About Me

I am a parent coach. I received my MSW from Simmons School of Social Work and have been a licensed social worker practicing in the greater Boston area for over 20 years. My dream has always been to work with parents on the most important job in their lives. In my practice and in my blog I want parents to be heard, supported and informed in order to feel empowered to be effective as parents. I love helping parents find joy and mastery in their parenting.

"Stop trying to perfect your child, but keep trying to perfect your relationship with him" - Dr. Henker

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Ongoing Dance of Separation

In my practice as a Parenting Coach, I work with parents of children from birth to adulthood.  I love experiencing the diversity of ages and stages that parents of children of different ages bring to our work.  I enjoy the richness of each stage of development and the parenting joys and challenges that occur throughout.

Last week, after having worked with parents all through that age and stage spectrum, I was struck by a certain similarity in challenges that arise.  At each stage of development, from about age one to adulthood, parents and children are wrapped in a dance of nurturing, protection, support and gradual, age-appropriate separation.

There are thousands of theories, books and manuals on child, adolescent and adult development.  In an effort to describe one particular aspect, this ongoing dance of separation, I will be highlighting just a few central aspects of the different stages.

When a child is an infant they are dependent on us to meet every need.  We need to learn to read their cues to respond when they are hungry, wet, tired, in need of soothing and comfort.  As they get a little bit older we need to assess when they are ready to move from breast-feeding and formula to solid foods.  We have to make sure they have “tummy time” on the floor to develop their muscles, and readiness for the next stages of sitting, creeping, crawling and walking. 

There are different approaches to separation with infants and young children.  There are proponents of attachment parenting, there are people who swear by a much more scheduled approach to day-to-day life with an infant, and there are places all along that spectrum.

Regardless of which approach parents choose, at some point, as babies move to toddlers we need to support and encourage children to develop their own skills in self soothing, expressing needs and emotions, walking, talking, etc.  In this way the dance of separation begins.  This dance continues to be played out all throughout parenting.

The one year old, crawls and then toddles away from a parent, frequently looking behind them to see that the parent is still there, or crawling or toddling back to them.  In new or frightening situations they cling to us, and at other times, they crawl or toddle away.  Each child is unique and responds differently to the dance.

In toddlerhood the child begins to really grapple with the concept of “no”.  They demand to do things themselves that they are often not capable of doing.  They may want to be treated like a baby one hour, and try to put on their shirt themselves an hour later.  All through toddlerhood and preschool ages, children explore the need to be attached to and be separate from their parents.

In elementary school children are at a stage where they are really exploring their own competence, and mastery of new skills.  They are more involved in peer relationships than they have been in the past.  Some children begin to feel comfortable having sleepovers at other children’s houses.  In school, they hear ideas and opinions that may be different from what they have heard in their home.  They begin to develop more of a sense of a larger world, their family, their classroom, their school, their community, the state and the country they live in, etc.

While our children are growing, and participating more in the outside world, we, as parents, have to tolerate that we can’t control everything that happens with our children.  They may be exposed to a bully, they may not get the part they want in a play, and they may skin their knee in the playground when we are not there to comfort them.  We are still there to protect, support and nurture, but in a different, more separate way.  It is vital that we encourage them in developing their own problem solving skills, we have to let go a little, so they will develop those skills.

In early adolescence the sense of a larger awareness grows.  The impact of peer relationships becomes even more central.  Children are coping with complicated changes in their bodies and emotions.  They are exposed to challenges with peers, alcohol, drugs, and sexual activity.  We want to be sure they know about what is out there and we try to infuse positive values to gird them in these difficult arenas.

In adolescence all this continues, but at a heightened level. They are developing more of a sense of themselves as unique individuals. They can be so capable, caring for younger children, doing their schoolwork, beginning to drive, working at part time jobs, participating in social action projects. They may start to explore love relationships.  But there are many challenges; teens are sometimes rebellious towards their parents.  They may reject things just because we say them.  They may have powerful emotions they find difficult to understand and control.  They can be impulsive, and they are exposed to much more risk.

