“When kids remind us of our own pain and they are faltering in the same ways that we have, it becomes so deeply personal,” says Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, adolescent medicine specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and author of “Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings.”
“You might push them to fulfill your own fantasies, or you might get furious at the coach that doesn’t let them start,” he continues. “You jump in to try to fix things because you’ve lived through the pain and you don’t want your child to live through it. The problem is if you jump in too soon, your kid doesn’t learn life’s lessons.”
Excessive fear or anger may be signs that you are reopening wounds from your past. Taking time for self-reflection can help you identify unresolved issues from childhood. Spouses, siblings and friends can be good sounding boards and help you pinpoint parenting issues.
Perhaps your parents were insensitive, manipulative or downright abusive. Without awareness, you are likely to repeat their mistakes. If you identify, for example, that your father was emotionally distant or that your mother was overprotective, you can choose to avoid those mistakes with your own children once you become conscious of them.
“If we don’t know our baggage, chances are we’ll pass it on [to our children],” says Jim Taylor, Ph.D., psychologist and author of “Your Children Are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear from You.”
“Look at how you might be sending those messages to your children: Do I get angry and yell at them constantly? When my child is in a risky situation, do I express excessive fear? Am I not willing to let my children take reasonable risks? Am I unable to express love to my children? Am I not affectionate? Do I not hug them? Do I not tell them I love them?”
Depending on the severity of your emotional scars, Taylor recommends introspection, parenting books, workshops, psychotherapy or family counseling to address unresolved issues. If you frequently lash out at your kids and your anger isn’t justified given the situation, that’s a red flag that you may be holding on to unexpressed pain from your past.
“We end up getting angry and dumping on our kids. It’s like throwing a tantrum,” says Laura Markham, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author of “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting.”
“We love our children so much, yet we end up sabotaging that every time we lose our temper at them because we’re the role models. They learn how to regulate their emotions from us, and it starts very young. If you’re a yeller when your kid is four, your kid is going to be yelling back at you by the time he’s 10.”
The next time you’re upset when your son doesn’t make the team or you blow up at your daughter when she leaves the kitchen a mess, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “Is my anger justified or am I overreacting and feeling the sting of unhealed wounds?”
By // Angela Ambrose