Many parents wonder, “How does Play Therapy work?” How can just playing with my child heal serious, real behavior problems and emotional issues? What exactly happens in the Playroom?Read More
In considering how to encourage siblings to get along, it’s good to remember that not only are there things we as parents can do, as I describe here, but there are things the kids themselves can work on to help get along better with their siblings. Therefore, I suggest you have your kids read the following advice:Read More
Self-esteem is based on having a conscious awareness of, honoring and respecting one's own emotions, needs, decisions and desires. A person with healthy self-esteem thinks, “I am aware of how I feel. Sometimes I feel this way, and sometimes I feel that way. I have a right to feel anything I want. My desires are legitimate and should be honored. I have a right to honor and try to fulfill any of my desires. My needs are important and people need to respect and attend to them. My decisions are valid and important and need to be honored and respected by people.” Such a person not only has a healthy relationship with himself, but since he treats himself with so much respect, he tends to treat others with equal respect and to be very kind, generous and helpful. How do we get a child to think in this healthy wayRead More
Many parents think that happiness is like a goal that they would like their children to achieve some day, like it's the icing on the cake. The important thing in life is to be a good person and to be successful, and happiness is like a nice pleasant extra. However I'm saying that happiness is like a tool that must be constantly applied in a child's life, it is the most important tool for child success. It is a most critical ingredient in the recipe for moral character.Read More
It takes both a mother and a father to make a child and ideally these two should work together in harmony to raise the child to be healthy. However as we know, conflict often arises between parents and everyone knows that it's seriously affects children.Read More
An emotionally healthy person loves, approves of and respects himself unconditionally. That means that he recognizes his intrinsic value as a person, and he does not allow his mistakes to take away from his own self-estimation of that value. Furthermore, he does not make that approval or respect dependent on superior achievement or especially good deeds, rather on the authenticity of his feelings and his faith that overall, he is a decent, worthwhile person. His default setting, so to speak, is “I’m Ok just the way I am.”Read More
My opinion in general is that using medications for your child’s ADHD and other issues, including psychotropic meds such as Ritalin, Prozac, etc., should be reserved for more serious situations. For example, if a child diagnosed with ADHD is getting B’s and C’s it is probably overdoing it to put him on meds.Read More
A perfectionist is someone with extremely low self-esteem who feels that the only way to redeem himself from those horrible feelings of low self-worth is to get things perfect, to have truly amazing accomplishments. Anything less than perfect performance is considered worthless, a failure and shameful. Perfectionism can cause many disorders such as extreme anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as a host of psychosomatic physical health problems.
Is my child a perfectionist?
Perfectionism comes from being raised by loving well-intentioned parents who have unfortunately made some serious mistakes in child-rearing. The most common such mistakes are over-control, criticism and lack of approval or conditional approval. Chronic criticism devastates a child's self-esteem and makes him feel that he must get things perfect in order to be worthy. In addition he absorbs a message sent directly from his parents: "Only when you get things just right do I approve of you. Only when you do well are you acceptable, worthy and loved." So when considering the question, “Is my child a perfectionist?” we must keep these things in mind.
I wouldn’t ever like to say anything bad about my beloved favorite tennis player.
However his autobiography, Open, presents strong evidence that Andre Agassi was a perfectionist. My only goal is to help parents and children, and I think it will be extremely helpful for parents who wish to raise their children in an emotionally healthy way to become aware of the mistakes Agassi’s parents made, so that we don’t repeat them. In addition, it is very important for us to learn that even the greatest professional success is not worth it if the person does not possess emotional health.
In his autobiography entitled Open, Agassi lays out very clearly what his life was like. Despite his fame and fortune, he felt that he was living a life of abject misery. He absolutely hated playing tennis. He describes playing tennis as “Torture,” and the court was his prison. His “Punishment” began in his early childhood and never ended until he retired. “No matter how much I want to stop I don't. I keep begging myself to stop, and I keep playing.” (p. 27) He pursued perfect performance in tennis not for the joy of accomplishment and achievement, but only to relieve his terrible feelings of low self-worth, and to counteract judgments of self-criticism. “Though I hate tennis, I like the feeling of hitting a ball dead perfect. It's the only peace. When I do something perfect I enjoy a split-second of sanity and calm.”(p29) Relentless and futile pursuit of such perfection became the goal of his life.
