Thoughts and ideas

Month: October 2016

Some ideas about parenting

NOTES FOR THE CHELTENHAM WORKSHOP ON PARENTING

PARENTING – DO WE NEED A WORKSHOP?!

Parenting really has arrived now. 10 years ago when my partner and I did a parenting course people looked doubtful and spoke about it with sarcastic heavy inverted commas “Parenting”?! Surely it’s just common sense? Or instinct? … You can’t really teach parenting can you? Who needs a course anyway?”

Well – we did. For all our good intentions and principles we were really struggling with our children. Terrible tensions, conflicts and unhappiness. Then we did a parenting course and it transformed the way we behaved and transformed the family culture. There was an outbreak of peace and friendliness which took us right through the teens with basic goodwill and only moderate problems. So it is possible!

Now, as a nation, we all seem to have woken up to the fact that parenting is a skill. And it can be very hard …… and many of us are struggling. But it is possible for it to be great. . In fact at some level many people resent the idea that they need to think about this – to develop a skill. “It ought to be common sense or instinct. Children should just obey their parents….. it’s all very simple.” If that really works for you – then maybe you don’t need to come to the workshop. But if you do have some problems… please do come along, get some ideas and share your experiences.

It seems too obvious to say but…….parenting is very, very important. We are creating the next generation. It is the most important thing we do in our lives. Hearing that is quite shocking to some people apparently. It is only too easy for them to see it as something to be squeezed into the busy schedule of work.

And we have very little preparation for being a parent or opportunities to improve our parenting once the whole scary roller coaster has started.

Of course Parenting is now the TV phenomenon of the age. Although many parenting programmes are quite often awful and sensational, they do raise the whole issue and give some ideas to millions of people.

I find it really encouraging that so many schools, communities and even major companies are having parenting support groups and are running workshops.
Every family is different and some of these notes may seem irrelevant to you. That is inevitable. In the workshops I run I find some parents who do not even recognise the problems I discuss and seem to have peaceful, happy relations. . Other families are struggling and unhappy but believe they are the only ones doing so. It is a relief for them to hear they are not alone.

Please only take what is relevant for you. But perhaps realise that your children are living in a world where many of their present and future friends will be in conflict at home and it is good to be aware of those issues and ways of resolving them.

THESE NOTES ARE DIVIDED INTO TWO SECTIONS: First four ideas that have proved really useful to my family and to others and then 14 techniques or tips that have also proved very useful and practical.

Please note: although once we had worked them out, we found the ideas very useful, some people may find the abstract ideas rather theoretical, unhelpful or even off-putting – especially to begin with.

If that is true for you – then fine – just skip them and go to the techniques section and see if anything there is useful. Maybe just one or two may work for you.
Now I believe strongly that written material can only be of limited help. Parenting is not simply an information thing. It’s not just about facts. It’s about changing perceptions and feelings and behaviour.

To be effective in that way, these notes need to be expanded on and made real at a session or ideally in a course. I have tried to cram a 12 week course into 12 pages – too ambitious by far – but I hope you can make some use of them.

The point is that it’s a bit like diet or fitness or sports training. You can read the book but that’s not quite enough, is it?! Knowing the ideas or the facts about diet and fitness and sport doesn’t really achieve anything. You have got to get the motivation to change behaviour and sustain it. That’s why you have Weight Watchers groups or you go to the gym and have a programme and ideally have a personal trainer. So please come to the workshop on 17 January we can do make a modest start at really working with these ideas.

The notes are outlined in a terribly compressed form – painfully simplified. Also they are general and some may not apply to children of the age of your own children. They have arisen mainly from the really difficult problems that seem to arise at adolescence. However I am sure you can adapt them to your own family situation.

David Jockelson .
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PARENTING: IDEAS AND TECHNIQUES.

Let’s first take IDEAS and attitudes, then later look at some TECHNIQUES.

FOUR IDEAS THAT MAY MAKE LIFE EASIER BY CHANGING ATTITUDES AND EXPECTATIONS.

