by Dr. Ryuko Ishikawa
I often deal with parents who come into my office to discuss problems they are having with their children. Perhaps their child is doing poorly in school, perhaps he or she is hyperactive, depressed, or “acting up” in different ways.
My response is to ask the parents about themselves.
Often parents are confused by this question. They’ve come to discuss their child, not themselves. However, the answer to this very question may be what is behind their child’s behavioral problems.
No family is perfect, and even the happiest of households have bad days. Luckily, we can all learn from the mistakes of others. Here are some extreme examples of behavioral phenomena leading to family situations— once understood, they can be easily avoided.
The Cocoon Phenomena
When having problems, parents may exhibit extreme emotional distance between each other. This distance may express itself in different ways. One parent may become engulfed in activities outside of the family (work, socializing), while the other parent—perhaps feeling neglected—becomes heavily involved with child-rearing activities. This behavior is known as the “cocoon phenomena.”
A “cocooned” child may not be able to develop in a normal, healthy way. This phenomena is known a “symbiosis,” and may express itself in the aforementioned behavioral problems.
Repeating the Past
We tend to repeat our childhood experiences and transmit them to the next generation. Also, the parent’s relationship with each other has an extremely important and influential role in the children’s lives.
An interesting couple visited me recently. After 14 years of marriage, the couple realized that they had never openly communicated with each other. The husband is afraid to speak to his wife directly, telling her the most important things in his life in emails. The wife believes they are only married because they have children. She in turn “cocoons” her own children, repeating her own childhood experiences.
This is an extreme example, but it shows just how influenced we can be by the people who raised us, and how the relationship of our parents effect our own behavior.
Communication is Key
I’d like to emphasize that the most important question is, “How do you communicate with your spouse?” Parents that communicate well are more focused on each other, not on their children, and in these households, the children tend to be more stable, also able to communicate openly with their parents.