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|The Impossible Child - Page 12|
Emotionally, a vulnerable side of him emerged. "I don't want anyone to be mad at me," he said when he heard even the slightest irritation in my voice. This was the boy I had so recently thought of as impervious to my wishes. It was now painfully obvious that he had always wanted to do the right thing.
One night at dinner I found myself repeatedly correcting him: Lower your voice. Don't lean back in your chair. Stop teasing your sister. You know you can't have dessert until you eat your food. No singing at the table. Don't interrupt me. Suddenly, my patience ran out and I yelled at him before I could stop myself. He cried inconsolably, a wellspring of discouragement and self-doubt.
"Oh, I just hate it when this happens," he wailed. "What if it starts happening all the time? What if all my nights are bad nights? What if I never have a good night again?"
In my therapy office, I began to recognize children who were similarly misunderstood. Children described as angry now sounded hopeless; kids whose parents complained that they were stubborn seemed stuck. Defiance became a red flag for me--as did explosiveness and even hyperactivity. My map was changing: perhaps being out of control was a survival strategy for some kids.
Now I frequently hear myself defending kids' best intentions to their exasperated parents: Nothing would make your son happier than to please you. He wants to, but he can't-- and it's up to us to figure out why. I find myself comforting parents who blame themselves for not being in charge of their children: It's not your fault. You have not caused this. I tell them honestly that I know how it feels to say things to your child that you deeply regret. I give them permission to ease up: It's okay to give in. Love is more powerful than control.