It can be really helpful to see this as an updated version of crawling away, then looking back to see our reaction. If we can understand that, we can find ways to take their behavior less personally, and sometimes deescalate conflict.

Our adolescent children still need us in a profound way, to nurture them, to do what we can to ensure they are safe, to set limits, to encourage them to achieve success, to try to keep the lines of communication open.  But we have to use methods that match where they are developmentally, to include them in the process, to respect their growing capability and their need to gain more of their own skills.

In elementary school, middle school and high school, while all these and many more aspects of development are happening, they still have that dynamic of the baby learning to crawl and walk, looking back to their parents to see if they are still there.  They have moments where they seem to be so capable and independent, and moments where they are so dependent, and want to be nurtured and supported in ways they claim to have outgrown.  It can be so confusing for us and for them.  They can take such grand steps forward, and they can make impulsive choices that put them and others at risk.

In late adolescence, and early adulthood, it is a much more complicated dance for both children and parents for many reasons.  Teens and young adults may not want our input.  They may make choices that clash with our own ideas and values.  The consequences of their choices are much greater. The risks are greater.  And as they become sixteen, seventeen and onward, we discover that we often can’t control choices they make.  It’s very challenging to watch them happen, especially since we have focused so strongly on support and protection earlier on in their lives! 

We love our children so much, and want the best for them; we want to protect them from harm.  It can be really hard all along the way for us, as parents, to encourage and tolerate age appropriate separation, because our impulses to protect them are so deep. 

Yet all along the developmental spectrum, from toddler, to teen, to adult, these steps towards independence are vitally important.  If children are encouraged and supported in age appropriate ways to take on tasks they are ready for, they powerfully learn for themselves the consequences of their actions. They develop necessary coping skills and problem solving skills.  In future posts, I will address some thoughts and ideas about preparing ourselves and our children for these age appropriate separation tasks.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Misbehavior, Mistakes and Self Esteem

One dilemma that comes up in parenting is wanting to instill the drive for positive, productive, accomplished behavior, but not wanting to produce children that don’t have the skills to manage when they are not great at something, or when they try and fail.

Sometimes children make mistakes, and sometimes they misbehave.  When they make mistakes, we can provide an environment safe enough to admit the mistake.  We can encourage them to try to do something to correct it if possible or appropriate.  It is okay for children to feel upset that they did something wrong.  This is how they develop a conscience, and this is how they discover that it feels better when they don’t misbehave!

What we want to avoid is children feeling like they “are bad” as opposed to have acted in a bad way.  This sense of feeling like one is bad is shame.  Shame is a devastating emotion, and gives rise to feelings of depression, and low self esteem.

Self-esteem is a bit of a controversial concept these days.  Some people think parents got too conscious of self esteem by making sports teams less competitive, giving every child a trophy, emphatically praising every scribbled picture, ignoring misbehavior in the name of not stifling their creativity

I believe that children need to love themselves, and feel that they are basically good.  This does not come from letting children misbehave rather than hurt their feelings, giving every member of the team an MVP trophy, or praising things that the children know themselves are not very skillfully done.

Children feel good when they are unconditionally loved, when we listen to them, and they know that they are seen and heard.  Children feel self esteem when they are taught what the limits are, get firm but kind responses when they test them, and appropriate consequences when they misbehave.  They feel good about themselves when they get very specific praise for their accomplishments, and in age appropriate ways begin to do tasks for themselves successfully. 

It is great for them to be in an environment where they can try new things, and know they will be rewarded for effort even if it takes time to succeed at the new task.  They benefit from hearing that everyone isn’t the best at every task; everyone has their own strengths and challenges.

They thrive when they know that everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes behaves inappropriately, but that they can be corrected or disciplined without feeling shame, i.e.: feeling that they are intrinsically bad.  They thrive when they know discipline occurs in the context of unconditional love.

 It can be comforting to remember that the most effective form of teaching children is modeling ourselves the behavior we would like to see from them. If they see us misbehave or make a mistake, and we can admit it and talk about it, they are much more likely to be able to do so as well.

