Helping parents discover that children who experience genuine respect are more prepared to generate meaningful respect, is key to RFT oriented family therapy. With that understanding, parents frequently begin to explore their own inner child needs for respect and initiate a deeper understanding of respect for themselves as well.
Forward and Buck (2002) say in Toxic Parents, that it is not the parents who make occasional mistakes who are truly harmful to their children, but those “whose negative patterns of behavior are consistent and dominant in a child’s life.” She goes on to describe “toxic” behavior as verbal, physical, and/or sexual abuse, drug or alcohol dependency, emotional unavailability because of mental/physical illness, rage, or instilling fear. Now some of these do not have to be consistent to be dominant, such as physical or sexual abuse. One incident of this severity can create lifetime damage.
Fear is probably the biggest underlying problem in any family. Any parent-child relationship based in fear has fundamental problems. Children who are afraid cannot develop a healthy sense of confidence and will either grow up to be intimidated by the world or will be reactionary, angry, full of rage, and not have a clue as to what real respect is all about.
We need to be able to distinguish here between respect and fear. While fear is a negative emotion, respect is a positive one. To respect is to have high regard, to appreciate, to feel good about another human being. Respect, then, is very different from fear because it is freely given.
This means helping clients truly honor their children by creating appropriate guidelines and limits that keep them safe along their developmental journey, combined with nurturing validation of the child’s unique abilities, personality, and spirit. Modeling this kind of supportive behavior for the parent as well as for the child is key in therapy.
Good parents, then, are ones, who know that they are not infallible, who know that they will and do make mistakes. They try, to the best of their ability, not to repeat their own parents’ mistakes, work at building respect between themselves and their children that is not fear-based, but, rather based on trust, caring, and positive regard. Finally, they set limits and guidelines for their children for their safety and teach responsibility through their own actions. Above all, they listen with their hearts to give them wisdom and guidance, as they continue to take on the tremendous challenge of raising another human being.