Agassi’s father made several key parenting errors. First of all, he was completely over-controlling. “What are you doing! Stop thinking! No thinking!” (p.31) He never asked the young Andre, “Would you like to play tennis?” He alone decided for his son that his life would be dedicated to tennis. He forced him to play every minute of his childhood, even making him miss school on many occasions for extra practice. He was literally a slave-driving drill sergeant. “I take no pride in my reflexes. I get no credit. It's what I'm supposed to do. Every hit is expected, every miss a crisis.” (p.28) He made it clear to Agassi that none of his wants, needs and desires were important. “What I want isn’t relevant.” (p.29) The only thing that was important was his father's will, his father’s desire that he become a great tennis player. “I don't want to upset my father. I don't dare. Bad stuff happens when my father's upset. If he says I'm going to play tennis, if he says I'm going to be number one in the world, then that's my destiny. All I can do is nod and obey.” His emotional life was completely disregarded. This taught him to repress his emotions, one of the key factors in emotional illness.
The legacy of criticism
In addition, his father constantly, absolutely, criticized him. Every single move Andre made that was even slightly less than perfect was met with a torrent of criticism, disapproval and verbal abuse. He sent a clear message to his son, that he must be perfect and totally successful - - - otherwise he was worthless. Even when he did play perfectly, his father never praised him or expressed approval. Andre’s only reward for success was a temporary relief from criticism and shame. “I win my first seven tournaments in the 10 and under bracket and my father has no reaction. I’m simply doing what I’m supposed to do.”(p.37) “I've never lost and can't imagine what my father's reaction will be if I do.” (p. 37) Agassi internalized this message and became his own (and harshest) critic: "I will now have a loss on my record forever. Nothing can ever change it. I can't endure the thought, but it's inescapable. I'm fallible, blemished, imperfect. After years of hearing my father rant over my flaws, one loss has caused me to take up his rant. I have internalized my father, his impatience, his perfectionism, his rage, until his voice doesn't just feel like my own, it is my own. I no longer need my father to torture me, from this day on I can do it all by myself.” (p. 38) This is the fate of most perfectionists. They become their own harshest critics, leading a life of inescapable agony.
Anger and Shame
Whenever a person hurts someone else, as in the case of the verbal and emotional abuse that Agassi suffered at the hands of his father, the reaction is naturally and automatically anger. Therefore we can likely assume that someone who went through what Agassi did may harbor extreme anger toward his father for the way he treated him. However, he likely never would have been able to express and process his anger as a child, for fear that his father would retaliate against him. Therefore the anger must have been repressed. Leading a life of repressed rage is very unhealthy. It generates many emotional disorders. “I'm furious with Tarango, with God and with myself.” He admits his father’s abusive behavior, “Of course he has no qualms about preying on me.” (p. 30)
The other emotion that perfectionists usually feel is shame. Shame is the king of all unhealthy emotions. After reading Agassi’s autobiography, I feel that it is safe to assume, and necessary for us to recognize, that he was very likely terribly shamed by his father for every one of the many mistakes he made, however small they might have been. He probably internalized those feelings and felt intense shame over every single less-than-perfect performance.
Unfortunately but interestingly, he suffered from intense, debilitating back pain and sciatica. He claims it came from herniated discs and other structural abnormalities, but it may have been that none of those had the power to create the amount of pain he was experiencing. The truth is, from the life history and symptoms he describes, he may well have been suffering from a condition described by Dr. John Sarno, called Tension Myositis Syndrome, where one’s consciousness threatens to be overwhelmed by feelings of shame and low self-worth because of the fear of a less than perfect performance, and one’s mind creates the intense back pain to distract him from his overpowering shame. The pain serves to distract his mind and saves him from what his unconscious fears may be an emotional breakdown. In addition, his repressed rage threatens to burst forth where his mind fears he might do something aggressive, and so It creates the back pain to distract him from his repressed rage and to keep it locked in his unconscious. This condition is very common and affects millions of Americans every day.
