The Dance-Part I

I’ve been a child psychologist for 27 years, and have developed
a system of changing both kid’s and teenager’s behavior. I’ve written lots of articles about children, many of which, hopefully, are on this website. The following article deals with a particularly poignant movement through time between parents and children. I call this “The Dance.”
This is my term for the ever-changing interactions parents have
with their children, starting from age zero. When your child was born,
s/he could do nothing and you had to do and supply everything. At eighteen, your now-grown child can do most things by himself or herself, and you don’t have to do too much. If you are the typical parent of a newly-minted adult (at least biologically), you supply more or less the basics of food, shelter and other resources (cars, money, time, etc.), while your now “older” teenager makes more executive decisions. What happened in between these extremes? How did things change?
The Dance is my term for the back and forth exchanges both you and your child go through at the exact moment of conflict over any given issue. Remember when your child was seven and wanted to attend his or her first sleepover? You thought s/he was too young and would be scared, have nightmares, call you at three in the morning to come get him or her, leave the friend’s house and get lost, etc. Your child told you s/he was ready, had no fear and would feel left out of “the group” of kids that would be there this coming weekend if s/he couldn’t go. Remember that dialogue? You, as the parent, were protective, resistant and cautious. Your child was brazen, headstrong, determined. Who was right? BOTH of you.
BOTH you and the child were acting normally. You resisted and the child persisted. At some point your child was ready and you backed off, but when? Your position was quite correct from an evolutionary point of view because prematurely sending children out into the real reduces the population of children. We parents know the horrors of the world “out there” and what happens when too young children are exposed to real-world dangers too soon. However, your child’s position was also correct because without testing the waters, s/he would not have developed the skills necessary to deal with that real world.
The Dance is about going back and forth between parents and children. At any given moment, there is some amount of tension–a tug-of-war between the generations–resulting in micro-movements forwards and backwards by both or either. The overall trend is forward, through time, from age zero to eighteen and beyond. Like any dance, there is give and take, and there will be missteps, resulting in sometimes-forward movement, sometimes backwards movement, sometimes no movement. Ultimately, parents back up and back off as children grow and ever more assume greater responsibilities. Hopefully, this is in direct proportion to their developing skills.

-Dr. Griggs

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