Interview with Laurie Hollman, author of ‘The Busy Parent’s Guide to Managing Anxiety in Children and Teens: The Parental Intelligence Way.’
An interview with Laurie Hollman, PhD, a psychoanalyst and expert on parents and children. We discussed her new book, ‘The Busy Parent’s Guide to Managing Anxiety in Children and Teens — The Parental Intelligence Way’ (Familius, Aug. 1, 2018).
How can parents know if their child or teen’s anger is cause for concern?
Healthy anger is when a child or teen asserts their opinions vigorously showing they have their own mind and seek autonomy. This needs to be respected and carefully attended to. Anger is cause for concern only when it seems that the child or teen is out of control emotionally and far more upset than the topic of interest seems to warrant. Then it’s still important to attend carefully to what the child says. Don’t greet anger with anger. Instead, question: “What’s the matter?”
Slow down the thinking process of the child by being calm yourself and shifting the anger into reasoning and dialogue. Learn what is on the child’s mind and use considerable restraint in responding. When you paraphrase the child’s causes for concern, see if he or she slows down a bit and begins to talk in more even tones. Don’t hurry up for solutions to whatever the problem is at hand. Instead, be a sounding board.
If the child still can’t calm down, then maybe it’s better to discuss the matter some time later. Give the child or teen time to collect themselves alone or doing something with you. Eventually, anger will subside. But if it happens very often and intensely, consider getting professional guidance for you and your child separately. This child or teen’s mind is getting disorganized instead of focused as they talk: that’s the key to a problem with anger. You need support and guidance yourself so that your reactions don’t also get out of control
What makes Parental Intelligence such an effective way to handle overwhelming anger?
Parental Intelligence is a process of slowing down the intensity of emotions, so reason can take over. It’s a meaning-making and collarative process that allows for feelings to lead the way to understanding.
The first step is Stepping Back — which means don’t react immediately with any consequences or actions, but stop and think, pause and take your time to hear what your child has to say. This first step is key to helping your child and yourself not overreact in the moment, but clarify your feelings to yourself.
The second step is Self-reflecting, which gives you time to monitor your own feelings in response to your child’s anger. You need to counsel yourself on where your anger is coming from, if indeed you feel that way in response. Does your child feel like someone else from the past who has been angry with you? Separate past and present, so you can attend to your child. If you feel personally attacked, look for the subtext of the child or teen’s reaction. Are they trying to get your respect for their feelings as well as be heard with regard to whatever the subject matter is.? Parental Intelligence means you listen for the meaning behind the child’s emotion. It is an invitation to understanding, even if it comes with a roar.
Step 3 is focusing on what is on your child’s mind underneath all the anger. Find out what is disturbing him or her to get to this level of intensity. As you calmly understand what’s underneath, you will find yourself empathic and sympathetic to your child’s angst. This is what you respond to without rushing into solutions.
In step 4, you look at whether their anger is appropriate to their stage of development, which may not correspond to their chronological age. Can they tolerate some frustration and disappointment? This should increase as your child grows. If not, help them with these emotions. Help them put their feet on the ground and see that despite whatever happened, they are still intact, and can have confidence moving forward.
Then you can move toward the fifth step: Problem Solving. By then the problem that was first entertained may have gone into the background as you understand the many factors that led to your child’s anger.
What are healthy ways to express anger and how can parents convey them to their children?
Healthy ways to express anger are usually considered assertive, not aggressive. This means you start your sentences with “I feel,” not “You have to…” It makes a huge difference when the children hears these kinds of openings to conversations. They don’t feel imposed upon, but included in your thoughts and ideas for them. It is important that anger, like other feelings, are part of the household in an accepting way. It is natural to feel frustrated, disappointed, make mistakes, and lose self-confidence when things don’t go your way as an adult or child. Keeping this in mind allows parents to accept angry reactions from their kids and to let them know they are not blaming or judgmental, but open to their kids’ beliefs, desires, thoughts, feelings, intentions and ideas. Then anger is just a strong way of expressing oneself, rather than viewed as an attack or persecution of another.
If parents speak in measured tones and don’t raise their voices too easily, kids follow in step. Discussion, not aggression, takes hold of a household.
How can Parental Intelligence strengthen the parent-child bond?
It strengthens the parent-child bond because it is collaborative: Each person, young or older, is prepared to step back and listen attentively to the other. If you are rushed and on the go, set a time to talk and stick to it. With parental intelligence you generate trust in your youngster that when you say you will listen and try to understand, you follow through. Parents can’t be perfect and kids don’t expect that. But they expect that they can trust their parents to help them feel secure and reasonable. When both parents and kids think and speak before they act, it’s a process that takes hold in the family. Kids learn they can depend on their parents to hear them out and then even if they disagree, have respect for one another.
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