Ever get red-hot angry at your child for no reason, or out of proportion to the incident that provoked it? Have you wondered why this happens?
The way we were parented has a profound impact on us – it’s pretty easy to ‘fall into’ parenting the way you were parented yourself unless you specifically examine your relationship with your parent(s) and how it impacts the way you parent your own child. This can be great if you have a positive relationship with your parents, but for those of us with less-than-amazing relationships with our parents, trauma can impact more of our parenting that we might like.
Join me for a conversation with Dr. Rebecca Babcock-Fenerci from Stonehill College in Massachusetts, who researches the cognitive and interpersonal consequences of child maltreatment, with the goal of understanding factors that can increase risk for or protect against the transmission of abuse and neglect from parents to their children.
Even if you were not abused or neglected as a child, you may find that aspects of the way you were parented have left you with unresolved trauma that you could pass on to your child if it remains unaddressed. Dr. Fenerci helps us to examine some of the ways we can recognize the impact of this trauma on ourselves, and reduce the possibility that we will transmit it to our child.
Pretty regularly I see posts in online parenting groups saying “My child loves to pretend, and they always want me to participate. I dare not tell anyone else, but I CAN’T STAND PRETEND PLAY. What should I do?”
In this final (unless something else catches my interest!) episode in our extended series on play, Dr. Ansley Gilpin of the University of Alabama helps us to do a deep dive into what children learn from pretend play, and specifically what they learn from fantasy play, which is pretend play regarding things that could not happen in real life (like making popcorn on Mars).
We’ll discuss the connection between fantasy play and children’s executive function, the problems with studying fantasy play, and the thing you’ve been waiting for: do you HAVE to do fantasy play with your child if you just can’t stand it (and what to do instead!)
If you missed other episodes in this series, you might want to check them out: we started out asking “what is the value of play?”, then we looked at the benefits of outdoor play and talked with Dr. Scott Sampson about his book How to Raise a Wild Child. We wrapped up with outdoor play by trying to understand whether we should allow our children to take more risks.
Ever been in any of these scenarios?
“I took my children on a fantastic vacation to Disney World. My youngest ate it up but my five-year-old pouted the whole time. The lines were too long; the weather was too hot; the food sucked. Why can’t he appreciate the sacrifices we make for him? It’s not like us parents want to go to Disney World…”
“My mom gave my three-year-old daughter a beautiful and expensive doll for her birthday. My daughter doesn’t really like dolls, and when she realized what the gift was she threw it aside and went to play with her Legos. My mom was really hurt, and I was mortified. Why can’t my daughter just be thankful for a gift even if it’s not exactly what she wanted?”
“My five-year-old has it so easy. We buy him toys; we pick up after him; we go out for treats (ice cream and the like) all the time. He really wants for nothing, but he’s so ungrateful. He has absolutely no idea how good he has it, and that there are people in the world with so much less than him. What can I do about this?”
The Marshmallow Test is one of the most famous experiments in Psychology: Dr. Walter Mischel and his colleagues presented a preschooler with a marshmallow. The child was told that the researcher had to leave the room for a period of time and the child could either wait until the researcher returned and have two marshmallows, or if the child couldn’t wait, they could call the researcher back by ringing a bell and just have one marshmallow. The idea was to figure how delayed gratification develops, and, in later studies, understand its importance in our children’s lives and academic success.
We’ve all been there.
Your preschooler wakes up in a foul mood (don’t we all, every once in a while?), and starts crying before she even gets out of bed. Nothing you do can make it right: she doesn’t want the same thing she has for breakfast every morning; she can’t choose something she does want; she hits her brother; she collapses in a sobbing heap on the floor.
Or maybe your “witching hour” comes later in the day, after school or at bedtime: he doesn’t WANT to go in the bath. He doesn’t want a bath with bubbles OR without bubbles. He refuses to brush his teeth, with either bubblegum OR strawberry toothpaste.
Toddlers have tantrums, and to some extent we just need to be supportive and get through them because they don’t really have the mental skills or vocabulary to express what they need. But by the time your child is about three, some new abilities start to open up that create enormous opportunities for you. They are able to think about more than one way to do something, and their vocabularies are expanding so they can begin to express these new ideas.
They probably aren’t yet fully able to regulate their own emotions, which is why they still have these occasional tantrums. But what if there was a way to use some of their new skills to avoid tantrums in the first place?
The good news: there is!
The bad news: this method does require you to go through one tantrum to figure it out. But isn’t that a small price to pay?
The best news is that this method is most powerful for the types of tantrums that are related to issues you face repeatedly related to their ideas about how things should work in your house (like whether it’s OK to eat ice cream right before bed). You may still get the ones that result from being over-tired or hungry/hangry, but you already know the fix for those ones…