Out of a mass of ideas and insights available about parenting, I will mention just four ideas we learnt, we have found useful and we wished we’d had earlier:

FIRST IDEA:

Parenting is hard. It probably always has been. But it got much worse with certain specific historic changes in society and culture.

It is worth looking into this in order to understand the problems and see how we can work through them. If you can accept that parenting is really hard for objective historical reasons then it means that having problems is much more common than is usually admitted. It also means that, if you are struggling, don’t feel too awful. Your children are not difficult and you are not a dismal failure!

This idea is most necessary in working with parents of teenagers. If your children are younger these ideas may still be of value. After all it seems to some of us that adolescence run from about the terrible twos and carries on until the mid-twenties!

The behaviour that comes up in children at adolescence and the conflicts that come up in families at this time are incredibly powerful and fairly universal. Children can turn from possibly being loving, co-operative, calm, generous people into ones who are self conscious, status conscious, showing off, grasping, selfish, rejecting, demanding, non liberal, sexist, aggressive. Some parents come to groups very bewildered, hurt, worried and angry.

“What on earth is happening? Was it always this bad? Is it this bad in all countries?”

Answer: No. The key point is this: We are trying to raise children in an extraordinarily unnatural situation. Over-intense and claustrophobic.

These problems are so serious that it is worth the risk of doing what might be seen as pop social anthropology or history and to see parenting in a historical context. When and how has the situation become so unnatural?

Those changes can be seen in two time frames: the first very long – hundreds or thousands of years; the second more recent – changes that have occurred since we were children.

The long view: start with traditional society. Take it back as far as hunter-gatherer groups where we evolved and for which our brains are still best fitted. Or through to the social life of children in small villages. Compare that with the here and now.

Consider the differences in two ways – Who raises the children? and How long does childhood last?

1. Who raises the children?

In a traditional culture children were not mainly raised by their parents. They were raised by the wider family or the village: The much quoted African proverb is “It takes a village to raise a child.” Aunts and uncles and grandparents relieve pressure on parents. They provide different places to go when children are upset or puzzled and they provide different role models.

But also to an even greater extent children are and were being cared for and socialised by their older siblings and cousins. Parents and adults would focus more on the new babies. Older children would be socialised by each other – in a group situation.

They would also have real, meaningful, necessary work to do for the family which gives them a sense of purpose and value (although of course it can become exploitation)

Compare that form of child rearing with the pressures in a modern, western nuclear family: One or two parents – often one or two children. Living in a physically small space. Maybe it’s not safe to ‘play outside’ at all. Maybe little contact with the wider family to provide those different places to go when upset or puzzled or to provide different role models and relief for pressurised parents. Even with playgroup or nursery, home life is a claustrophobic pressure cooker. Happy parenting can be incredibly different. Congratulations to anyone who is even half succeeding.

We sometimes notice this and mention it when thinking of single parents isolated in high rise flats but it is also true to a significant degree of most of us. For you?

From a child’s point of view – they also miss out because they often don’t have that valuable role and healthy responsibility of caring for younger children. They are always on the receiving end of care and socialisation, of exhortations and prohibitions – of control. They are powerless. And powerlessness breeds resentment, anger, fear, dependence and defiance. Do your children, by any chance, show any of those ‘qualities’?

2. How long does childhood last?

Answer: In very early societies childhood was shorter in two ways: First children would have gone through puberty and fairly soon been ready to leave the family group and set up their own family. Secondly, as mentioned above, they would have already been doing those necessary, useful, responsible tasks of caring for younger children.

Childhood is now greatly extended – by 5 or 10 years. Teenagers do not leave the nest when they would naturally have done so. Education means adolescents have to be dependent on their family and home far beyond puberty. Far beyond the time they are ready and hungry to leave home. That creates inevitable conflicts.

Their ‘work’ is school work – abstract, set by adults, imposed, based on a value system and expectations they may not share or may at least doubt.

SECOND IDEA: In this unnatural context of extended childhood – next question….

What exactly is going on in adolescence? It’s not obvious because of the confusions mentioned above about life timing.

Adolescence is essentially a time of stressful transition. It should be about a transition from childhood with dependence and their main attachment to a parent – to adulthood with independence and their main attachment to a new partner.

