Parenting is a roller coaster ride for anyone, but especially if you parent a child or teenager with executive function deficiencies. There are days with the thrill of victory and days with the agony of defeat, and many days with a bit of both. Every parent desperately wants to succeed, and to guide their children toward success too. Often, the result becomes trying too hard, which seems counter-intuitive.
In her work, The Disintegrating Student: Super Smart and Falling Apart, psychologist Jeannine Jannot, cites several categories of “parental influences,” where parents have good intentions, but which can backfire when applied too intensely in the life of the family. Here are some of them:
1. Too Much Praise
Kids understand when they receive lavish, unearned, overused, or inappropriate praise. This can have a negative impact on their performance as the value of the praise becomes watered-down because kids know it has diminished value. Kids understand when they have received a participation trophy, when they didn’t do anything all that special. Rather, encourage effort and determination in tackling difficult tasks, as this will foster self-confidence as challenges will be seen as fun and exciting rather than frustrating and threatening.
2.Protect, Shield, and Shelter
Parents who rush to their child’s defense every time something goes wrong in their life, don’t allow them learn to stand up for themselves and solve their own problems. Plus, it can create a sense of entitlement and dependency on other people to intercede for them. When a negative situation arises in your child’s life, whenever possible, sleep on it, talk to a trusted friend, or write your thoughts down in a journal, in order to get your emotions centered.
3. Alleviate Stress
Many parents cannot handle it emotionally when their children are stressed or uncomfortable, even in minor ways. A common response is for the adult to alleviate the stress for their teenager, because that is what a loving parent does, as the rationalization goes.
But stress is a natural part of life and designed to aid in survival, when properly managed. From a biological perspective, the body’s stress response is quite complex. The brain and adrenal glands release the hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and epinephrine, which gives a burst of energy. The liver delivers sugar and fat into the bloodstream, then non-essential systems such as digestion and the immune system slow down, and smaller blood vessels constrict to limit blood flow in case of an injury. These are natural and healthy responses in the animal kingdom and with humankind as well.
Parents who are tempted to alleviate stress, even when the kids don’t need it or want it, can hinder their child’s physical and emotional development. They can even unintentionally sow seeds of doubt about their own abilities to handle hard situations.
Parents should provide children with the things they need, such as food, shelter, clothing, and education. And they ought to try and provide children with things they want up to a reasonable point. But children who are given everything do not appreciate the amount of hard work their parents exert to achieve success in life. When something is given and not earned, there will likely be skewed expectations and disappointments as they get older.
Parents have a duty to say “no” to their child once in a while. And in the context of the family, when the kids become prioritized over everything else in life, something loses out. It might be one’s job, marriage, or even one’s own mental and emotional health.
5. Responsibilities and Expectations
If kids and teenagers don’t have chores and responsibilities around the house, then assign them. It doesn’t need to be done with a parental lecture on the philosophy of hard work attached, but just an expectation moving forward. The good habits will form quickly.
Teenagers and young adults who have little to no household responsibility may have a difficult time transitioning to living outside their parents’ home. No one wants to be the roommate of someone who refuses to take out the trash.
In her summary conclusion with regard to parental influences and styles, Dr. Jannot writes, “Decades of research support the finding that the best outcomes for our children are associated with being raised by authoritative parents who offer unconditional love” (Disintegrating, p. 98). Love isn’t base on performance, especially comparing performance to others. Nor is love without boundaries and expectations. Finding the right balance in these areas listed above is different from child to child, and will require never-ending reflection and wisdom as we raise our kids and teenagers the best we know how.
From the perspective of how our executive function coaches work with teenagers, keep the focus upon improvement, rather than perfection; reaching one’s own potential, rather than comparison toward others. And one day, hopefully, our children have grown to become independent, confident adults, content with who they are and who they are not.