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  • Writer's pictureDr. Jonathan Hoffman

There’s a Monster Under My Bed: An Emotional vs. Skills Approach Part 2

Updated: Jul 28, 2022

In the first article on this subject, a fictional Parent A and Parent B in separate but identical homes helped to describe the Emotional Approach (EA) and the Skills Approach (SA) to dealing with a distraught child who imagines that there is a monster under their bed.

As a reminder, Parent A took an EA, prioritizing reducing the child’s upsetting feelings whereas Parent B was emotionally validating but focused on imparting coping skills. The potential ‘band aid’ results of the EA were contrasted with those of the hard-won but far-sighted and lasting victories of the SA.

Some readers have asked, what if there’s a Parent A and a Parent B in the same home? This is an important question as parents often differ, sometimes widely, on the approach their child ‘needs.’

Just to briefly recap, in the original article Parent A wants to reassure the child that there are no monsters, check under the bed and stay with the child and soothe them for as long as it takes until they are calm; while Parent B desires to seize the opportunity to increase the child’s ability to tolerate uncertainty, manage being emotionally upset and take a stand against any ‘monster’ running them out of their own room.

Here are three possibilities:

  1. Parent A and Parent B bicker about who is right.

  2. Either Parent A or Parent B unhappily surrenders.

  3. Parent A and Parent B find a constructive approach for their difference in opinion.

The first option helps no one. Bickering about who is right can escalate into battles which negatively impact or jeopardize the parent’s relationship. If it takes place in earshot of the child, it will be very detrimental to them as well. If each parent insists on fighting the alleged monster ‘my way’ get ready for either a very confused child or one that will learn to play one parent against the other or tune out both of them.

Let’s examine number choice two. If Parent A triumphs, they are likely setting themselves up for being blamed when this approach backfires. If Parent B, the one who favors the more recommended SA (at least by this author!), prevails by dominating Parent A, expect the ‘losing’ parent to make the ‘winning’ one pay dearly in some other way. Have you noticed that option B sounds a lot like the EA to parent conflict?

In parenting, the third option is really the only way that has a chance to succeed because it is ‘win-win.’ On this path, Parent A and Parent B:

  1. Really listen to and appreciate their partner’s point of view.

  2. Communicate their own perspective in neutral tones with ‘I’ rather than accusatory ‘you’ statements.

  3. Commit to supporting each other emotionally and presenting a unified front to the child despite the difference in opinion.

  4. Brainstorm creative solutions. For example, they might try the EA or SA on succeeding months (‘days’ or even a couple of weeks is too short a time to determine what’s what), perhaps flipping a coin to choose which approach to implement first. Parents who can work together constructively can, if possible, even let the child in on this ‘experiment’ and engage them collaboratively in ongoing meetings on this subject.

Wait a second, isn’t this the SA for navigating parent conflict? You got it!

(Addendum: If Parent A and Parent B are separated or divorced there are additional possibilities to consider. There may be an EA or SA system in each parent’s household which the other parent will respect or go to war over to one degree or another. However, the ‘third way’ described above is also highly recommended for parents who are in this situation.)

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