For misbehavior, we can emphasize that the behavior was not appropriate but we will always love them! Then it is important to do the teaching about what was problematic about the behavior. It can be easy for us as adults to think that children know as much as we do about what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior.   In reality, they don’t necessarily intuitively know that, and it’s our job to teach them.

If they have been previously told about a specific misbehavior, and continue to do it, we can establish consequences for misbehaving, that we put into effect quickly and consistently, if possible without losing control or yelling, and without long lectures.  These are not effective.

If they make a mistake, we can point out that everyone makes mistakes, the important thing is to own up to it, apologize and if possible make amends.

There is an important difference between misbehavior and mistakes, although with children, it can sometimes be hard to tell which is actually happening!

Most parents have the experience of coming into a room, literally seeing a child obviously misbehaving or breaking a family rule, and when confronted, the child denies it.  Or similarly, a child accidentally spills something, but they blame it on a sibling. If this happens frequently, or over time, it may be a sign that children are feeling so worried about misbehavior, or making a mistake that they need to lie about it by denying it or blaming someone else.

There are mistakes like accidentally knocking over your water with your elbow, which are unintentional.  These things happen, and it’s great to have a handy phrase like, “oops, a mistake, it happens.” If appropriate the child can help in cleaning it up.  If this happens frequently it may be helpful to see of there’s something preventative that can be done, by providing a cup with a lid on busy mornings or

Children can also insist on doing a task like pouring water for themselves when they don’t yet have that fine or gross motor skill motor needed for the task. 

This is an instance where balance is really important.  Children really benefit from learning to take risks, and try things, even if they fail. It’s so important for them to be able to do that in a safe place like your home.

But the busy morning rush on a school day might not be the best time to try.  So again, preventatively, you can try to find a small plastic picture with a lid that’s easier to negotiate, or have the liquids all poured out before the child comes to the table.  In the interest of time, and your own sanity you might just need to pour out the drink, despite the child getting upset about wanting to do it herself.  There is still an opportunity to empathize, “You feel angry and sad that you can’t pour the milk yourself today, that’s a yucky feeling.  We’re in a rush, but on Saturday morning everyone can do their own pouring!”

 You might find yourself in a power struggle every morning because you’re preschooler wants to zip their own jacket, but you need to get them in the car quickly, it’s a set up for stress all around. 

In that case I recommend saying, “you want to zipper your own jacket-good for you.  We don’t have time for that now, but when we get home lets play a pretend game about going outside and you can try again.” 

Or, “we are in a hurry this morning.  I’m going to set the timer for 5 minutes and you can try to zipper yourself, if the timer goes off we have to leave the house, but you can try again next time.”

Or even, “I know you wanted to zipper yourself and your disappointed because you can’t, that’s frustrating.”  Sometimes just validating the feelings can help diffuse the upset. Sometimes she will still cry and you’ll have to carry her crying and flailing to the car, but she will know that she has been heard, and over time that is very meaningful.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

In the Heat of the Moment

In my last post I addressed some of the reasons behind tantrums, and stressed the importance of parents using whatever strategies work for them, of staying calm in the moment.

Knowing that we can’t always achieve the ideal calm in stressful moments, one of the other approaches that can help is to plan ahead for those inevitable tantrums or other embarrassing parenting moments!

I want to stress that when I present specific techniques, that every child is unique, and that each family has their own culture around appropriate behavior and limit setting techniques.  Some children have behavioral problems due to sensory issues or other challenging neurological or emotional challenges.  There is no “right way” that works for every family, or every situation.  I will present some strategies that are often effective, but I recommend seeking specific help, tailored to your own child/children when behavioral challenges occur frequently, and you begin to feel helpless, overly frustrated and angry, and parenting begins to feel overwhelming.

