Unresolved issues are one of the leading factors that cause kids to react like the 4th of July; a period of calm is followed by a spectacular reaction triggered by what seems to be very small sparks.
When we see such explosive behavior in our kids, it is natural for us to think that they are just trying to get their way. What about our kids are doing something they should not be doing or are being ridiculous because what was said or done is so minor in comparison to their response?
After 12 years of talking with kids about their lives, decisions and direction, one thing is crystal clear. The vast majority of kids fear bringing up their frustrations, issues or hurts with their parents. They are convinced their parents will be defensive, overreact or dismiss their perspective altogether.
As a result many kids carry with in them a growing list of issues/hurts with their parents. As they hold this hurt within, each area of hurt develops into figurative fireworks just waiting to be ignited. When our kids are in this position, it does not take much to light their fuse.
What has been surprising for me as I coach families is how often the messages we send as parents are misunderstood. What might seem beneficial to us, leads to frustration, hurt and distance in the relationship with our kids This leaves parents confused and believing the issue is entirely their kid’s problem because there appears to be no valid reason for such overreactions.
What Happened to create the Unresolved Issues?
As a coach one of my first challenges is to get kids to open up about their real lives, situation and relationship with their parents. Most, contrary to popular belief, do not want to talk negatively about their parents. Why? They too have come to the conclusion that there is something wrong with them because they cannot control their reactions that result in conflict and pain. When this belief germinates within them, I have found that they become even more sensitive and volatile which confirms this painful belief. A contributing factor is adolescent brain development which I discussed in last week’s blog “Kids Emotions: How does the Process of the Adolescent Brain?”.
As I help kids share how the messages their parents sent impacted them, parents are often shocked and moved to tears as they come to see and understand their kids’ perspective for the first time.
If you have a kid that is overreacting to small things you say or do, it is a good bet that they are carrying unresolved issues within them. If this is the case, no matter how hard we come down on them to stop this crazy behavior, we are likely to just add to the load. Under these circumstances I find that kids’ reactions will intensify. They also will seek out escape behaviors that allow them to shove the pain into the background.
The Process to Resolve Issues
Given all we have discovered, we need to alter our approach to our kids reactions. Part of this is establishing a family Easy Button or time out policy. This will allow anyone to stop a conversation when emotions trigger and anger takes over. Continuing at this point will only lead to further harm for both parties involved.
There must be an understanding that will be established around using time outs. The family members will put a pause on talking and go reflect on the reason they are hurt/angry. This is a important part, in order to make a plan to bring it up nicely. Then when we come back together later the same or following day. We will listen and work to understand each other’s feelings and perceptions.
I find that it is often difficult for our kids to discern their feelings. When we reconvene we may need to ask questions and even propose possible feelings for them to respond to as they learn to discern them for themselves. Asking, “Are you feeling unloved, dismissed, or not believed in?” often helps them identify the feelings they need to share.