Q: We’re struggling with our two kids and I’m not sure why. My husband and I are both professionals, providing solid financial security, a beautiful home, with our kids having everything they need and much more. I just don’t understand why they’re having problems in school and at home. Our oldest, 8, is acting out frequently in both places, and my husband is losing his temper most evenings. I certainly don’t blame him, because my son’s behavior is terrible, bedtime has become really stressful, and we’re both exhausted. School has contacted us several times about our oldest’s bad behavior. Our youngest also tries hard to get his teacher’s attention, as well as our attention at home. He seems very needy. I’m not sure how to handle this and would appreciate any advice.

A: Without knowing the details of how your children’s problems manifest at school and at home, it’s difficult to address what might be at the root of this behavior. Is there a change in their routine that is adversely impacting one or both of them? Are you and/or your husband triggered in some way by these struggles, thereby reacting to the behavior in ways that are not connecting to the emotional root of the problems? Is there conflict between you and your husband? Given there is a range of factors that could be causing these challenges, I’m addressing several possibilities.

Routine changes: Expecting children to simply adapt to changes in routine, to cooperate and remain flexible, may be expecting too much. When we’re unaware of our expectations, we can also be unprepared for their reactions, with children angered and, thus, resistant to our well-intentioned parenting approach. Being more conscious of our assumptions, we’re better prepared for possible outcomes. Discussing with our children what lies ahead, explaining the upcoming activities/events, to solicit their cooperation, is being respectful of their feelings and needs. They deserve that, and can then engage in the planning and the outcome with more success. Without that, more time and energy can be consumed later in dealing with the emotional “disintegration.” Listening to our children reaps important rewards.

It helps to carefully consider all the social demands, stress, stimulation and, most importantly, the expectations — ours and our children’s. Temperament also plays an integral role in the equation. For optimal family peace, considering expectations, while balancing the needs of everyone in the family, is important. This creates opportunities to connect with our children.

Also, sometimes we don’t realize that our parenting problems might reflect unhealed childhood wounds. When we believe our child is “mis-behaving,” especially when we’re engaged in power struggles with him, he is shining light on us in ways no one else can. Often, the most challenging times with our child tap into our own painful experiences, providing the direction in which we can begin healing, where we need to focus our attention. Without being conscious of this childhood connection, reactive parenting tends to repeat similar patterns, with parents easily triggered by old “messages” and assumptions.

You mentioned your oldest child is acting out. Try asking yourself: “What’s at the root of this behavior?” Something’s not working, so try considering a different approach. One way to engage cooperation is by changing your perspective and your response. Connecting with him requires practice. He is not the problem, however his behavior is telling you he is having a problem. Try identifying what his behavior triggers in you. Offer your child opportunities to make choices impacting him. Brainstorm ways to compromise, to change a negative situation into a positive one, collaborating for future success.

Are you and/or your husband distracted by work responsibilities, unintentionally less available to your children? Is work consuming the majority of your time? At the risk of overstepping here, many parents believe that providing financial stability and a lovely home with everything the family members need translates to a sense of security in their children. Yet often what’s missing is consistent quality time and children’s accessibility to their parents. This is what I call “benign neglect.” I’m seeing more children longing for connection with their parents. The confluence of parents’ long work hours, chronic stress, depression, anxiety, too many responsibilities and commitments, and substance use/abuse creates the “perfect storm.”

Conflict between parents is also a factor that undermines a child’s sense of security. If this is a part of the mix, I suggest seeking professional support.

Changing the “story” is powerful. Ask yourself: “Is what I’m/we’re doing working? If I expect my children’s behavior to change, I must first recognize I’m the only person over whom I have any control. It takes courage and insight to take the first steps in changing my perspective.” When we stay focused on trying to control or change our child’s behavior, we simply scratch the surface without connecting to the emotional root.

Benign neglect is easily remedied. It requires us as parents to take a closer look at our lifestyle and our availability to our children. When children feel important enough for us to make time for them, to be fully present, to hear and understand their struggles and their successes, positive change can then happen.

Please send me your questions.