I don't know if Agassi ever made it into therapy…
If he did, he would have had to express intense grief over how he was treated by his father, and over his lost childhood. He would have had to take all of that unconscious repressed rage, and express it consciously in therapy, so he can process it and let it fade into the past. He would have to mourn and grieve the fact that he was denied the important gem that every child must have, a feeling of self-determination. It would be very helpful for Agassi to seek an admission from his father that although he made him a great tennis player he destroyed his emotional health and set him up for a life of misery. Such an apology would be extremely valuable as it would shatter his feelings of low self-worth, which are in reality just an illusion. He would have to completely change his thought patterns and value system, recognizing that in life one should be allowed to strive for more mundane, reasonable accomplishments, and not for perfection. He would have to learn the joy of the ordinary.
How can we do differently?
By the way, his father could have turned him into an equally good tennis player, but in a different way. He could have showed him the joy of playing tennis well, the pleasure of the game, to such an extent that he would have been inspired, and would have chosen of his own free will to spend much of his time playing tennis. He could have taught him to see the joy and beauty of winning, and of success, while at the same time not feel any shame or self-criticism at losing or because of a less than perfect performance. There are many successful athletes who have this healthy attitude. Any parent can inspire his child in this way, leading to success in any endeavor, success in the healthy way, and not through criticism, pressure or force.
Agassi is an amazing example of the devastating effects of parental over-control and over-criticism. He is a great lesson for us in how not to treat our children. All the fame and fortune in the world is not worth a life of emotional devastation. In fact, one need not go to the extremes gone to by Agassi’s father to create an unhealthy perfectionist. Even a moderate amount of criticism and mistreatment can do it, and must be avoided like the plague.
Therefore, we need to display an extremely non-critical, non-judgemental, accepting attitude towards children, one of unconditional approval even when they make mistakes. Mistakes should in fact be celebrated for the great learning experience that they are! Good performance should be encouraged by teaching them the joy of doing well, not the shame of making errors. And above all, children need to be treated with extreme gentleness.
Feel free to peruse my interesting blog, download one of my free reports, or view my video. If you are wondering, “Is my child a perfectionist?” and would like guidance or treatment from a child therapist in NYC, you may call me at 646-681-1707 for a complementary 15-minute phone consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!
Are you frustrated by your child’s frequent tantrums? Is he or she defiant, and often refuses to listen? Are you overwhelmed as a parent and have given up hope that anything will help? Did you ever wonder how to reduce tantrums using Play Therapy?Read More
I was bullied somewhat as a youngster and I was never able to figure out a solution until my second years of college, when I was 19. I had a best friend named Jonathan Weidenbaum. We fondly called him “Ep.” He was extremely well liked by everyone. I wondered why he was so successful, and so I decided to study and observe his ways.Read More
It is remarkable how well Play Therapy interventions for ADHD work! I have seen wonderful results with many children, and abundant research supports its effectiveness.
Play therapy operates with three main mechanisms: 1) Helping the child process distracting emotions, 2) Improving the power of decision and executive functioning, and 3) reducing impulsivity. Together with Parenting Counseling, it is doubly effective.
