Why delighful children turn into defiant teens.
An excerpt from: Shefali Tsabary PhD. “The Conscious Parent”
Though we have already addressed defiance in our teens to some degree, because it’s such an issue today, I want to return to the topic and add further insights. Dysfunctional teenagers don’t emerge overnight. They are the result of years of subjugated authenticity and false promises. They have been dying a slow death and now have to fight a daily battle just to feel alive. No teen wants to be “bad.” They simply don’t know any other way to be.
The child who grows up to be a defiant teen does so because of a lack of authenticity, a lack of containment, or a lack of connection to the parents—or a combination of these. For instance, children who didn’t enjoy sufficient real connection with their parents may grow into teens who feel the need to act out in a flamboyant way in order to be noticed. Whenever your children act out in a defiant manner, there’s always an underlying motivation. This could either be because they are rewarded with negative attention from you or because they haven’t learned to be respectful of another’s wishes. They have been permitted to violate boundaries without consequences. When you face difficult moments with your children, instead of becoming reactive, ask yourself the following questions:
Is my child behaving in this manner because I’m unable to be firm and consistent?
Am I being clear that my child’s behavior is absolutely not okay with me? Or am I being wishy-washy and sending mixed messages?
Do I need to reexamine my expectations and recalibrate my understanding of what my child’s emotional capacity is right now?
Is my need for control being triggered, and am I reacting to my child from a triggered state?
Am I having difficulty engaging my child with mutuality, preferring “my way or the highway?”
Is my child evoking a sense of helplessness and disempowerment in me because of my past conditioning?
Does my child sense I’m uncomfortable with conflict and therefore push my buttons even harder?
Could it be that I don’t believe in myself and therefore don’t believe I can garner respect from my child?
Is my child thirsty for my attention because I have been preoccupied, so that I only pay attention when they are behaving in a negative way?
Is my tolerance for frustration so low that I can’t negotiate with my child through dialogue because it evokes too much anxiety in me?
Am I so stretched and wired that I flip out at the slightest perception of loss of control? After giving to my family all day, do I feel resentful and unleash my emotions at the least provocation?
Am I running on empty right now, so that I can’t invoke the presence my child deserves?
Is it possible I don’t know how to respond to my child’s temperamental nature, and that this engenders anxiety in me?
Do I pressure myself and my child to behave in the “right” way, to the point that when things don’t go according to plan, I lose my sense of perspective?
When we aren’t conscious of our own feelings, we blame our children for “making us” feel a particular way, which triggers in them the feelings we are carrying within us. To the degree we unleash our anxiety on them, they will carry our unprocessed emotions within their body, which means they too will act from an uncentered state. Their state then catapults us into an escalated reaction—and so the cycle of pain continues down through the generations.
The degree to which we become emotionally agitated by our children reflects the degree to which we are already agitated within ourselves.
Though each party’s emotional energy arouses emotional states in the other, we have to be clear, as pointed out earlier, that no one can cause us to feel a particular way. No matter how it may appear on the surface, at a more elemental level no one has this power. If the seeds of irritation, helplessness, frustration, or tension weren’t already within us, they couldn’t bloom. But as long as we feel helpless and somewhat out of control, the slightest suggestion we aren’t being listened to will cause us either to feel disempowered, and hence ineffective in handling our children, or lead us to unleash our frustration on them. The degree to which we become emotionally agitated by our children reflects the degree to which we are already agitated within ourselves. Once we understand that no one has the power to cause us unhappiness, we can let go of our heavy investment in our life scripts and emotional imprints. This enables us to alter the energetic space we inhabit during our interactions with others, which is the end of all drama. Seeing ourselves as neither victims nor victors, martyrs nor mere survivors, we find we no longer need drama in order to feel alive. If on occasion we are still triggered, we are able to reel our reaction in before we cause hurt and trauma for others.
Conversely, we are only able to feel positive regard for our children when we already have such regard for ourselves. Only to the degree we are confident within ourselves can we engage our children from a place of confidence. This is because whatever we are experiencing internally is ultimately manifested externally. That which is manifested externally affects our children, which in turn affects us— and so the cycle continues. Because at this deep level there is no separation and we are one with our children, they become reflections of our interior being, which is what makes them suited to be our spiritual guides.
we are only able to feel positive regard for our children when we already have such regard for ourselves.
Dr. Shefali Tsabary is a international speaker, clinical psychologist and acclaimed author of the award-winning book “The Conscious Parent”. She blends eastern mindfulness with western psychology integrating wisdom from both traditions. It is this blend of East and West that allows her to reach a global audience, and establishes her as one of a kind in the field of mindfulness psychology.