There are two main tools for different tantrum scenarios.  First is “an ounce of prevention…”
When tantrums are happening frequently, we can employ curiosity. Pay attention to whether they are happening at specific times or situations.  Is your child always having a tantrum in the late afternoon?  Is it possible she is hungry and could use a regular snack at that time?  Is it possible she is very tired, and quiet activities like a bath, or reading a story, would help her better cope in that time before dinner? 

Does your child always have a tantrum when you are at the grocery store?  Is it possible to get the groceries you need without taking her with you for a while?  There are inexpensive, easy to use, grocery delivery services like Peapod or Roche Brothers Delivery here in Massachusetts.  Is it possible to get the shopping done at a time the child is in preschool, or at a play date?  Is it possible that the child is often hungry or tired at the time you usually shop?  Can you have a snack available, or change the time accordingly?

The general idea here is to see if there is a structural problem you could change to reduce the likelihood of the tantrum.  Sometimes we don’t notice patterns because life is so hectic, but if we step back and apply some analysis, are there things in our control we can do to prevent tantrums?

Unfortunately, we can’t possibly use prevention all the time, tantrums often occur spontaneously, at random, and we don’t have the ability to use prevention as a strategy.

In that second case I turn to the familiar motto: “Be prepared.” We can take control of the situation by deciding on strategies ahead of time for tantrums, to use in the heat of the moment.  When a child is already screaming at the top of their lungs at the library, our faces are red and we are feeling helpless and mortified, its hard to calm down and think of an effective strategy.  If we have thought it up ahead, we can just plug it in-and it has the added positive effect of consistency for the child.  When they know what to expect from us, and it is consistent “enough” (see blog post February 22, 2013)) of the time, it always helps!

In my experience, as a general rule, when a tantrum occurs in a public place and it is feasible to leave, do so.  If a child begins a tantrum at the grocery store, a parent or caregiver can say, in as calm and brief a way as possible, “I see you’re upset (angry, sad, frustrated, disappointed….), we can’t scream at the grocery store (in the library, at church, mosque or synagogue, at a birthday party.), if you can’t calm down by the time I count to 10, we have to leave.”  If its something that happens frequently you can just say that the first time and in the future, just say, “no screaming in the_____, we have to leave.”  They will get the message if we follow through consistently.  It is better not to say, “we will leave”, if you can’t or won’t be able to follow through on it.  If we threaten to leave, and then don’t, children get the message that we don’t really intend to do it, and it doesn’t become a deterrent for the behavior.

If the tantrum happens at home, it is also best to have a plan for how you want to deal with it, in a way that is effective for your child in the culture of your family.  I strongly believe that it helps to first empathize with the feeling that may be behind the tantrum.  Even if it feels like an empty exercise at first, your child will be getting the message that they are “seen” and “heard”.  Again, it is always best to be brief and to the point, “You are angry that you can’t have that candy bar.  I know it feels yucky, and we need to use our words, not screaming and kicking” Then depending on what strategies work best for you or your child you can, ask them to go to their room or other safe space until they can calm down. You can hold them, if that is feasible, while they calm down.  You can give them some strategies you know in the past have helped them calm down, saying, “you can hold your soft rabbit toy, you can squeeze the stress ball….”

It is important to know that “time outs” can be effective both for children and for parents or caregivers.  If you are at home, or in a place where it is safe to leave your child alone for a few minutes to calm down, you can say, “mommy needs to take a time out” and step away and do something soothing for yourself.  As always, safety is the top priority, so you can only employ this strategy if your child will be safe if you leave them momentarily.

There are no parenting strategies that are “one size fits all”, but if we hone in on our children’s behavior with curiosity and creativity we can develop specific strategies that help us manage tantrums in way that is effective “enough” of the time!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

When tantrums inevitably arise

One of the first times parents need to start building their limit setting skills are when children first start to tantrum.

In my previous post, I stated that children’s job is to test limits, it is the way they learn the boundaries of appropriate behavior.  One of the first ways that children test us is a tantrum.  It is an inevitable challenge for parents, not a reflection of bad parenting, or a sign the child is demon spawn.  Although, in the moment, it can certainly feel like that!

