In the past codependency was associated with person who enabled an alcoholic or drug addict. These days codependency has become associated with emotional dependencies in a relationship. All relationships involve a dependency on another person to some extent. However, when an individual compromises their own values and wants to avoid rejection and anger they are exhibiting codependent behaviors.
The reason why this is so important for parents to understand is that its origins start in childhood. So if you are doing the following three things you may be planting the seeds of codependency.
1. Being inflexible ( or the type A "Superparent")
If you are the type of person who has a rigid plan of how and when things are done you do not allow your child an opportunity to voice their choice. If you are so in control of their schedule, their food choices, their clothing choices, or their playmates you are restricting your child from having the opportunity to explore their choices. You send out a message loud and clear to your child that they are not responsible for their choices or decisions and someone else has all the power. As they grow older they are likely to seek out relationships in which someone else has all the power and control.
What can you do? Allow your child some freedom of choice. If it is not a safety issue then it is negotiable. Let go of the need to be in control and allow your child the freedom to grow and learn, even from their mistakes!
2. Having your child meet your needs
I know many parents who fall into this trap but do not see that they are doing this. If you are not fulfilling yourself in other areas of your life, like your relationships, your work, or your passions, you may default to living vicariously thorough your child. When you spend more energy on your child's interests and less on what gives your life meaning and pleasure you model codependent self-sacrificing behaviors. You also unconsciously teach your child that their value comes from pleasing you. The cute "look mom" behavior phase that most kids go through when they want your approval may continue into adulthood.
What can you do? Get your own needs met with positive relationships and ways to replenish yourself. Instead of constant praise ask your child how they thought they did. Encourage them to self-praise.
3. Wanting to solve problems for them
When they come home and talk about a mean peer or a problem at school what do you do? Do you react and rescue, slipping into your parent problem-solver mode and coming up with a plan of action? Essentially you are taking control of their ability to solve the problems they are encountering. This sends your child the message that they are not competent or responsible enough to figure out how to solve their problems and that someone else needs to do it for them. Imagine what this will look like as they become adults? Will they choose relationships where another person will tell them what to do?
What can you do? Safety first, everything else is negotiable! If it is not a physical or psychological safety issue allow your child the opportunity to figure out how to solve the problem. If you LISTEN, without offering advice, your child will likely figure out some things they can do differently.
The reason why so many children have success in our programs is that we offer a safe place for them to explore their thoughts, feelings, and choices. When given an opportunity, children will come up with creative ways to solve their problems. As adults we can offer support and encouragement as they explore their choices.
One last important thing. If you find that you are doing one or more of the behaviors above, congratulations! That's right, Congratulations! Why? Because it means that you are aware of what you are doing, and awareness is the first step in making changes. So the next time you notice you are defaulting to one of the behaviors above, STOP, and explore what other things you can do.
Laura Dessauer writes the Business Success for Therapists Blog for Psychology Today, and as a practicing therapist working with children and families she sometimes feels compelled to voice her concerns about issues parents & children face.
Want to help your child manage their behaviors and feelings? We can help! Learn more creative tools and strategies to help your child, click here to access the free audio mini-course Secrets Your Kids Really Don't Want You to Know: A Child Art Therapist Tells All (*except for the confidential stuff)
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