Rejecting: They need to escape, to push away their childhood homes, to distance themselves from their attachment to parents. . It helped me to think that it is their job to be rejecting and to invite rejection – ie be annoying! A mantra in our group was ‘Don’t take it personally – it’s just the hormones’. It’s worth extending that to ‘Don’t take it personally – it’s their job to push us away.’

That would be hard enough for us to cope with – but as well as being rejecting and provocative, they are also anxious and demanding. Anxious because they now have to make their own position in life.

As children they are defined socially by their parents. As adolescents they need to establish their own place in the world and in the pecking order.

Some adults may be uncomfortable with frank discussion of class, status, hierarchy and competition. Revealingly our children usually are not. They are completely aware of status issues. And its role in sexual competition.

This may have been inflamed by the media and we will discuss that later but it is totally real for them. It is a time of enormous insecurity. “ I’ve got to make my own way. Make a mark, pose, pretend. What will people think? Will I get a girl/boyfriend? “
This is all very stressful. Scary.

So adolescents combine rejection with anxiety. Defiance with dependence.
And that paradox, that contradiction is really hard to handle, to respond to calmly and constructively. The old joke: “You’ve ruined my life. You’re useless. I’m leaving home. Give me the train fare and make me some sandwiches.” Being aware of this paradox can really help parents to understand and not be so threatened and irritated. That really helped us.

THIRD IDEA: One that seems to be widely recognised and was important for us to take further and work with: We have an instinct / impulse to parent as we were parented. There are good Darwinian reasons for this which I’d be happy to discuss some other time …

The old cliché is: “I was determined not to bring up my kids as I was brought up and then ……… I open my mouth and out comes my father’s/mother’s voice.”

And this is wider: automatically, unconsciously our whole style, expectations, attitudes are likely to be more like our parents than we realise – unless we become conscious of it and challenge it. They are not consistent with what we really believe or want to believe. The result is that we don’t ring true and we are not consistent. One automatic reaction is to think or even say “When I was your age…” And how helpful is that?!

In my case – My own anger, rigidity and instinctive authoritarianism learnt in childhood were hidden under a nice, liberal facade. That facade wasn’t simply false. It was what, in my head, I really believed – but it wasn’t true all the way through. This was very confusing for the children. The result – they pushed me to show my true colours. ‘Provocative’ is an unattractive, blaming word. But that was how it felt until I realised what was happening. Then things became much easier.

It would be worth a whole session unpacking that one – discussing how we were parented, remember what we hated most, what we loved most. And then see if some of the negative behaviour and style of our parents is coming through now. And if so, what can we do about it. How can we hold onto the best bits and develop and use them.

The point about saying “When I was your age…” is really important if we return for a moment to the more recent historical view of parenting:

FOURTH IDEA: culture has changed dramatically since we were their age. This is obvious – but it really needs to be looked at and the implications absorbed.

There is a huge bombardment of children by images of consumerism, greed, violence, sex, and the consensus that responsible, calm, generous behaviour is somehow sad and that it is cool to be angry, aggressive, resentful, greedy etc.

As Mrs Tuck has recently said “ Botox and bingeing…. it’s easy to feel we lead in a moral vacuum …… the conspicuous and ultimately unfulfilling materialism of the me, me, me society.” ‘Toxic Childhood’ by Sue Palmer is a dramatic view of this issue.

It seems as if the culture is reinforcing all the problem aspects of adolescence. Not just seems to be that – it’s true: our national culture is now an adolescent one.

Previously adolescence was a blip. Crazy behaviour by the young ones for a few years, tolerated by the mature ones. Now it’s permanent – celebrated as a way of life, our national culture.

It starts much earlier, it’s exaggerated and it carries on until when? – old age? Do we ever grow up?! What pressure is there for men to be boys – and women to remain girls? There could be a whole day’s workshop just on that….

Anyway.. put these ideas together and the total outcome for parents may be:

Overage, uncontrolled, confused adolescents who should have left but are still in the home, cutting off from parents; often defiant, rejecting; but still dependent and demanding; in a small home without the wider family as a support or release valve and now being bombarded with reinforcements from a sick culture. I will repeat: happy parenting could seem an almost impossible task. It is hard for everyone.

