Forced Apologies by Carol Kim, MS, LAMFT

My four-year-old daughter placed herself in the middle of our living room to play with blocks. She was so engrossed with building a wooden castle that she didn’t notice her two-year-old sister walking towards her with her right arm stretched far back to slap her older sister across the head. When that slap came, my older daughter went from happy to surprise to anger and then lots of tears. She ran towards me seeking justice. “Mommy, she hit me!” My younger daughter remained still, looking innocent. I immediately walked over to her with my older daughter in hand and said, “Hands are not for hitting. Say sorry for hitting please.”  I’m sure many parents can relate to this scenario. Teaching our children the skills for making amends is an important life skill and is not so much about saying the words “I’m sorry”.  

There is a belief amongst some parents that enforcing premature apologies on children is not effective. Their reasoning is that premature apologies teach children to lie and encourage insincerity. It also creates shame and embarrassment. Other studies show that young children have the ability to be empathetic even before they can speak; therefore, parents should encourage apologies (Smith, Chen, Harris; 2010). As I reflected on my research and my knowledge as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I recognized several things we can do as parents to create productive apologies: 

  1. Keep yourself in check: It’s frustrating to see your children fight, especially when it happens at inconvenient times. However, it’s important to remain calm and model for your children how to handle frustration.   
  2. Be immediate when possible: When you see an incident occur between your children, address it. The best time for learning and growth is when the incident is still fresh in their minds. However, when there are time constraints and the issue cannot be addressed right away, it is important to tell your children when and where it will be addressed. Be consistent when using the alternative and follow through.  
  3. Ask instead of tell: Avoid lecturing. Ask questions instead. “Tell me what happened?” “What were you feeling when you hit your sister?” Validate the expressed emotion and help them to understand that it is okay to feel frustration and sadness; however, it is not okay to hit or throw things. Help them to also make the connection between emotion and action. “Look at her face, how do you think she’s feeling right now?” Asking these types of questions enhances empathy. 
  4. Problem Solve: Ask questions about what they think they should do when they feel frustrated or sad. Help them to come up with solutions.  Ask questions about how they can make things better with their sibling/s. 
  5. Have them practice a do-over: When your child identifies the solution, have them practice it with the other sibling/s. Praise them for their efforts at the end.    

What is more important than the phrase “I’m sorry” is what children take away from the experience. We can facilitate and enhance learning opportunities by not focusing on the phrase “I’m sorry” but instead more on what can be learned from this situation and how can we improve.  

About the Author: Carol is a therapist at the American Fork Center for Couples and Families. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who has spent the past 6 years practicing in several cities across the United States, including Boston, San Francisco, and now, American Fork. She is passionate about applying the principles of therapy to improve lives and relationships, and is committed to creating a safe, comfortable, and supportive environment. Carol specializes in individual, couples, and family therapy, and has extensive clinical experience treating depression, anxiety, ADHD, addictions, domestic violence, trauma, children/adolescents and relationship issues.

How to Talk to Your Teenager about Hard Things

Many parents bring their child in for therapy and express that they don’t know how to talk to them about things that are happening with their family (ex. divorce, depression of a family member). Also, I’ve heard from many teenagers that their parents haven’t talked to them about “awkward” topics, such as sex, pornography, dating, or even emotions. However, I have found that when parents have open communication with their children, children tend to be more emotionally healthy.  

First, when it comes to talking about sex, pornography, or dating, one of the most common questions I get is, “How do I know what is age-appropriate?” The simple answer to that question is to start with the basics. If the child asks more questions than answer those questions. I have found that if parents are unwilling to answer or feel awkward answering, their children will turn to other sources to get answers. Further, if the children see that the parents feel awkward talking about the subject, then the subject becomes taboo and they feel like they can’t talk with their parents in the future when they have questions.  

