If you have ever been on an airplane before takeoff, you know that the flight attendant has to go through a safety pre-flight routine. Parents are instructed that, in the event of an emergency, when the oxygen masks come down from the ceiling, they are to first put on their own masks and then attend to the child’s.

This goes against many parents’ natural instincts. After all, part of parenting is putting aside your own needs and life for your child’s. So why do they tell parents to do this? Simple. If a parent passes out fumbling with her child’s mask, then the parent is no help to either of them. Sometimes, a parent has to attend to her own needs or she won’t be able to attend to her child’s needs.

For example, there was a seven-year-old boy Richard, whom I had been treating for some time. He had two older siblings and his family was very busy with extra-curricular activities. His mother Judy was highly involved in the community and was an organizer of various activities for local families. Despite doing so much, in addition to being the primary parent at home, she managed to do it all. She was, however, spread too thin, and did not have the resources to set down and enforce consistent rules for Richard. This had not been a problem before, since Richard’s older siblings were not as oppositional, and did not appear to need as much emphasis on careful and attentive behavior management. Richard, on the other hand, excelled in challenging limits and required much more specific and consistent boundaries and rules. Much of the misbehavior he was displaying seemed to be because rules were enforced inconsistently, depending on his mother’s ability to respond due to other demands on her time.

Richard’s mother was able to see that she was having trouble setting priorities and boundaries for her time. With her other children, there were fewer repercussions if her obligations conflicted. She knew that she had to address both her tendency to do so much and her difficulty setting time boundaries. She dealt with these issues in her own therapy, and as a result, she was able to work with me on setting more consistent and firm boundaries with Richard. With a little coaching, Richard’s behavior began to shift and he became more compliant with Judy. By addressing her own issues and how they were influencing Richard, Judy was able to help herself parent more effectively with Richard.


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