And remember adolescence is not just extended – it is also now premature – it starts at a very young age– so this perspective is of almost universal application.

If we can see things in this way it is possible to realise that the problems are not simply the personal fault of ourselves or of our children. So that may help with feelings of panic and blame.

And that can really help. And if it results in a major reduction in panic and blaming, then we are more ready to start thinking about parenting, learning and practising news skills.

Because in one way we are fortunate. At the same time as the problems of parenting have become worse and worse – we are also beginning to think about and understand what is involved. There is new information and ideas. We are developing new skills and techniques to compensate for the problems:

TECHNIQUES

Some short tips – for all ages. Some more appropriate for younger children. (‘Tips’ may sound a bit trite but it reflects how compressed they are here.)

Each one could might be a topic for one session in a course or be the subject of a workshop to explore, discuss, internalise – so we could go away and try it during the week and come back and discuss it next week. That’s how it worked for my partner and me.

1. Listening. This is the really big one and we will do an exercise in workshop which works really well and makes this very real.

Listening sounds passive and weak. It isn’t. It is incredibly powerful. If you really listen – they will listen to you. It can be magically effective with children and with adults.

“But they never tell me anything”. Oh? Really? How well do you listen? We all think we are great listeners. It’s worth the pain of checking that out.

How do you listen? Do you listen while you cook? Read the newspaper? Watch TV?

Or do you stop and quietly listen and look at the person? Come down to their level if they’re small?

What do you do when they speak? Do you interrupt? Do you give comments like – “If I were you I’d do x…. you should have done y… when I was your age I… or never mind – have a cup of tea…” Do you go into fixing or distracting mode?

Or do you let them finish? Do you nod and say very little? Do you let them know you have heard and understood? Do you acknowledge their feeling about what has happened? And wait to see if they want you to offer advice or fix things?

That’s so hard – we think it’s our job to advise, fix, help, guide…. or maybe in their perceptions – interfere and control.

If they get some quiet supportive listening, the problem often seems half the size and then it doesn’t need fixing. And they learn to cope with it themselves and build their skills.

Now this is at the heart of practically every parenting book. We all read it and nod and then…. do we change how we behave? If not – why not? Are we threatened by their emotions? By their discomfort? We will do a ‘listening game’ in the workshop.

This discussion is to emphasise the aspect of emotional support. But it also works really well in terms of setting boundaries, getting results… Listen first, tell them later. It works. See next technique:

2. Assertiveness:

There are plenty of good, well-established ideas about assertiveness: The distinction is usually : aggressive –v submissive (-v- sometime manipulative) –v- assertive.

How assertive and skilful are you? How calmly strong? Or how dominated by fear or anger are you? (You could ask – How good or bad is your stress management?) How to develop and practice assertiveness?

In parenting this is made more complicated because established parent/child roles are already there. We think we know what the choices are: authoritarian which sceptics see as aggressive –v- liberal which sceptics see as submissive.

This is explained because we think we know what this all means:

cold and tough ———————– V ———————– warm and soft

We could spend some time discussing in those terms how we were brought up and how we plan or hope to bring our children up.

And this usually comes home to roost as being about what you allow the kids to do. Endless discussions about bedtime, time home from clubs, where they can go, films, friends, sex, drugs etc. ‘Boundaries’ as the social workers love to talk about.

Let’s try a new tack. Let’s really think about one of the oldest clichés in the book.
“It not what you say, it’s how you say it.”

Let’s runs some imaginary stories for ourselves first: Imagine being told by a person in a uniform to ‘park over there’, ‘get in line here’ etc. Spoken abruptly. The immediate impulse is to resist, to tell him to….er…go away? Even when it is entirely sensible to park over there or form a queue here.

And then imagine the same situation with a warm, polite request, with a reason given. How different our reactions are. So very obvious? So very useful.