Considering that most of us are quite reasonable people, it can be startling when our baby, toddler, or preschooler first starts to cry intensely about something over which you and/or they probably have no control. It seems to be wildly unreasonable.  They may cry without being able to be soothed, they may throw themselves on the floor and flail their arms and legs.  They may start to scream in a high-pitched voice that seems to reach every corner of the restaurant or grocery store, when you are in public. That same scream may get on your every nerve at home as well.

Why do our children act so unreasonable?  There is not any one reason a child has a tantrum in any given situation.  It can be helpful to understand some of the things that might be going on from a toddler/preschooler’s perspective.  They are young and small.  Often things happen to them that they didn’t anticipate and didn’t choose.  They frequently don’t have the language skills, or emotional development necessary to understand, process, and express what they are feeling.  Yet they feel passionate about what they are feeling, and need some way to let us know.

When children are about a year old, they can often, not always, be distracted from a tantrum by moving the coveted object, handing them a different toy or cup, singing a spirited song, or moving them to a different place.

It becomes much harder as the child reaches two years old and onward.  Understanding what may be behind or trigger tantrums doesn’t make dealing with them any easier!  There are a few strategies that can help.

Most important, to the extent possible, is remaining calm yourself, when a child is having a tantrum.  I know it can feel counter intuitive and amazingly difficult to stay calm when a child is screaming and thrashing, but it actually can help the child to calm down, knowing that the adult/s present are staying calm.  Often the cycle of a child crying and screaming and a parent beginning to yell actually escalates the situation.

Children get their most powerful teaching through the behavior we model for them.  If we find a way to stay calm in stressful situations, they notice and begin to see that as a possibility.  If we fly off the handle they learn that behavior as well.

This is much easier said than done!  I have found that every parent or caregiver needs to try out different strategies and see what works for them.  It is helpful to have a toolbox of strategies for use in different stressful parenting situations.

When a child begins to have a tantrum it can be helpful to try to take three long, deep breaths, in and out, counting to eight for each inhale and exhale.  You will be surprised to see how powerfully that affects your ability to calm down.  Some people prefer to slowly count to ten without focusing on the breath.  It can feel soothing to develop a self-compassion themed mantra to say to yourself in the moment, something like, “I am okay, children have tantrums, this will pass” It has to be something that’s meaningful for you.

If it is safe and possible, you can take a “time out” for yourself.  Go briefly into another room, call a supportive family member, or friend.  There is very supportive Parenting Stress Hotline 1-800-632-8188 that you can call 24/7 and talk to a trained volunteer counselor.

The key is understanding that a tantrum is uncomfortable, irritating and can feel embarrassing and infuriating.  Yet it is a child’s attempt at communication.  Something is upsetting them and they need to let us know.  They just don’t know how to do it in the reasonable manner we are accustomed to from (most) adults. We can’t control that.  But we can control how we react to a tantrum, and it will help to diffuse it.  It is also a way of teaching our children coping skills for stressful situations.

Today’s post addresses how to understand why tantrums happen and the importance of finding a way to stay calm.  In the next post I will address more about what to do with the child in the heat of the moment!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Compassionate Parenting and Limit Setting at the Same Time

In my previous post, I wrote about finding ways to be kinder and more compassionate to ourselves as parents.  We can begin to notice our inner self-critics and slowly, over time, learn to respond to ourselves with the kindness and compassion usually reserved for dear friends.  This approach ends up affecting all our interpersonal relationships, especially with our children.

Treating ourselves, and our children, in a kind and compassionate way does not mean being overly permissive, and/or accepting inappropriate behavior.

Effective limit setting is the strategy we use to teach our children to behave appropriately inside and outside our homes.  The word discipline literally means “to teach” and limit setting teaches children the acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in different spheres of their lives.  We use consequences as a way to help the children reinforce the lessons.

