Some children learn to be codependent on one or both parents or on an adult caregiver because they haven't been encouraged to think independently. Parents often have good intentions, but wind up micromanaging their children to reduce the likelihood of failure. Children need room to mature so they can develop healthy coping skills and problem-solving strategies that will carry into adulthood -- even if that means they fail from time to time.
When your children show signs of being codependent, encourage them to make some of their own decisions. Marriage and family therapist Darlene Lancer says that codependents will only learn to be dependent once they start making age-appropriate choices for themselves, according to MentalHelp.net. Start by giving your children options if it's too difficult to come up with their own ideas. For example, ask your child if she would rather do homework, take a bath or eat dinner first. Or, give her three choices for dinner and ask her to choose one. After she learns to make decisions from a list, she'll likely start making them on her own.
Most codependent children want to be around Mom or Dad all the time. Enforce time apart by running errands without them, working on home projects alone, or participating in grown-up hobbies that aren't designed for children. By encouraging separate activities, you force your children to entertain themselves and invest in their own interests. Create a schedule for family time, such as dinner, Friday game night, bed time routines or pizza night, but don't include your children in every household activity.
Children often become codependent when they aren't allowed to express their feelings and are forced to hide their emotions, says Lancer. Encourage your children to express anger, sadness, frustration or disappointment in a way that's respectful and considerate. For example, you might say, "I understand you're angry, but you aren't allowed to throw your toys." Or, "I know you're disappointed about the ball game, but I appreciate your kind attitude." Avoid telling your children that they aren't allowed to cry or feel angry. Those are normal emotions that should be expressed within reasonable boundaries.
When your whole world revolves around your children, you teach them that their value comes from pleasing you, according to mental health counselor Laura Dessauer in "Psychology Today." This pattern of codependency can carry into adulthood. Encourage your children to evaluate their own behavior and accomplishments, rather than trying to please you. Avoid praising or reprimanding them every time they succeed or fail. Ask your child if she's pleased with her spelling test grade, or if she thinks she handled the conflict with her brother the right way.
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