Peter Roussos, M.A., MFT (CA Lic MFC 34711)
Couple, Individual and Family Psychotherapy Services
AASECT Certified Sex Therapist
If you ask parents how they want to raise their children, most would agree that raising our kids to be capable of healthy relationships, able to manage the inevitable stressors of life, committed to taking good physical and emotional care of themselves, and helping them be able to live up to their full academic, career, and social potential, are goals that most parents have for the children.
Differentiation is a psychological process which determines how a person functions in these areas of life. Our level of Differentiation governs our self-image and how we behave in relationships with other people.
There has been much focus on parenting and children's self-esteem in recent years. What is healthy self-esteem? Recent research suggests that in and of itself high self-esteem is not nearly as beneficial as been touted over the last several decades. High self-esteem that comes with a sense of entitlement or comes without compassion, without respect, and without integrity, is narcissism, and raising narcissistic children is one of the worst ways to prepare them for a healthyandwell balanced adulthood.
Differentiation is not the same thing as self-esteem. The capacity for self-validation that develops through differentiation is part of maintaining a healthy sense of self-esteem, but the areas of emotional functioning that Differentiation governs are much broader than self-esteem.
As a growth process, Differentiation fosters self-respect with respect for others. It encourages the development of patience, openness, and a sense of responsibility. Differentiation determines a person's ability to maintain healthy boundaries and to have deeper emotional connectedness in relationships, and it ties all of these qualities more strongly to a person?s sense of integrity. Self-esteem that is tied to these qualities is healthy self-esteem.
Another aspect of Differentiation is the capacity for healthy emotional self-management or coping. To better understand this, I want to describe unhealthy emotional coping. It can be thought of as:
1) Having a limited capacity for introspection difficulty exploring one's emotions, particularly emotions that are uncomfortable.
2) Having a sense of entitlement that limits the taking of responsibility, and the ability to delay gratification.
3) Engaging in unhealthy self-soothing through drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, impulsive sexual behaviors, impulsive spending behaviors, or other forms of poor self-care.
Healthy emotional coping can be defined as:
1) Having a capacity for introspection- the willingness and ability to acknowledge and explore one's feelings. The ability to communicate about one's experience in appropriate and effective ways.
2) Having the ability to manage disappointment, to bounce back from disappointment.
3) Being patient - the ability to delay gratification, and the ability to set and work towards goals.
4) Having the ability to tolerate discomfort for growth.
5) Having the capacity for healthy forms of self-soothing.
6) Having a strong sense of personal integrity.
Healthy emotional coping is essential for healthy resiliency . Both healthy emotional coping skills and resiliency are things that parents can teach their children and are skills that can be practiced.ˇ
An article by Nan Henderson in (Feb. 03) The Prevention Researcher outlines nine approaches to resiliency building.
1) Communicate to your child the Resiliency Attitude and the message that they have the ability to get through whatever the challenge is. You don't want to underestimate or minimize your child's perceptions of the challenges they face, and you want to support and encourage your child's tapping into their strengths and believing that they can get through.
2) Adopt a strengths perspective. Dr. Martin Seligman is one of the foremost experts doing resiliency research. He is quoted in the Henderson article as follows: "The best set of buffers we have against substance abuse, against depression, against violence in our children, have to do with human strengths- identifying them, amplifying them, nurturing them, getting people to lead their lives around them".
Help your children to identify their strengths by looking at challenges that they have successfully faced in the past and what strengths they might draw on from those past experiences in dealing with a current problem. Challenge their thinking that focuses on their perceived deficits or weaknesses- what is wrong with them as opposed to what is right. Help them to have a more balanced view of themselves
3) Provide healthy care, nurturance, and support.
4) Set high but realistic expectations for success.
5) Encourage your kids to contribute to others. Your children helping and supporting other people in the resolution of their problems helps your kids resolve their own. Encourage your kids to be involved, to be compassionate, and to be helpful.
6) Encourage healthy relationships. Research has shown that people who are positively connected to other people, such as family, friends, clubs, groups, sports teams and who participate in enjoyable activities do better in life.
7) Set and maintain clear boundaries. Encourage your children to be assertive. Establish and enforce clear and consistent family rules.
8) Help your kids develop essential life skills such as communication and listening skills, and conflict resolution skills. Help them learn how to identify the skills they will need to face life's challenges as they encounter them and to determine how to gain new skills. Encourage them in their resourcefulness.
9) Give it time- don't give up on yourself or your kids. With awareness, commitment and practice, you and your children can develop all of these skills.
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