If we are honest with ourselves, we spend a lot of time in ‘child’ mode, re-enacting aspects of our development. Whether it’s in conflict with another or when we are ruminating or listening to our own self-talk, our younger selves often come through, consolidating our early beliefs. We have to learn to be an adult.
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That last statement may sound a little strange to most people I often wonder how much ‘training’ we actually get to move into adulthood. A child will naturally develop physically but emotionally is another question. We are asking parents to do something that they generally don’t do. That is become aware of child development phases and how a parenting style must change as that happens. Ideally, parents need to accompany their child from full dependence through to interdependence and everything that means in between. It can be equated to having them on a lead that is slightly loosened as time and development goes forward. Understanding that a child will 100 percent of its needs met as a baby, will be codependent as a toddler, counter-dependent as a pretend/early adolescent, will need special attention as a teenager ( bargaining, negotiating and an awareness of consequences for choices made) through to separating effectively and becoming a peer.
Understanding this will also help to understand the setbacks children are sure to have along the way, like the so-called ‘terrible twos’. Many see this as a child rebelling or being naughty. Some blame the child for ‘doing it on purpose’. A lot of children are medicated at this time when really they are just reacting to the new environment they are faced with. My firm belief is that at this stage, children are overwhelmed with their developmental needs and wish to return to dependency. They are in effect, looking to connect. ( A caveat; If a child cannot generally self-sooth in 20 minutes, then medical opinion needs to be sought.) Why doesn’t this happen? Mainly because we are human and unless we decide to do something differently, we usually parent as we were parented. If that was effective, fine. If not, the dysfunction and trauma will jump to the next generation. The consequence is that we need to find our adult self in adulthood.
Most adult responses are a combination of emotion and logic, not too much of one and not too much of the other. Decisions and responses are made with all information at hand and realism is applied. This can only be done by being in the present moment, listening and communicating effectively and gathering information that is relevant. Any less than positive experience around the same event can be tempered with lessons learned. This is difficult for many of us who live our lives with fear, anxiety, regret and the expectation of outside influence.
How do we learn to be an adult when we have not been taught? One exercise I really like to kick off the process is from the Inner Child Workbook by Cathryn Taylor. She quotes Dorothy Corkville Briggs from Celebrate Yourself “ A responsible inner adult is that part capable of thinking, in touch with reality, that postpones instant gratification for long term gain. It estimates the probability of consequences of certain acts. It is the part of you that is responsible for you and to others”.
Finding your adult side is extremely important because it can help negotiate a balance between other parts of your thinking. Taylor suggests an exercise where you list various men and women who you believe are responsible and why. The exercise moves on to write a list of responsible things done and rating against a list of what is perceived as responsible behaviour. One small step forward but maybe a giant leap will follow!