Applying that to parenting. See that in fact the choice is not authoritarian versus liberal on a simple line – it is more interesting and promising than that. Try this map:   [sorry I have not worked out graphics in WordPress]

 

1.                        tough                         4.

/

Cold    ——————–/——————————-  Warm

/

3.                            Soft                                  2.

 

1.Top left is tough and cold: traditional authoritarian / possibly aggressive. 2.Bottom right  is warm and soft: liberal possibly submissive / soggy / nervously giving in. 3. Bottom left is cold and soft – which I see in sad, depressed, neglectful parents. But top right, 4, is new territory. Warm and tough.  We can be tough and set clear boundaries and give tough challenges and it will work if we are warm and skilful. This is what ‘tough love’ really means.

This is based on the ideas of Steve Biddulph. He is now rather controversial for his later book on ‘Raising Babies’ and his earlier books are really popular and helpful. In most workshops I find there are some people who have read and been really helped by them. (I have in fact run these notes past him and he approved them. And my own daughters.)

If we have time we will look at these ideas in a workshop and get your ideas into discussion. Exploring what that might mean in practice.

And here is one suggestion of what a tough, warm challenge in practice looks like……

3. Challenge behaviour, don’t insult the person. Be precise, don’t fire a broadside.

Do you say ‘Please don’t leave your dirty shoes on the carpet.’? Or do you in fact say ‘You are so messy…you are always leaving your shoes on the carpet…’ ?

Consider that last sentence: First slap a label on her, and then a generalisation.

You may feel it’s justified. S/he is always doing that. Justified – yes. Helpful? Effective? Skilful? In your own long-term interests? Probably not.

Verbal slaps. Words can slap just as hard as a physical blow. They are not a good starting point for co-operation. And if s/he doesn’t seem to notice the slap – what does that say? What would you think if a child didn’t seem to notice a physical slap? that she had become rather desensitised to this? Not good news.

Labelling a person is unhelpful and destructive. Commenting on behaviour is much more effective and useful. It’s worth exploring this in some detail.

This connects with another tip that many people have found very practical: the three part challenge:

When you do x…… I feel y…… What are we going to do about it?

“When you leave your dirty shoes on the carpet I have to clean it up and I feel disregarded and hurt by that. What are we going to do about it?”

The reactions I have had on courses have included: “Oh God. They’d just laugh at me. They’d say ‘So what? That’s your problem.’ Or ‘why are you talking strange mum – been on a course?!’ etc. “

Maybe. Maybe not. In fact people find that that if they stick with the drill it does get through. It is honest. It acknowledges how their behaviour affects you – rather than pretending and playing some silly dishonest adult / child role game. Yes, it gives them power. It trusts them to respond responsibly. It works. And it needs faith and motivation.

4. Be an emotion coach. You are teaching them how to live and behave and feel. ‘The Heart of Parenting’ by Gottman is good on this. And a new book which has a irritating and unrealistic title ‘Superpowers for parents’ Stephen Briers but is quite good on this.

Problems and what seem to be negative emotions are also a chance for the child to learn skills in coping with life – not just a chance for you to fix things as powerful parent but to give them their own power. Teach them to notice their stress, listen to themselves, their emotions, name them if that’s useful and work out their own ways of dealing with them.

And you are modelling all of this of course…… Or are you? You tell them you want them to be calm and kind. But do you snarl and swear at other motorists?

You want them to cope with stress well? What are you doing about your own stress? Glass of wine.. or two? Or…..

“Do as I say, not as I do” – is both not effective and it leads to loss of respect. And with it, the loss of the real, legitimate authority you need.

5. Work as a family. Maybe if the reasons for the problems are understood – it’s more possible to be honest? Don’t pretend it’s OK. Don’t just ignore and move on from last night’s row. Don’t just blame each other for the tension and conflict. Openly admit that parenting is hard; living in a family is hard, there is a problem. Pretending there isn’t makes everything a lot worse. The message otherwise is that it’s so bad that it’s undiscussable.

Get the subject out into the open and discussed. We have a problem. What can we do about it? Level with them, trust them. If they feel respected, trusted, they contribute to solutions and things work much better. In discussing things later with my children, this is what they said was the most valuable thing we did.

