavior, there is a greater chance the child will respond positively.  Behavior modification that functions on a reward system works for very small children, but as the children get older they need clear explanations from their parents. The more cooperative the co-parenting style is between the mother and father, the better the children will feel about themselves and the more respectful and prosocial they will be toward other people. This emotional development will most likely have a positive impact on their social relationships later in life.[2]

The result of a consistent, responsive parenting style, which is strong on warmth, clear communication and control, seems to solve problem behavior much faster by helping to eliminate the confusion with clarity and make the child feel accepted.

Responsive parenting, while maintaining control, helps the child understand his or her emotions.  This style of parenting enhances the child’s autonomy.  Those children raised in responsive homes are more likely to pursue the ideals of their parents when they are adults with their own sense of independence.[3]

Concepts that need to be communicated to children early on for an effective transition from adolescence to adulthood are the following:

Respect for authority: This is the conduit by which all the major teaching and learning will occur.
Contentment: This allows the child to develop the ability to delay self-gratification.
Conviction: A moral system that can determine right from wrong.
Adversity: The ability to face adversity with the right attitude.
Courage: The ability to face pivotal moments in life with courage and fortitude.
Dependency on God: The ability to trust God in difficult situations.
Patience: The ability to remain steady and wait for the results without giving in to panic.
Humility: The constraining attitude that enables a person to be authentic.

[1] Wang, M., Dishion, T., Stormshak, E., & Willett, J. (2011). Trajectories of family management
practices and early adolescent behavioral outcomes. Developmental Psychology, 47(5), 1324-1341. doi:10.1037/a0024026
[2] Serimgeour, M., Blandon, A., Stifter, A., & Buss, K. (2013). Cooperative coparenting
moderates the association between parenting practices and children’s prosocial behavior. Journal of Family Psychology, 27(3), 506-511. doi:10.1037/a0032893
[3] De Ruyter, D., & Schinkel, A. (2013). On the relations between parents’ ideals and children’s
autonomy. Educational Theory, 63(4), 369-388.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Remedy for Shame

From a very early age, we need to learn to understand our emotions so we can learn how to control them. If, for example, a father tells his little son to wipe those tears away because real men don’t cry—the little boy will have trouble understanding his emotions. A little girl who screams and kicks, to which her mother quickly responds by giving her whatever she wants so she will stop, will also not learn to control her emotions.

Consider Samantha who grew up in an authoritarian home where her father spoke forcefully, showed little affection and had strict rules.  His rules, such as, “No talking at the dinner table,” took the fun out of life.  When she broke the rules, he reacted quickly with angry words that made her feel afraid.

Samantha’s father threatened her, causing her to fear him.  He resembled a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde who had two completely different personalities and was like a volcano on the verge of eruption.  Samantha always wondered how he could act like a tyrant at home, yet be kind to a stranger.  The only place she always felt completely comfortable was the home of her aunt and uncle, so she would go there as often as she could. Unfortunately, Samantha’s fears followed her into her adult years, undermining her self-confidence.

Loren grew up in a home with permissive parents with few boundaries that left her without a sense of security.  Because her father was an alcoholic, she was not able to have a close relationship with him.  Although Loren never found the best role model in her mother or father, she did find it in a neighboring family where she spent most of her time.  Because she saw constant conflict between her mother and father, she quickly learned to avoid hostile situations by running away from them.  She learned to deal with conflict by avoiding it. Growing up with no boundaries contributed to her experiencing extremely painful and shameful encounters.  The shame followed her into adulthood and became a major adversary.

Although dissimilar, these two examples have shame in common.  Both children grew up under reactive parenting. The first child had an over-controlling parent, and the second had an under-controlling parent.[1]  The over-controlling parent often causes his child to hold his emotions in, while the under-controlling parent causes her child to act out her emotions. However, neither child knew how to identify shame in their lives, and, even worse, they didn’t know how to get rid of it. Because neither set of parents were emotionally available, both children found some other person with whom to connect.

What every child longs for is to be loved unconditionally and accepted simply for being himself, regardless of how he measures up to external standards, and doing this will give him a higher self-esteem. If a parent withholds their affection from a child because they are disappointed with the child’s behavior, the child will come to see himself as worthlessness and will feel insecure. 

The remedy for shame is for parents to try to resolve the conflicts and confusion that arise for the child in the family. Children need us to teach them the dangers of envy, greed, selfish-ambition and power. The best way to do that is to teach them the biblical values of love, joy, peace, and faithfulness among others. God’s way doesn’t come naturally; in fact it is unnatural to our sinful nature and our sinful world.  However, unless we live and teach God’s way to our children, they will never know the person God meant them to be. We do this by making deposits into their lives of our faith, character, love and forgiveness.

I slid my card into the ATM machine and then punched the corresponding numbers. Suddenly, fresh, crisp bills came out.  I picked them up and placed them in my wallet. Then I reached down and grabbed my three-year-old son’s hand and headed for my car.  As we walked, his little mind was thinking about what he had just seen.  It was the first time he had ever seen an ATM machine, and because I was in a hurry, I hadn’t noticed his curiosity.  By the time we reached the car and drove away, he said to me: “Daddy, you know I have some money in my piggy bank.  What do you say we put our money together and buy one of those machines?”  It was a great moment I have always treasured.  However, I took the opportunity to teach my small son about the basic concept of banking, which has some real similarities to life.  If we want to make withdrawals, we have to make deposits.  The only way our children will understand the significance of their lives is if we deposit the truth about who God is and who we are.  Good parenting is about depositing the spiritual principles of God’s Word in our children so that when life demands withdrawals, they have some answers. It is the real remedy for shame. If we make enough deposits of love through an authentic parental model, our children will overcome shame and develop a healthy sense of self-confidence.

