by: David Kerrigan
You ask your child to take out the garbage. The child says, “No!” and maybe adds a few unprintable words. Suddenly your mind is flooded with fear. Fear that if you don’t win this battle you’ll never win the war to help your child become a functioning member of society.
You see it all ahead of you—calls from the principal, agonizing teacher conferences, visits from the truant officer, visits from the police…drugs, promiscuity, gangs, theft, car-jackings, a cycle of prison and homelessness…before you know it, you’re visiting your child on Death Row….
And all around, clucking their tongues at you, a circle of disapproving faces…parents, neighbors, former friends, uncomprehending therapists, reporters, total strangers…
THIS CHILD MUST COMPLY NOW!
Fear is turning to panic, rage, loneliness, despair, shame…an overwhelming mass of inarticulate, unbearable distress.
You would do anything to avoid feeling this pain.
So would your child.
Behind the snarky, defiant attitude lies a mass of dread—a dread of feeling the overwhelming pain your child can’t yet express.
But keeping that dread in mind—and keeping in mind the fact that pain and terror fuel your child’s behaviors—can keep you out of the power struggle.
It can help you step back and say to yourself, “Wow! That horrible feeling I just felt is what my child is feeling all the time—or battling to keep from feeling. That’s where the real power struggle is—the struggle to keep from being destroyed by the pain of trauma. And in a way, my child just took his inner power struggle and tried to put it outside—tried to put it inside me:
“’Here, Mom/ Dad. This is too big for me to handle. Let’s see if you can handle it.’”
And depending on what your child has been through, your child’s trauma quite possibly was potentially fatal. It certainly FELT potentially fatal.
Remembering all that, you can step away from the power struggle. After all, it’s not your power struggle, it’s your child’s.
Instead you can step into being compassionate, patient, and mindful.
Maybe you can talk with your child now. Maybe later.
Maybe you can redirect your child now. Maybe invite a redo of the interaction.
Maybe praise your child profusely for something your child has done right. Maybe later.
Maybe you can just be there with your child for now. No specific reaction needed.
But you’ve got options, and you’ve got time. Your ability to respond to the situation calmly helps plant the seed in the child’s mind that this might not be an emergency for him either—no life or death struggle required.