What’s the greatest gift parents can give their child? Taking care of
their own emotional health.

When a parent struggles with anxiety, depression or anger issues, there is a hundred percent chance the children will be affected by it. On the other hand, when parents
choose to deal with their own internal “stuff,” they become more able to guide their children to emotional maturity.

My sister Cynthia, a therapist (and co-author with me of Jump-Starting Boys),* treated one boy who struggled with anxiety. “Ben” was eleven, his parents had recently divorced, and he frequently had meltdowns when stressed. Cynthia gave the parents (who, to their credit, both attended the first session) her usual opening advice: “I’ve worked with a lot of kids. The kids who make the most progress are the kids whose parents are willing to change. Everyone in the family plays a role in helping the child get better.”

These parents were willing to work with her to learn positive parenting skills. It took only two months for Ben to gain a new sense of self-control. His parents said, “What a relief!” The key was their willingness to change.

In contrast, a mother and father brought fourteen-year-old “Zach” in because he had been running away and using marijuana. As Cynthia gave them her perspective on how vital it is for family to support a discouraged son, and to be willing to consider changes in their parenting, the mom exploded, “He’s fourteen and I’m forty-two! He needs to change, not me!”

Sadly, their son did not receive the encouragement he needed. The last Cynthia heard, he had been sent away to a facility for help. The mother refused Zach the greatest gift she could have given: the courage to address her own imperfections, which would have allowed the input that would have helped her son.

One little guy, “Jesse,” struggled with ADD. His mom expressed her frustration at his disrespect, failure in school, and impulsive behavior. As Cynthia worked with the family, it came out that their main formsof discipline were threatening and yelling.

Cynthia suggested replacing ineffective parenting techniques with effective techniques. “The old ways are not working here, folks!” Under her guidance, the parents began to work on controlling their own anger, calming themselves down before correcting the child; limiting words to ten maximum if they or the child were angry; using natural and logical consequences instead of excessive words (to which he had grown deaf anyway); administering the consequences with empathy, using a kind and firm tone; and learning how to encourage effectively, problem-solve together, and aim for mutual respect. The process was not without its challenges; after all, it involved parenting, which is not for the faint of heart. But, as the parents implemented these changes in their home, the mother said she was reminded continually of her own father’s harsh treatment of her, as she admitted that she had not known anything else growing up.

Because she had the courage to face this about herself and get the help she needed, her son blossomed both at home and at school.


Excerpted from Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Life, by Pam Withers and Cynthia Gill (Viva Editions). All references (footnotes) contained in the book.

Cynthia’s website