[1] Van den Akker, Alithe, Maja Dkovic, Rebecca Shiner, Jessica Asscher, & Peter Prinzie, “Personality types in childhood: Relations to latent trajectory classes of problem behavior and overreactive parenting across the transition into adolescence,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104, no.4 (2013): 750-764. doi:10.1037/a0031184

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Games People Play

This is the first in the series of five articles on parenting. I am calling this series Reactive vs. Responsive Parenting. Reactive parenting is done in reaction to something, whether a whining child or a parent’s own anxiety, but it is impulsive and produces poor results. Responsive parenting is thoughtful and is in response to the child’s best interest whether the child realizes it or not.

The games people play is another way of saying that dysfunctional patterns develop and are passed on to each succeeding generation. For example, Jacob had a problem with deception—especially lying; however, Jacob’s father and grandfather had the same problem, and Jacob’s children did too. Let’s look how this problem of lying in Isaac and Rebekah affected their sons.

Isaac and Rebekah, like so many couples, couldn’t have children, so they prayed about their problem. Soon the Lord heard their cry and answered their prayer. During the pregnancy the Lord spoke to Rebekah and told her that she was going to have twins and that the younger would surpass the older (Gen 25:23). This troubled the couple, especially Isaac because traditionally the oldest fared much better in regard to inheritance. God’s pronouncement was based on his sovereignty and omniscience, but also on the willingness and receptivity of each boy to follow God’s heart. Like so many couples Isaac and Rebekah never came to any understanding of how they would parent the boys, and consequently they worked against each other.

Despite God’s pronouncement of his will for Isaac’s family, Isaac planned to give his patriarchal blessing to his son Esau instead of Jacob. In other words he planned to pursue his will and not God’s will for his life and family. He asked Esau to prepare him the tasty venison that only Esau knew how to make, and afterwards Isaac would bless him (Gen 27:4).

When it comes to parenting, it becomes clear that Isaac and Rebekah are not on the same page; in fact they aren’t even in the same book. Unbelievably, they have both chosen their favorites and are working against each other and against their own children.

One of the main sources of conflict children face is marital discord.  There is a clear link to children’s exposure to marital conflict and children’s behavioral problems. The conflict seems to predispose some children to elevated moods which cause conduct problems and in smaller children leads to meltdowns because it compromises their sense of security.[1]

Parenting was meant to be a cooperative effort with both the mother and father working together to provide love, security, guidance and exemplary behavior to their children. When this happens, a child’s personality and independence develops in the right way.

Rebekah reacted to Isaac’s decision to bless Esau and decided to do something about it.  She knew even though Isaac couldn’t see very well, he could still smell and taste.  She connived that Jacob would deceive his father and steal the promised blessing.  Rebekah prepared the venison with the same flavor of wild game that Isaac was expecting from Esau, and she dressed Jacob in goatskins so he would appear hairy to his father and be accepted as Esau.

How ridiculous Jacob must have looked all dressed up in goat skins.  How far had Jacob and his mother been willing to go to get what they wanted?  Only the years would tell how costly the toll of their manipulation of their own family members would be.  They both would live to regret this day.
The one thing we need to give our children is authenticity. We must learn to truly be who we are to our children if they are going to be themselves. If we don’t, we will effectively teach them to imitate others, thus robbing them of the strength of their own authenticity. Isaac and Rebekah did not know how to solve their problems and come to some kind of middle ground in regard to parenting, so they started trying to deal with their problems in dysfunctional ways. Jacob learned how to lie like a pro.

Look at how he lies to his father several times:

Gen 27:18-19 “My father." "Yes, my son," he answered. "Who is it?"  Jacob said to his father, "I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me.  Please sit up and eat some of my game so that you may give me your blessing.”

Jacob’s deception would alienate him from his father and mother and cause a rift between him and his brother. Worse of all, this pattern of deception had taken hold and would be passed on to his children. The good news is that Jacob finally did change in the latter years of his life after suffering the consequences of his actions.

Isaac and Rebekah were reactive parents. They could not work out their differences, and they used their children against each other. Rebekah and Isaac both reacted to their boys’ behavior out of anger or frustration.[2]  The emotional connection they had with their less favorite child was a poor emotional connection charged with negative feelings.  Their decisions were made in a reactive mode—being impulsive decisions which were not thought out. These decisions were either too harsh or too permissive, but not appropriate.  Their children were left frustrated and confused. They used guilt and the withdrawal of love to coerce the children to conform to their wishes. Esau was propelled into a life of rebellion, and Jacob continued his life of deception to get what he wanted, and the entire family was separated.

[1] Ablow, J., Measelle, J., Cowan, P., & Cowan, C. (2009). Linking marital conflict and children’s
adjustment: The role of young children’s perceptions. Journal of Family Psychology, 23(4), 485-499. doi:10.1037/a0015894
[2] Bramlett, M., & Mosher, D. (2002). Cohabitation, marriage, divorce, and remarriage in the
United States. Vital & Health Statistics, 23(22), 1-103.