Sometimes children make mistakes, spilling their milk, breaking an object, or not setting the table correctly.  Sometimes children intentionally misbehave.  We have to respond to that misbehavior to teach them right from wrong, and to make clear our expectations of them.  I believe, the limit setting strategies work for both mistakes, and intentional misbehavior.  Therefore, I prefer to use the same word for responding to both-consequences, as opposed to punishment.  The end effect is the same, we teach our children by showing them that their actions have consequences, they are responsible for their actions, and responsible for rectifying the situation, or paying the negative consequence.

Here are my tips on limit setting with children in a nutshell:
1.     It is children’s job to test limits.  They are hard-wired to do so.  It is the parent’s job to set and enforce limits.
2.     Some parents are afraid their children won’t like them if they set limits.  In fact it is limits that help children to feel safe, and know that the adults in their lives are in control.  Children love their parents; it’s okay if they don’t always “like” them in a given moment.
3.     We want our children to love and respect us, but it is not our job to be their friend.  Children need us to be their parents.  We can still have warm, kind, loving and fun relationships with them, while firmly and effectively setting limits.  We can become friends with our children as they grow into adults.
4.     We have to be able to tolerate that our children will feel and act angry towards us when we set limits.  It does not mean that we are being unkind, or hurting them.  The fact that they are angry doesn’t mean that we will lose their love.
5.     Consistency is probably the most important factor in effective limit setting.  If a child knows that if they cry harder and harder, they will get the treat they are asking for in the supermarket, they will keep on crying until they get it!  It is better not to threaten a consequence, than to threaten and not follow through.
6.     It is best not to lecture or over explain while setting limits.  Children lose focus while we talk on and on.  If we engage in arguments with them about it, they may develop skills as an attorney, but their behavior will not improve.
7.     One can remain calm and set limits without shaming children.

In future posts I will go into each of these aspects in depth and provide practical strategies for achieving them.  These tips are much more easily said than done!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Talking the Talk

In my last post, I explored the idea of critical self-talk, and how that ultimately affects the way we talk to our children.  We must start by beginning to notice how we talk harshly to ourselves, in order to notice ways in which we talk harshly to our children.

Now we get to a chicken and egg sort of problem, how does one start the process of changing both the way we talk to ourselves, and the way we talk to our children?

We need to forgive ourselves for having made mistakes in our tone when we talk to our children.  We have all done it.  There are lots of understandable reasons why it happens.  We are juggling work-in or outside the home, children, issues with spouses or partners, extended family, single parenting challenges, housework, etc.  Also, children learn by testing limits so they are often pushing our buttons.

When we notice it happening in the moment, the first step is to say some kind words to ourselves.  It is the way we develop a forgiving attitude to our own mistakes. It takes a lot of practice to change our critical inner voices to positive encouragement; and leads you to run the risk of feeling silly.  Sometimes it can help to think about how you would talk to a dear friend who is in the same situation.

“Ah-here it is again-critical talk. Its okay sweetie, you’re over tired, it’s been a really hard day, give yourself a break.  At least you’re noticing it, that’s the first step.”

Kristin Neff, a psychologist and expert in self-compassion therapy approaches, beautifully illustrated how she used this approach towards herself when her young son had a tantrum on an airplane, in her Ted Talk.

It’s hard to imagine a more challenging moment; Kristin tells about how she was able to talk kindly and compassionately to herself during it, causing her to feel comfort and support.

If it’s safe and possible, take a little break from whatever you were saying or yelling harshly to your children.  You can cultivate strategies to help calm down in the moment.  Some people find it helpful to take a few deep breaths, count to ten, talk to another supportive adult.  There is a really helpful Parenting Stress Hotline-1-800-632-1818, if you find yourself needing another person to help you in a supportive way.
If you are disciplining an older child you can say, “I’m feeling really angry, we’re both upset, and I need a little break to get my thoughts together.  Lets each go into a different room for 5 minutes and then get back together.”

You may be surprised at how stopping the escalation of tempers can make a big impact on the children, just in itself.  It’s different and surprising to them.  They might deescalate a bit themselves in response.