6. Catch them doing good. Warm appreciations may sound contrived at first. They are still very effective. Precise praise is a real skill. Not just the general loving remarks – “you’re a lovely girl” etc but precise: “Thank you for helping out with supper. … or for noticing your grandmother was unhappy … or for not complaining when we were late for the party….” Quite a good exercise is remembering praise we received as children and how important it was to us.

What you think and say is still very important to children – privately. It is so important that at certain stages they have to pretend very hard that it’s not!

Ignore or go cool on their ‘bad behaviour’ unless it’s causing immediate harm. Bad behaviour may be attention-seeking behaviour. Because is that when they get the real, warm attention from you? If so – are you effectively training them to misbehave?

7. Work out what is really important. Is it worth a row? Is having a messy room actually your problem or theirs? What ego is involved here? Don’t sweat the small things.

8. Don’t let yourself be isolated. You are having problems. Who else is? People are ashamed of having problems at home. They may either say nothing or they make a joke out of them. We can create a tragic pretence, each of us suffering alone.

Other parents can be a great resource. Sharing problems, solutions. Making sure the children don’t play one home off against another – “But Sam’s parents let him stay out ’til 2.00 am.. etc” Do they? And, if so, is it because they’ve been told you do?

Pick up the phone to Sam’s parents? Set up a parents group; formally or informally? How to achieve that? Online? What ideas have you got?

9. Parenting and the world of work don’t mix well. One problem is that many parents spend all day at work where there may be strong emotions but they are usually very well controlled.

And everything is black and white and at right angles and A4 sized.

And then you come home and, especially with younger children, everything seems soft and squidgy, coloured and noisy, inconsistent and symbolic, emotional and silly, trivial and just damn messy and human…… “Hang on there. This is home. This is my family. This is why I’m doing it all.” No? – Yes. But it is so hard to change gear, to let go of the adult, work based literalness, the expectation of reasonableness etc.

What can be done? Acknowledge the problem in the family. Discuss it. Agree there needs to be a time to change gear.

For yourself possibly a ‘transition ritual’. Not just the glass of wine on getting home but something (bit new age-y?) like on the way home reciting a bit of a mantra: “I am leaving behind the world of work with all that implies and I am coming home to the family I love. And it’s going to be difficult – different and messy and and …. this is real. This is what human life is about. And it’s hard to change gear but I’m going to concentrate and do it because I love my kids and they deserve this effort.” (And I’ll have a much better evening if I do.)

10. Don’t be rushed – take some time. “Dad, can I go out bungee jumping with Sophia?” You don’t have to give an immediate answer. Especially when just in from work. Or before consulting your partner if you have one.

“Let me think about that one” is a good start. It gives you time to think about it. Go back and ask for fuller details. Then even if you say no she knows you thought about it. You may say: ‘That won’t work’? I can only say – It did for us and for others.

11. “Anxious? – of course I’m anxious. It’s because I love you.” Do we sometimes almost use anxiety as a measure of love? As a demonstration of love?

And – “If I worry enough they will be safe. If I don’t worry – what sort of parent am I? I obviously don’t care and will be punished by something terrible happening to them.”

In fact focusing on anxiety, constantly warning children makes them anxious and possibly irritated at what is in fact control, and they are more likely to do silly things. Trust them; especially with adolescents – they know the streets better than you. Don’t give them warnings – give them information and trust them to use it. You can’t be with them all the time. In practice you have to trust them. If you grudge that, you achieve nothing other than resentment. Why not embrace it and make a virtue of it?

12. Distinguish emotions from behaviour. This is getting into some interesting, more challenging psychological areas.

Try this: ‘Emotions are OK, safe and healthy. It’s OK to be angry. Behaviour is different: It’s not OK to be aggressive or violent.’ That’s quite a hard distinction to see fully and work with – but very useful. There could be a good evening’s work here.

My daughter made a great discovery. “I now realise that it’s OK for me just to say I am feeling really fed up today. I don’t have to know why and explain it. I don’t always have to find someone to be fed up with.” That was quite a relief for us. And it was very useful for her.

