Family Counseling: self esteem (tips for parents)

Family counseling, couple and individual life coaching and workshops, Bas Rhin, Alsace

conflictThe modern family goes through difficult times because the life standards are higher and higher, economical changes in our society are moving so fast. Families and couples are often keen to develop new communication skills in order to find their harmony and balance.

Self-esteem is often a main aspect that needs to be addressed when dealing with communication problems between family’s members. Self-esteem develops during our childhood. Parents’ education, personalities and life experiences have a huge impact on the child during his growing process.

In a functional family, there is a positive communication, based on mutual respect, common values and strong beliefs. Each family member learns from a very early stage to develop good coping skills and his/her needs are fulfilled, which will reinforce a complete and positive development of his/her personality. This type of family environment and the parental role-models will help the child, the teenager  to express his feelings, his emotions in an appropriate way according to his own values and perception. He will be prepared to socialize, to deal with unpredictable changes in life in a positive and healthy manner. His self-esteem, his system of beliefs will be solid.

In a dysfunctional family conflicts, misbehavior, child abuse occur regularly. Children grow up in such families with the understanding that this type of family environment is normal.

Dysfunctional families are often a result of co-dependent adults, and may also be affected by addictions, such as substance abuse (alcohol, drugs, gambling etc)

We usually tend to think that a dysfunctional family is the family in which the parents are divorced or there is just a lot of fighting. In fact, as I could see in my practice, in Bestherapie, some dysfunctional families seem at first glance ‘the perfect family’. In these families, there is a lot of ‘taboo’ subjects, that so well-known “elephant in the room” (obviously the term refers to a simple truth that is being ignored). Often, the members of the family experience discomfort, a constant feeling of unfulfilled needs, of emptiness, of fear of communication; resentments and ‘unspoken’ rules, denial, disagreement, prejudice and lack of empathy are also some characteristics. Unfortunately, the list can continue.

Children growing up in a dysfunctional family usually adopt one or more of these six basic roles:

The Good Child (the Hero): a child who assumes the parental role and tries to solve all the family crises situations.

The Problem Child or Rebel (the Scapegoat): he is blamed for most problems related to the family’s dysfunction, despite the fact that he might be the only person emotionally stable in the family.

The Caretaker: he takes responsibility for the emotional well-being of the family, trying constantly to look after everyone.

The Lost Child: he is quiet, neglected, and ‘invisible’; his needs are usually ignored.

The Mascot: he is always acting, using comedy to divert attention away from the family’s problems and dysfunctional relationships.

The Mastermind: he represents the opportunist who takes advantage of the family members’ faults to get whatever he wants.

As I always explain to parents during my workshops or during our family counseling sessions: we are not born parents, we grasp new skills, we grow and sometimes we need to learn from our own mistakes. If we come from a dysfunctional family and our parents had their own issues to deal with, we can learn and develop new skills to break that vicious circle and create a new healthy one. This takes time, effort, motivation and some family therapy or individual counseling but the purpose is always one: to build the life, the relationships, the family that we choose to, to create our own environment and make our own healthy choices. I often offer them my support to learn how to apply Non Violent Communication methods or just to identify their untrue beliefs in order to understand their misconception of the reality.

The child needs stability and persistence, role models, rewards rather than punishment. We need to have patience, to encourage, to support each other and to choose the path of empathy. Without developing these skills, the process of communicating in an efficient way, to get the expected results is difficult and stressful.

Erik Erikson is the creator of a very important theory on psychosocial development of human beings. I often use this model to explain the child’s development stages and the impact of the environment on his personality. According to Erikson, the environment in which a child lives is crucial for his growth, adjustment, socialization skills; it is a source of self-awareness and identity that will continue to improve or to become even more poor later on, during adult’s life.

