Knowing Ourselves As Parents

I treat many highly sophisticated parents in my private practice.  Most have read more books than I and know all the right things to say.  They care and want to be good parents.  The same can likely be said for any parent reading this article.  Yet, parents and children get caught in daily power-struggles, conflicts, and emotionally charged interactions often without resolutions.

No one had perfect parents.  Perfection does not exist.  I promise you, under stress each one of us will revert back to repeating the reactions and behaviors we got from our parents.  I define stress as the times when you make a demand on your child that she does not want to do, or when you set a limit and she doesn’t want to stop or wants more.  If your parents screamed at you, you are likely to do the same.  If your Mom became overwhelmed, collapsed into tears, and begged you to comply, you have a high likelihood of doing the same thing.  That is the primary reason that as a parent you need to self-explore, self-examine, and become self-aware.  This takes courage.  It’s a painful process.  Parents need to know their own strengths and vulnerabilities and how they affect their child.  What kind of words and behaviors make me angry, scared, sad, or feel helpless?  No one can push their buttons as intensely as their own child.  Not even a spouse.  I wrote The Self-Aware Parent as a tool extending the hand of an experienced, empathic, non-judgmental clinician who will walk alongside you as you embark on the brave, difficult look within.

It’s not exactly enough to simply know yourself.  That is the crucial first step.  The following are Dr. Fran’s Top Ten Tips for applying the knowledge and making change.

  • Register what you are feeling and what your child is feeling from moment to moment.  This requires you to speed up your internal thinking tempo and slow down your external behavioral tempo.
  • Always empathize with your child and yourself.
  • Evaluate and keep your personal feelings and thoughts private until you have adjusted them.  Then you can say what you want to say in the way you want your child to hear it.
  • Narrate out loud what your child wants, feels, and is doing.
  • Manage your negative feelings, including shame, humiliation, rage, and embarrassment.
  • Always make what is best for your child come first.
  • Consequences must have meaning to your child and be implemented immediately.
  • Timing is essential.  You are honing your thinking and behavioral tempos.
  • The more self-awareness you have, the greater your options are to parent well.
  • Expect mistakes.  No one is perfect.  Practice, practice, practice!

Frances Walfish, Psy.D., MFT, is a leading child and family therapist in private practice in Beverly Hills, CA. She is a consultant for Parenting Teens Resource Network, Parents magazine, Little Soul Productions, Los Angeles City Crisis Intervention Counselors, and chairs the Governing Board of the Early Childhood Parenting Center, founded at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. She has also authored the book, The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond with Your Child. More information on Dr. Fran can be found online at

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