Although I generally advise in my blog a more gentle, flexible parenting approach, in considering how to have authority over your child, obviously sometimes exercising a bit of parental authority it is necessary and best for everyone. The question is when and how much? The answer is that parental authority is much more happily accepted by a child when he truly feels that the parent is doing what's best for him or her. That means he needs to have faith that although what they're asking him to do right now might not seem pleasant and he might not understand it, since he sees that most of the time they do good, pleasant things to him and generally make him happy, he can trust that the present unpleasant thing will be best for him too. You need to generate in the child a habit of presuming “Everything my parents say or do for me, it's for my own benefit.” How do we create that? By striving to always be a source of pleasure to our child and never a source of stress. Be gentle, flexible, lenient and generous with your child most of the time, and then when the occasional time comes to lay down the parental authority he will accept it, thinking, “Mommy and Daddy always make me happy. This rule will probably make me happy too.” Even if he resists in the moment, stand your ground and insist on compliance, knowing full well that your general spirit of generosity towards the child will carry the day. In addition, we must remember that the less often we apply parental authority, the more likely it will be accepted. No one likes to be told what to do all the time and too many rules will create resistance and rebellion, but generously letting the child have his way most of the time will give him the strength to comply with the rules that minority of the times when we must enforce them.
Is it really for his benefit?
The rule is that you need to think very carefully and honestly when exercising parental authority, is what I'm about to ask my child to do truly in his own benefit? or will I be sacrificing his happiness to fulfill my own needs as a parent? There is an exception. Sometimes you may ask a child to comply with a rule for the parents’ benefit because it will ultimately be for the child’s benefit. For example if a child has been banging on pots and pans for half an hour and is starting to give you a major headache, it is in the child's own benefit that you ask him to stop because if mommy has a splitting headache she's going to be in a very bad mood and is not going to be able to be a very good parent for the rest of the afternoon! You can even explain to the child that he needs to be quiet because it's very important that mommy doesn't get a headache because it mommy gets a headache she won't be able to be a good mommy and make you happy. The wisest course is to help the child to understand that what you're asking him to do is actually in his own benefit. Over time he or she will begin to trust you thinking, “Mommy always does what's best for me, I trust her.”
Let's say you have a 12-year-old wants to go to an event which you judge to be too dangerous and inappropriate for your child to attend. We must understand that if you spent all day of the entire week leading up to that event being kind and gentle and generally making the child's day pleasant, he will have the strength to tolerate your denial of permission to go. But if he's been constantly hit with all kinds of overly strict rules and regulations and no longer feels you're truly doing everything for his benefit, you may have a full-scale rebellion on your hands.
The same idea applies to a five-year-old. If you've been flexible and generous with him for the past half hour, then you may ask him to hold your hand tightly while crossing the street and he will gladly comply. But if the answer was no to the last five requested activities then he is going to be in no mood to hold hands and you're going to get dangerous resistance.
This doesn't mean that you have to give in to your kids all the time. It just means that I recommend you be 20 percent more flexible and generous across the board and you will see wonderful results.
Don't fear that only exercising your parental authority say once a week will leave your child with too few limits and structure. When the child knows that firm limits are there even if only occasionally, their influence will always register in the back of his mind and it will keep him in line.
In addition, there is a deeper dynamic to understand.
If a parent is constantly trying to enforce rules that are not truly for the child’s benefit, then the child will sense the injustice. You will be in effect teaching him, “Your needs as a child are not what's important, it's my needs as a parent that are important, and I'm going to use my parental authority to force you to fulfill my needs.” This teaches the child that one should use his power to get his own needs met at the expense of others. So then later when you ask the child to do something that really is for his benefit, like going to the doctor, and the child doesn't want to go, he may refuse, saying, “In fact I don't believe that going to the doctor is for my own benefit. Many things you do don’t seem to be for my benefit, therefore I will use my power to get my own needs met by having a tantrum and refusing to go to the doctor.”
For example, let's say a 6-year old child finished dinner and goes to play, and you say if you want to have dessert, you have to clear your plate. This may sound surprising, but the truth is it is of very little benefit to 6-year-old to get in the habit of always clearing his plate. You may be trying to teach him some kind of responsibility or manners, but he is simply too young to benefit from such instruction. It is much more beneficial for a 6-year-old to enjoy his dinner, leave his plate and then go run and play. When he's 12 he'll learn to clear his plate. The truth is, the parent is asking the child to clear his plate for the parents own benefit, so that the parent can have a sense of order in his house, and have the proud idea that “My child clears his plate.” In addition, threatening to take away his dessert if he doesn't comply is also a very negative and unpleasant punishment that is doomed to fail. The child knows intuitively that all this is no good for him, and if you enforce it he will think, what's good for me is not important. They only want to control me to fill their desire for power and authority. Therefore, I will do the same thing. I will try and use whatever power I have to get them to fulfill my will.” This may take the form of tantrums, defiance and rebellion. If you make a habit of forcing the child to comply with such rules he will begin to resist you even when you're clearly doing things for his own benefit, such as trying to get them to take some medicine.
