The Dirty, Little Secret of Parenting

Father talking to young daughterThe dirty, little secret I’ll share with you isn’t exactly dirty, little, or secret. In fact, it’s something quite obvious that is often overlooked as a vital part of understanding children’s behavior.

When we talk about parenting we often talk about the child: what the child is doing, saying, experiencing, or feeling. While these observations are helpful and important, we only get one piece of the pie. When we also take into consideration what’s happening for the parent(s) we get much closer to being able to repair and resolve problems.

It’s almost like the children are the whistle-blowers—they alert us when something isn’t working. As adults, we are much more complex beings, with many more demands on our time, attention, energy, and love. It’s easy for parents to get swept up in all these responsibilities and fail to notice what’s happening in an interaction with the child. Children, on the other hand, often make it clear through tantrums, crying, or acting out when something is amiss for them—they need help, and they let us know. So, here’s the secret: there are two people in this interaction, each with thoughts, feelings, and actions that affect the other.

When we slow things down (usually after the fact) and look at what both parent and child are feeling, or what personal history might be contributing to the issue at hand, or what buttons were pushed, we can learn more about the places where moms and dads butt heads with their children and move toward better communication and connection. And that naturally leads to kids behaving better. What parent doesn’t want that?

© Copyright 2010 by Rachel Stein, LCSW, therapist in Northampton, Massachusetts. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Luke


    September 1st, 2010 at 7:44 PM

    When children throw tantrums,parents should not give in to it.The kid will assume that he or she can get whatever he or she wants by just doing the same whenever something is required.The parents ought to put this across to the child-throwing tantrums is not going to get you anything,but a meaningful discussion just might!

  • Amy


    September 2nd, 2010 at 4:43 AM

    I realized very early on after having a child that she knew instinctively when I was having a bad day. And the more frustrated I would become it was like she would mimic that behavior too. I know that it is hard to hide your emotions but I feel that there are times when you are a parent when you have to just put your own stuff on hold to be the best parent that your child needs you to be right then and there. deal with your own stuff later.

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