Transformational Parenting for the Avoider

If you’ve been following my series on love styles, then by now you’ve discovered your love style. If not, you can do so here. Your first lessons in love form the way you give and receive love and comfort today. If you aren’t familiar with what it means to have an avoider love style, reading about that here would give you more insight to today’s blog.  The last blog in the series I’m an Avoider. What Now? gave insight into how an avoider can change and grow, deepening their integrity, growing into a more mature, whole-hearted person able to give and receive love and comfort to those around them. Today’s blog looks at how someone with an avoider love style parents and transformational ways to improve their relationships with and parenting of their children.

How Do I Not Destroy My Children?

I’ve asked myself this question many times over my love style. Our love style shades how we parent and what we expect from our children. If we aren’t a secure connector, it is difficult to raise children who are.

How the Avoider Love Style Affects Parenting

Valuing mastery and performance, and having received little comfort and concern for their emotions growing up, avoider adults place little value on emotions.  They are excellent at building good work ethic into their children. Their strength is their ability to raise responsible, high performing children.

The problem is that this is not balanced with emotional connection. Displays of emotion don’t happen often, stressful situations inspire retreat, and displays of emotions by others are met with phrases like, “Stop crying, and get yourself together.” This approach doesn’t work the best with the natural developmental stages and needs of children.

Natural Developmental Needs Can Be Annoying

All the fussiness of babies can be irritating and confusing. Avoider parents my be wondering:

  • If I give in to her crying, won’t it make her a crybaby?
  • Shouldn’t I feed with a bottle so that my child can learn to feed himself faster?
  • How can I help my baby learn to need me less when I’m gone?
  • If I pick him up every time he cries, won’t I be spoiling him?

One man who’s own father related in a non-relational, controlling way expressed to Milan the first question above towards his child. Milan’s response included this,

Responding to your children’s feelings in a tender way validates their emotions. It’s not “giving in,” but merely recognizing that they feel distress and helping them understand their feelings. Once they understand them, they can learn to manage them instead of ignoring them. This is one of the greatest lessons you can teach your kids.

As children grow into toddlers, avoider parents might wonder:

  • If I respond only to positive and ignore negative emotions, won’t that help my child learn what is appropriate?
  • Why can’t my child do more on his own? It’s so frustrating.
  • Shouldn’t my 3-year-old be more mature by now? What am I doing wrong that she is still crying often, having fits, and misses me when we’re apart?
  • Why don’t I enjoy playing with my child?

Having not received comfort and connection from their own parents, avoiders are often at a loss for how to offer that to their children, even feeling it is inappropriate and will damage their children. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Failure to Comfort Children Damages

The research is vast into the real damage- the damage done by not providing the comfort and connection to children. Essential connections don’t get made in the child’s brain, crippling them for relationship for the rest of their lives. Researchers and writers like Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalavitz have offered much insight to the trauma of neglect and abuse on the brain.  Many of my dear friends and I have read their material and experienced what they wrote about working with orphans in Ukraine. Those of you who have fostered or adopted children have likely read their material.

You can see in the research that infants who are not held and cared for do stop crying eventually. This is not evidence of maturity- of the child learning positive coping strategies. This is evidence of severe damage- damage to their brains, emotional health, and future ability to connect with anyone in a natural, meaningful way.  For some it results in failure to thrive and the child dies.

Babies crying when “all of their needs are met” (aka food, dry clothes and sleep) does not mean the child is selfish, sinful, and needs to be taught a lesson. Babies have a significant need to be held and to receive positive, caring physical touch. Children do not grow out of a need for comfort and connection. Though they may not die from it as they get past the baby stage, it causes severe damage.

For some, it results in high-performing adults who consistently don’t get the job, because something is lacking in their ability to have integrated character, as Henry Cloud speaks of in Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of RealityThey have the task part down, but the relational component isn’t there, so they never attain the success they crave.

Nadine Burke Harris delved deep into fascinating research into the reality that children who failed to receive the comfort and connection they needed develop into adults with shorter life-spans, significantly higher propensity toward many diseases, and overall poorer health. You can give an overview in her TED talk or read her whole book The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-term Effects of Childhood AdversityHer research has transformed my perspective on my own life and it should cause one to pause and truly reflect on how they are raising their own children.