The above applies to a child with a strong, independent character. On the other hand, if the child is of a more softer, gentler character, and he is forced to comply with many rules that are not for his own benefit, because of his gentle nature he may obediently comply. However, you'll be teaching him, “Your needs, feelings and desires are not important. Those of your parents are,” and this will generate low self-esteem, low self-worth, repressed emotions and a whole host of emotional health problems.
Therefore, it is of paramount importance that you always strive to help the child to truly see that everything you're doing for him is really for his own benefit. This involves doing a lot of research on Parenting and finding out what truly is in the best interest of a child. However, if you have good intentions but you simply are mistaken as to what's good for child, he will intuitively sense that you're not benefiting him and you will have problems.
For occasional, important issues, stand your ground.
Now, if you have been being generally flexible and generous, giving in on the small stuff whenever possible and making the child happy as much as possible, and an important issue comes up such as going to the doctor, not running into the street, or going to a dangerous party late at night, you can and should be very firm and not take no for an answer! You must be firmly decided in your mind that your child will comply no matter what, and not entertain any thought of disobedience. Do not plead or negotiate, just firmly state the limit like you mean business. You can explain to the child that it’s for his own benefit, and you mind is made up! When used only occasionally, the child will appreciate the security provided by such structure.
Feel free to peruse my interesting blog, download one of my informative free reports, or view my video. If you are struggling with how to have authority over your child, and would like guidance or treatment from a child psychotherapist in NYC, you may call me directly at 646-681-1707 for a complementary phone consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!
While we do not allow all behaviors in children, we should allow and accept all feelings. Feelings are automatic and natural and not a product of conscious choice, so letting them flow is necessary for a child’s emotional development. However, when children express strong or negative feelings and desires, they are often met with disapproval by their parents or other adults. If he or she says, “I hate my brother!” the parent may respond, “Don’t say that! You really love him.”Read More
As I have said elsewhere, a generous amount of happiness for children is not a frivolous desire, a privilege or even a right, it is a deep and fundamental need. Growing up without enough happiness, joy and pleasure actually generates emotional illness. It is our job as parents to provide that happiness daily, in doses wisely administered at specific intervals when needed.Read More
Children often hit when they don't get what they "Want" but more often it's because they didn't get what they need. Let’s say the child gets an hour of TV, and when you tell her you have to turn it off, she gets angry and aggressive and starts hitting. The truth is an hour of TV is a somewhat arbitrary amount. She's telling you at this time, “I have a desperate need for the kind of pleasure and happiness that another 15 minutes of TV provides! Not getting it is intolerable to me and makes me feel extremely deprived and angry!” Again, don't feel you're spoiling your child by giving them that extra 15 minutes. You may be fulfilling an important need.Read More
I can’t stress enough how careful we as parents need to be with our children’s physical safety! There are unfortunately many accidents that might have been prevented. Therefore, we should never take any unnecessary risks with children. Yet, while guarding our children’s physical safety, we need avoid turning an excess of caution into a danger to their emotional health and safety!Read More
In considering what to do when a child makes a mistake, we need to remember that when a child makes a mistake and is reprimanded or criticized, it prevents him from learning from the mistake. He feel so ashamed and put down by the reprimand that he wants to put the whole event out of his memory and so he tries to forget about it, and so the next time when the same situation arises he's more likely to make the same mistake again. The point of a reprimand is supposedly that the child will think, “Last time I did this I got an unpleasant reprimand, so I'll be careful not to do it again so I don't get a another reprimand.”Read More