If it feels comfortable you can engage the children in this process by saying something like, “I’m sorry I was yelling, I know no one likes to get yelled at.  I am feeling very tired and I’m frustrated because I asked you to turn off the TV three times.  But yelling is a mistake.  I will try to talk more calmly.”

In talking like this, you are not sanctioning their misbehavior, or saying that something doesn’t need to be done, you are just taking responsibility for the tone, modeling ways for them to calm down themselves.  You will still need to set appropriate limits, but you will be approaching it in a calm, manner. The word discipline means to teach: we are teaching our children appropriate behavior, both by the limits, and the manner in which we set them.

I will continue to write about self-compassion, parenting, and how to develop effective, firm, but kind limit setting.  These are the cornerstones of the approach I refer to as “Middle Ground Parenting.”

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Critical Voices

Recently, I attended Christopher Germer’s inspiring training about mindfulness and self-compassion. I referred to his book, The Mindful Path to Self Compassion in a previous post about parents learning to be kind to themselves.

During the seminar, Germer emphasized the toxicity of self-criticism. 

We all do it.  When we don’t do as well as we had hoped at work, or on a task at home, we talk to ourselves in ways we would never think about addressing our friends.

“You are a loser, you suck, you didn’t deserve that raise, clumsy oaf” 

We criticize ourselves about our weight, our food choices, and our level of activity.

“You are a fat pig, do you really need that candy bar, and you are so lazy.”

We often have a negative, continuous reel, of these, and other self-insults, playing in our heads at any given time.

There has long been a misconception that speaking harshly to oneself is the most effective way to get motivated.  It makes me think of sports coaches in films and television who yell at and berate the players, to improve their performance.

Germer, and other psychologists and social scientists have recently begun to scientifically measure the efficacy of this approach.

Dr.Kristin Neff, an Associate Professor in Human Development and Culture, Educational Psychology Department at the University of Texas at Austin writes:

“Research shows that self-critics are much more likely to be anxious and depressed -- not exactly get-up-and-go mindsets. They also have lower self-efficacy beliefs (i.e., self-confidence in their abilities), which undermines their potential for success. The habit of self-criticism engenders fear of failure, meaning that self-critics often don't even try achieving their goals because the possibility of failure is unacceptable. Even more problematic, self-critics have a hard time seeing themselves clearly and identifying needed areas of improvement because they know the self-punishment that will ensue if they admit the truth. Much better to deny there's a problem or, even better, blame it on someone else.”

All this is extremely relevant to parenting.  When I meet with parents in my coaching practice they often say, “I listen to myself yelling at the kids, and it’s not the way I want to talk to them, but I get so frustrated, and angry.” Or “This isn’t how I imagined talking to my children, but when I start to feel at the end of my rope, it just escalates. Then I feel really bad about myself.”

Parents often think of their children as an extension of themselves.

If we talk so critically to ourselves, there is much more chance that we will talk to our children, in a harsh critical tone as well. 

As parents, we need to teach our children appropriate ways to behave; we need to set limits.  We also need to help them develop the self discipline to accomplish their tasks, and learn to problem solve.

However, if we do it in harsh critical tones, they will be much less likely to actually develop those skills.   We will unintentionally pass on a generational cycle of self-criticism.

So where do we start to change this cycle? 

As always, we need to start with ourselves.

We need to find ways to switch to a much kinder and more compassionate tape in our heads. We must start to pay attention to how we are talking to ourselves.

One way to start is to begin to be curious about our self-critical thoughts, and to begin to notice when they are happening.

Hmm, I just called myself a loser.  That’s a pretty harsh statement.  What would I say to a dear friend who said that about himself or herself? 

Then, practice saying that statement to yourself.  Even repeating it to yourself a few times.

This may sound simplistic, but we have a long history of being self-critics.  We need to start somewhere, and change one small self-interaction at a time.

We want to guide and teach our children, but not in a manner that criticizes them harshly. 

There are a lot of more formal and structured ways to decrease self-criticism.  I will write about more about this, and the general topic of self-compassion, in future posts.