Timeless Need

In How We Love Our Kids: the 5 Love Styles of Parenting. One Small Change in You…One Big Change in Your Kids, Kay tells the story of how she, as an avoider, convinced her child to give his special blankie to the trash truck…and of his response. As she related her driving need to force her child into growing up faster, she said,

“I didn’t have the self-awareness to understand what was really happening then, but that blanket represented his great need, specifically, his need for comfort from me– this same neediness I had learned from my family to live without. His blanket and what it symbolized made me more than a little uncomfortable. I had no idea about age-appropriate behavior or that neediness is not something to be dismissed or grow out of. Rather, neediness is part of being human that we never outgrow.”

The Need to Be Known and Understood

As teens, avoiders weren’t known deeply by their parents. Questions from parents weren’t genuine attempts to knock at their heart to know them and communicate love and acceptance to them. Questions were a means of the parent vying for control, keeping the upper hand, or prepping them for punishment. They didn’t want their parents to ask them questions. So, when they have teens themselves, it is easy to communicate the message, “I don’t want to know you, your desires, dreams, and needs,” by not communicating with them.

Recognize that though your mom and dad didn’t ask you how you felt or what you needed, your children (even if they are grown) feel loved by and connected to you when you ask them how they feel and offer comfort.

Is It Too Late For My Kids?

It’s never too late to humbly admit to your kids that you have been unable to know and express your feelings and to invite them with you grow in the ability to be aware of and express emotion. Older kids will especially respect your honesty if you admit how you came to be an avoider, how difficult it is for you to deal with need and emotion, and how you want to grow in this area.

The authors of the love styles books began this journey themselves when they had a baby and three others in late elementary and junior high. Just together begin to link feelings to events. You can use their list of Soul Words here.

As you work through steps on your own to become a secure connector, your children will be able to follow your example. Here are some more tips gleaned from the Yerkovich’s from their book How We Love Our Kids: the 5 Love Styles of Parenting. One Small Change in You…One Big Change in Your Kids.  It’s well worth the read for more insight.

Transformative Strategies for Avoider Parents

Here are some ways to be more successful at training your children into integrated, whole-hearted adults who are respected both for their ability to perform on tasks and to manage relationships.

Top Strategy: Balance training them to be responsible with connecting to them emotionally.

Here are some ideas for how:

  • Develop a habit as a whole family of talking about emotions throughout the day: at mealtimes, at games, during in the car, and during the bedtime routine. Help your children name their feelings if they are too young to do so.
  • Become more aware of how each member of your family expresses stress and a variety of emotions. What tells do they have that show they are frustrated, overwhelmed, sad, angry?
  • Pursue processing with your children. As you notice that something is off with them, help them process it out loud. For example, “You look _______. I’m wondering how you are feeling inside.” Listen to their response, ask follow-up questions, and then offer your comfort and support with phrases like:
    • “It means a lot to me that you shared that with me.”
    • “That must be really hard.”
    • “I’m sorry you’re going through this”
    • “This matters to me. You matter to me.”
    • “How can I help you?”
    • “What do you need?”
  • Look for ways to better know your child- their personality, character, attitudes, dreams, joys, etc. Ask them questions to understand. Praise them for these things (not just for performance). Let them know you respect these things about them. Tell them you love them often (and make sure not to connect it with accomplishments and performance). If they only hear “I love you,” after winning a big game, that communicates the wrong message.
  • Practice giving and receiving more physical affection. The talking and the physical affection will all be uncomfortable at first for you. But you will grow, too.
  • Milan and Kay suggest, “Look for guidance on what is age appropriate when you have expectations of your kids. If you are not sure, its okay to ask for help. You don’t have to figure everything out on your own anymore.”

Do You Relate?

If you relate to this, please share in the comments below.

Parenting With An Avoider

Parenting with an avoider is can be very lonely. Avoiders feel overwhelmed and inadequate in the face of the unpredicatable, messy nature of children in progress. Giving and receiving emotional comfort and connection is out of their league.

You may be reading this, because your spouse is an avoider and it has raised concerns for you. This blog is for you: Help! I’m Married to an Avoider. If the avoider love style doesn’t relate to you, hang tight. More styles are on their way.

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Want To Know More?

Milan and Kay Yerkovich a number of resources on love styles, such as:

They have a whole series for singles, couples, counselors, etc at How We Love. (note, I’m not an affiliate with any of the authors I’ve cited. I just have benefited from these resources and want to share).

More Posts in the Series:

Photo Credit: Photo adapted from Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

Sources:

Copyright ©  2019 Angela Edmonds. All rights reserved.

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