But – question – how comfortable are you with emotions? What messages were you given about emotions when you were young. Write them down. ‘Anger is bad because…. Fear is bad … etc.’ That’s what, at some level, you still believe. And the children are brilliant at picking up from that level.

Get the subject out into the open. Stage one: I believe that emotions are OK and expressing them carefully and accurately and honestly is good. Acting them out is not. Converting them into blame and attack is not. Stage two: And I have problems with other people’s anger, or distress or sorrow etc. How can we work with this?

13. Try using ‘and’ instead of ‘but’. That sounds strange and it works. Example with a young child: “I know you want to go out to play but you can’t because it’s late and dark.” That sounds reasonable to us but in fact to the child has a dismissive feel to it. Try it with an ‘and’: “I know you want to go out and you can’t because it’s late and dark” doesn’t seem to cancel out their position so much. You are putting the two statements side by side. This is actually much more effective than it sounds here!
14. Research. Get information and ideas about children. Treat it as a real project.

If this is the most important thing we do in our lives – surely we should treat it with as seriously and systematically as – say a client’s business?!

Read books. Go online with Young Minds, Positive Parenting, Trust for the Study of Adolescence, BBC and then follow the links.

For example: Recent brain research into teenagers: – it looks as if the prefrontal cortex which is the bit if the brain that works out consequences and controls impulsivity, is not fully developed until the early 20s! Also in early teen years, it is particularly true that emotions interfere with memory – so they are less likely to remember things when stressed, or remember more than one thing at a time – useful for parents of teens who forget/lose things all the time to hang on to. Easier to be patient. Skilful to choose unstressed times to give information.

‘Why are they so Weird’ by Barbara Strauch is also a good source for this. She also points out that puberty is earlier now (probably because of improved nutrition) so physical changes are happening before the brain is developed. This may mean we expect more of them and are more frustrated.

Get information about problems – like drugs. If you actually know what you are talking about, then they may discuss the subject. If you don’t then your ideas are based on fear and ignorance. Why should they respect that?

Drawing those threads together and at the risk of creating a pious homily:

Parenting is hard. In some ways harder than ever. But it is possible for parenting and family life to be good: successful, loving and rewarding. To achieve that we need to think things through consciously and work hard on the task. First to admit there are problems. Think about them, find out about them and discuss them openly in the whole family.

Be aware times have changed. We may tend to parent as we were parented but authority based on simple parental dominance is not an effective option. We may need to challenge our old automatic patterns and attitudes. We may need to develop new, more equal habits, family styles. Explore new ways of relating: strong and warm parenting.

Respect and affection are earned by our respect for children and our skill with them: Listening, valuing, appreciating what is positive. Calm, firm, fair, warm discouraging of what is negative.

And by simple good manners. We can gain their respect and acquire healthy authority by acting as we ask them to act; by demonstrating qualities we would like them to adopt

There is a terrible paradox for anxious parents. The desire to protect can become an impulse to control which can be horribly counterproductive. If that is what is happening…. don’t try and overcontrol them. Back off, give them space but stay near.

David Jockelson.

New Scientist letter: Memory recovery and therapy

Published 4 November 2015

From David Jockelson

Doubtless there are some therapists guilty of instilling false memories (10 October, p 8). But it would be tragic if this occasional bad practice makes us doubt the value of psychological work and the need to listen to victims. The experience of church abuse shows that the pendulum of belief is firmly stuck in denial in many powerful quarters.

I am accredited with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and am also a solicitor involved with childcare cases. Ironically, I encounter a lot of false memories in my therapy clients. Frequently, they come to me with serious emotional problems but initially tell me they could not be anything to do with their “happy childhoods”. Over the next few sessions, without any pressure or suggestion, they will often disclose events in those childhoods which are clear examples of neglect or abuse.

In my role as a solicitor, I have the painful advantage of seeing intergenerational abuse and dysfunction. I frequently deal with parents who are in complete denial about their own childhood experiences, actually having no memory of it. However, also in the case papers is full evidence of the abuse that person suffered as a child, and which they are often now repeating and inflicting on their children.
London, UK

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