It’s bad enough that you pass on your father’s nose and your mother’s ears to your kids, but therapist and author Darlene Lancer says you might also pass on those nasty codependent traits that keep your kids from growing into healthy, functioning adults. Ouch! Codependent childhood development starts as children learn behaviors to get their needs met. Like big ears and noses, codependent behavior is passed on from one generation to the next. Bigger ouch!
Defining Codependent Behavior
Codependent behavior was originally used to describe scenarios where children covered up for alcoholic parents and suppressed any emotions about it. The term has broadened to encompass all behavior learned by children in various settings where the children are forced to subdue or change their behavior in order to have their needs met. Even toddlers and preschoolers catch on fast if they have a choice between positive or negative parental feedback -- or worse, no feedback at all.
Fostering Codependence in Kids
Recognizing codependent behaviors in yourself can often be the first step to helping your child. (No, it won’t help the ears.) If you find yourself denying that this could be you, take a second look for your kid’s sake. Are you constantly solving their problems, speaking for them or rescuing them from a minor fall? Are you so inflexible that no one gets a say but you about which outfit or socks or shoes to wear. Do you insist on who they play with, what they eat and how much? Are you so involved with your little ones' lives that you don’t have one? (Think tots and tiaras.)
Codependent Development in Kids
Any of these adult behaviors can cause your kids to feel incompetent and unable to solve even the smallest problem such as which socks to wear. When you make all of their choices, they become unsure of themselves and seek ways to let others take their power, according to an August 2011 article at Psychologytoday.com. If you are living vicariously through your kids, (think of the dad on the sidelines of the Little League game screaming at his 3-year-old in the outfield), they learn that to please you is to do well at what you want, not what they desire. Little ones learn quickly how to suppress and hide their emotional self to please the adults in their lives.
What You Can Do
Your little ones learn to relate to their world by watching and relating to you. How you encourage those first steps, falls and all, or how you react to your preschooler’s choice of matching a purple sock with a pink one for play day (There’s a trend there, perhaps), affects his development. Wee ones need to tumble and pick themselves up, to make choices for themselves and feel at ease coming to you with problems, knowing you’ll listen and help them solve them (keyword: HELP). Actions as simple as those might foster self-respect and confidence in their lives.