Another thing to keep in mind when talking with your teenagers about sex is to use correct terms. The terms they usually hear are slang, but it is important for them to understand exactly what you are talking about and the easiest way to avoid confusion is to avoid slang. Further, if you start to get uncomfortable, take some deep breaths and remind yourself that its important for them to know from you. Some parents, mine included, have used books to help when talking to their child/teenager about maturation. Just make sure that you know what’s in the book. Read the book with them and answer their questions.  

Second, when it comes to feelings, teenagers tend to have a lot of them. I have heard from parents that they are burnt out listening to the emotional rollercoaster, or that they don’t know how to react when they feel like their teenager’s emotions are silly, or they simply do not understand what their child is feeling because they, the parent, are not good with emotions. It’s important to listen to teenagers and help them learn to regulate their own emotions. I’ve found that most parents feel pressure to fix their teenager’s problems or to make their children happy. However, sometimes the best way to help them is to listen and then help them problem solve their own problems. For example, if they come to you emotionally distraught over being left out, it can be helpful to listen to their feelings, let them know that you are listening by repeating back a part of what they said, then ask them what they can do in the future when this happens (or ask what they need to do to feel better in this moment). 

As a parent, many difficult conversations need to be had with your teenagers. It can feel overwhelming at times if you don’t know what to say or how to say it; but if you can push through, you will help your children learn valuable skills they need later in life. You can help develop a relationship with your teenager of trust and openness that can help them safely navigate their way through those challenging teenage years.  

 

Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine 

Why Should Couples Consistently Set New Year’s Resolutions Together? By Dr. Matt Eschler, Ph.D, LMFT

I have counseled couples for twenty-five years. Panicking, anxiously pacing, wringing hands, couples have wandered into my office, hoping to find some peace in their relationships. In the counseling arena we explore some very principled foundation ingredients that, when mixed together, produce peaceful, passionate relationships.

There are three fundamental ingredients that all of us need to exercise for a shot at a sound relationship. My challenge to you is to sit with your lover and assess the following three principles, and set specific goals to learn a little more, stand a little more firm, and increase your skills in these three areas:

The first foundation principle is friendship. Friendship is unilateral. Increase your friendship with your lover every couple of hours. You do this by sharing information, being trustworthy, and being transparent—without conditions.

The second principle that relationships will not survive without is influence. You must accept your lover’s influence. Men seem to have a slightly more difficult time with this, but both partners will benefit from allowing influence. Think about a time when there was disagreement in direction of relationship or activity. Did you allow your lover to have influence? Did you argue until one of you gave in? Was their healthy negotiation until a mutually satisfying result occurred? The hope is always influence and no competition. Get a little better at this in 2018!

Finally, the third principle is generating a governing purpose for your marriage. This is the North Star that holds you both accountable to a result that is desirable and cherished. If you are seeking the same purpose, you won’t go after hostile results. For example, my wife and I want to travel the world. If I sneak out and spend our travel money on a new truck and lots of clothes, we won’t have resources available to travel. That causes issues. If I save and we put our travel fund together and watch it grow together, we will eventually accomplish our common goal.

I invite you all to accept this challenge: In 2018 be a little bit better in all three of these areas. Sit with your lover and map out a specific strategy to accomplish these three goals to improve your relationship.

 

About the Author: Matt lives in St. George, Utah where he and his wife Chris are enjoying their life with each other. Since their kids have grown and moved out perusing their dreams Matt and Chris travel the world. They want to visit 200 countries before the are done. Matt and Chris are active in their community and enjoy working out, training for marathons, and spending time participating in numerous activities with their adult children.  Matt has received his PhD in Psychology. He is focused on the arena of resolving personal conflicts and improving interpersonal relationships. In addition to his Doctorate Degree Matt has earned a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy, studied Criminal Justice and received a category I licensure with Peace Officer Standard of Training along with a degree in the Arts of Business Management. Matt is a professor at Dixie State University and hopes to be part of the positive growth of Southern Utah.