Stage Basic Conflict    Events Personality development (characteristics)
Infancy (birth to 18 months) Trust vs Mistrust Feeding Sense of trust; reliability, care, and affection
Early Childhood (2 to 3 years) Autonomy vs Shame and doubt Toilet Training Sense of personal control over physical skills and a sense of independence. Will.
Preschool (3 to 5 years) Initiative vs guilt Exploration Sense of purpose.
School Age (6 to 11 years) Industry vs inferiority School Sense of competence, coping skills in a new social environment. Failure can determinate feelings of inferiority.
Adolescence (12 to 18 years) Identity vs role confusion Social Relationships Sense of self and personal identity. Failure leads to role confusion.
Young Adulthood (19 to 40 years) Intimacy vs isolation Relationships Sense of intimate, loving relationships with others. Failure results in loneliness and isolation.
Middle Adulthood (40 to 65 years) Generativity vs stagnation Work and Parenthood Sense of “contribution” to the world, of creation (family, children, positive change for self and others). Failure results in feeling worthless and lack of self-accomplishment.
Maturity(65 to death) Ego Integrity vs dispair Reflection on Life Sense of fulfillment. Failure results in regret and despair.

Here are some tips to support your effort to get more information and to find different methods to help your children to develop their self-esteem, get over some fake beliefs:

  • Rather than criticizing and punishing your child, choose to encourage him, to discover his talent and to develop his creativity;
  • Remember that human brain is more ‘pleasure and reward’ oriented rather than following “constraints” or restrictions that have a more negative impact;
  • Express your feelings clearly, express a need and a request (based on nonviolent communication methods) in a positive manner, using a positive tone of your voice even if you have a tough and stressful day, avoid to project your frustration and fatigue on your child; this will just avoid a communication breakdown;

Example: When I see you’re throwing your toys and your things everywhere I feel upset because it is messy and we can stumble, accidents happen; I need you to tidy up and keep a clean room  and then if you wish we’ll spend a good time together (game, watch a movie, or whatever motivation and reward you’ll find that your child enjoys)

  • Use examples, stories (metaphors) from your own life, create games and ways to connect with your child, be honestly interested in doing so and he/she will understand that you were a child one day as well, making mistakes, going to school, liking some things or not;
  • Avoid making comparisons (between your children or with their friends); point out the solutions and the positive lessons that we can learn from a negative experience rather than focusing on the useless aspects;
  • Value your child’s opinions, guide him and help him to make his own decisions; always give him options . If there are some activities that he enjoys less related to his house chores or school homework, it will be easier to accomplish his work if you give him the feeling that he can choose, he is in control: example: would you like to start with your Math’s homework now or with the History one? Do you prefer me to help you with this task or with that one?
  • Take your time to observe your child’s changing of behavior (if he is bullied at school, you’ll notice the signs, lack of appetite, stomach aches too often, getting irritated or isolated more easily etc); once you notice that something is different, try to understand, to give him/her your time, to be open to listen without forcing or asking questions and playing the ‘policeman’ role; according to his/her personality and hobbies, you can choose to use puppets, games or personal stories to get him to speak and open up to you.
  • Tell him that you love him/her even if his/her results at school are weaker than you expected; the needs of acceptance, attention and appreciation are some of the most important for a healthy growth;focus on how to support him to improve.
  • When you need to make crucial decisions (moving, divorce etc) try to explain and to discuss important changes and aspects with your child according to his/her needs and age; sometimes keeping it simple is the best way to avoid future problems.
  • If you feel that you need support or even to get more information, do not hesitate to ask for guidance, for professional counseling, to attend a group support, a workshop and so on. Sometimes getting out of the box or just sharing with someone else could be very helpful and gives you another perspective on things.

Remember: we are human beings, we have different backgrounds and perceptions on life.  Anything that needs to be changed, to be developed can be done with the right tools and methods; it all depends on your motivation and willingness to make that choice and get a more balanced life. Therapy and life coaching are there to provide  some of these tools whenever you’re ready to make that decision.

Note: I’d like to express here my gratitude to all parents and couples that have participated to my workshops; special thanks to Florine, one mother that inspired this article.

Workshops :  Self-esteem: April, 26th; May, 3rd

Useful ressources:

John Bradshaw, Homecoming: Reclaiming and Healing Your Inner Child

An Adult Child’s Guide to What’s ‘Normal’ – J Friel & L Friel.

Identity and the Life Cycle – E Erikson

A Theory of Human Motivation – A Maslow