We all want our kids to be happy and healthy but what does this mean? A seductive answer is, our kids are well behaved. I say seductive because well behaved kids are much easier and more pleasant to be with so we often want to say that good behavior is the barometer for good parenting. While controlled behavior can be a sign of strong psychological health in a child it can also be a mask for a child who is needing help on the inside but has gotten the message that their feelings are not welcomed (spoiler alert: this does not equal happy and healthy).
It can actually feel terrible to have our buttons pushed by our kids. We can end saying and doing things we never intended to including: screaming, rashly reacting, walking out dramatically, crying, etc. Kids seem to have a knack for needing us in the places we are least equipped to give. This is no surprise. Kids are really hard (especially sensitive and strong willed ones!) and adults often get overwhelmed by their behavior. When this happens they react in ways to shut down the behavior in an effort to stop the overwhelming. While this helps the parent rebalance (an important element) it also shuts down important and developmentally appropriate needs that are being communicated in really difficult ways. Then when that child grows up and has children of their own the pattern often repeats.
Two quick suggestions for thought:
To talk about empathy and our ability to grow in empathy we have to first define it. Empathy is NOT sympathy, kindness, compassion or the like. Empathy is a neutral skill that can be used for good or bad or both. Heinz Kohut (the father of one of the major contemporary fields of psychoanalysis called, Self Psychology) put it simply when he said...
Are you ever confused at why your spouse or partner can show more emotion with their favorite sports teams than with you? Often boys and sometimes girls are subtly told to ditch their vulnerable feelings except for in the confines of sports. Leaving dullness on the inside save for sports, sex and alcohol. Let me explain.