Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Parent a Child Who Has Intense Emotions

If you are interested in the topic of DBT and Parenting:
Save the Date: Friday, April 16th, 2010, from 11:00a.m. to 12:30p.m. Eastern Time.

NAMI Child and Adolescent Mental Health announces:

“We are very pleased to have special guest, Pat Harvey, LCSW-C, co-author of Parenting a Child Who Has Intense Emotions: Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Help Your Child Regulate Emotional Outbursts and Aggressive Behaviors on our April Children’s Conference Call with Dr. Ken Duckworth , NAMI Medical Director and child and adolescent psychiatrist, to discuss how to use dialectical behavior therapy skills to parent a child who has intense emotions. Pat is a licensed clinical social worker and has extensive experience in using Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) skills with children and adolescents.

Friday Children’s Conference Calls with Dr. Duckworth take place on the third Friday of every month. The calls are toll free and are scheduled from 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. E.T. To access the toll-free call, please dial 1-888-858-6021; access number 309918#. We hope that you will join us!”

Why Your Children are Already Perfect

Did you ever date someone who wanted to change you? Or were you the one wanting to make the changes? Usually those relationships are filled with conflict and strife. One person struggles to be themselves, messy, unstylish, or unmotivated as that may be, while the other sees their potential. If only that person would dress just a little better, look for a new job, pick up their house, the list can go on and on. Rarely, in the end, do these struggles result in change and even more rarely do they result in happiness for both parties.

This struggle to change someone is often a result of judgments that we carry around with us. Part of our mind is constantly comparing ourselves and those we love with others and holding them up to some expectations we’ve created. Our expectations and judgments of our children are particularly strong. We welcome our children to the world with hope and anticipation. Many of us dream of either creating the childhood we didn’t have or re-creating wonderful moments we did. Our surroundings build further beliefs of how life with children should be. We are bombarded with images on TV and in the media of happy parents and smiling babies. We talk to our friends and family about our children and their achievements. In turn, we strive for them to have every opportunity, to make the most of their lives, and to be more successful than ourselves.

All of our hopes and dreams can lead us to provide our children with wonderful experiences and learning opportunities. However, creating expectations they are unable to meet or that are inconsistent with their personality likely leads to unhappiness and problems. Our children internalize our hopes and our beliefs about them. When they are unable to live up to them, they judge themselves. “I’m no good at this.” “I’m not smart enough.” “I’m not brave/strong/ disciplined/ funny/ thoughtful enough.” Thinking like this will weigh them down and lead to feelings of worthlessness, guilt or harsh self criticism.

If you find that you’re in that cycle of struggling with your child about your expectations and their inability to meet them it may be time for a change. Simply letting go of our judgments can feel good. The first step to letting go of judgments is to notice when you are having them. We develop them over decades of experience. Most are rooted in our background and traditions. They may be so much a part of our pattern of thinking that we don’t even realize they are there.

Once you have stepped back, try to accept your children exactly as they are. In their book “Everyday Blessings”, Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn suggest that we can parent mindfully, helping us see past problem behaviors. One tip they suggest is to practice seeing your children as perfect just the way they are. See if you can stay mindful of their autonomy from moment to moment. Work at accepting them as they are when it is hardest for you to do so.

Although our children may never be the babbling baby in the commercial, first in their class, a rocket scientist, and athletic superstar, they can still be perfect. They are perfect in the person that they are and in the unique set of qualities they bring into the world.