Families and Parenting: Goodness of Fit

“Goodness of Fit” is a useful concept for determining how temperamental traits affect the interpersonal dynamics within families. It is important for parents to consider how their own temperaments mesh with those of their children. For example, a very active, intense child can quickly spark an emotionally charged reaction from a parent with a similar behavioral style. The same child might also try the patience of a more relaxed, reflective parent but not provoke him or her to the same level of emotional intensity. Moreover, if a child who is vulnerable to rigid, inflexible reactions to novel situations encounters a parent with an inflexible, authoritarian parenting style, the interactions are frequently combustible. Conversely, the parent who possesses the ability to respond flexibly to the inflexible child will experience more success in steering emotionally charged situations in a positive direction. The parent’s flexibility will in turn facilitate the development of flexibility in the child over time. You as a parent may have to develop the very skills you are asking your son or daughter to develop. In order to have your expectations of your child successfully met, you’ll want to practice reflecting on your feelings in response to your child’s behavior, then accurately interpreting the motives for their behavior, instead of responding impulsively. Tolerating and reflecting on feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, shame, anger, disappointment and helplessness makes parents less vulnerable to being derailed by these difficult emotions. A word of caution, though. I am not advocating allowing a child to rule the household. Parents of children and adolescents with difficult temperaments are vulnerable to appeasing their children for the sake of keeping the peace, but, in the process, they often lose control. The child who is constantly appeased is denied the opportunity to gain successful mastery of new experiences. The appeased child assumes a position of power, leaving many parents feeling ineffective and helpless. The idea is to find the balance of reflective, thoughtful, yet firm when parenting challenging children.



The first step in the process of improving the parent/child relationship lies with deepening the parent’s insight and understanding into their child’s difficulties. When parents gain the capacity to recognize and acknowledge the thoughts, feelings, desires, beliefs, and intentions of themselves and others, they may then begin to understand how these elements come together to shape their child’s behavior. Specifically, changes in the parent/child relationship are often the result of a parent’s capacity to make sense of their child as a separate person with thoughts, feelings and a mind of his own.  However, for this understanding to evolve, parents must first feel that their own complex experience is understood. Parents often feel immense relief when a thoughtful therapist or other individual acknowledges how difficult it is to parent a challenging child. In my therapy sessions, many parents report feelings of sadness when this occurs, because they have never had the opportunity to speak about their parenting without the threat of criticism or blame. Angry, hurt or disappointed feelings as a parent are natural at times, and not an indictment of the parent’s ability or the depth of their love. Some children can make the best of parents look bad, while others make the worst of parents look good. When parents can speak openly about negative feelings without being judged, this opens the door to positive change in their relationship with their children.

How Your Childhood Affects Your Parenting

When parents bring their children to therapy, they frequently express feelings of discouragement, defeat, confusion, shame, frustration and anger relating to their child and their parenting experience. As they describe the behavioral, academic and/or social challenges of their children, some parents can relate to their child’s struggles. Others are able to identify challenges they observed in siblings or extended family members. They want to make sure that their own son or daughter goes down a different path. Further discussion of parents’ family histories provides important information about the genetic aspects of their child’s strengths and challenges. More importantly, it offers insight into each parent’s relationships with important adults throughout their own development. We are all shaped by relationships and experiences throughout our lives. The template for relationships is formed in infancy by our interactions with our parents. Therefore, the quality of the relationship with our parents or other significant adults in our lives will directly influence how we relate to our children. Whether we like it or not, we can sometimes hear the voice of our parents in our heads as we deal with our children. At times we are reminded of our unresolved pasts, because relating to our children can become a re-enactment of early experiences we had with our parents. At times our children might demonstrate characteristics similar to those of our parents, which may provoke old feelings in us that might be confusing and guilt inducing. Sometimes it is difficult to make sense of our feelings and differentiate our child from our parent in our minds.

Case Study:

Sandra and James have a 5 1/2-year-old daughter Jillian who frequently tantrums both in preschool and at home. As Sandra and James described their difficulties with managing Jillian’s inflexible, oppositional behavior, each of them began reflecting on their upbringings and the ways in which their own parents imposed expectations. Sandra explained that her mother had consistent daily routines in place that were not only predictable, but rarely challenged. She described herself as very compliant as a child and adolescent and noted that her father had a quick temper that she and her older sister would avoid provoking. Sandra, with a tone of frustration, stated that at some point in her life she would like to feel in charge. She did not feel in charge as a child, and she didn’t feel in charge of her daughter. In fact, she felt strongly that Jillian was in control of their lives. Sandra’s experience of accommodating others has been recreated in her relationship with Jillian. She was walking on eggshells to avoid provoking Jillian and vacillated between feelings of guilt and resentment toward her daughter. Sandra had little awareness of these feelings prior to our conversations. This insight offered her greater understanding of her reactions to Jillian and the ability to delineate experiences between relationships. Up to this point, Sandra’s history had been influencing her reactions to  her daughter; however, with this new found awareness Sandra was better able to monitor and control her emotional responses to Jillian, which also helped regulate Jillian’s emotional state and behavior.

The Nature of Trauma

Our bodies and brains are made to process new information and experiences every day without our even being aware of it. Here’s the exception — when we are jolted by an overwhelming event like a car accident or repeatedly distressed from neglect or abuse, our natural coping mechanism shuts down. As a result, these traumatic experiences remain frozen in the limbic system of our brains — in their raw, emotional form, rather than in the verbal, “story” mode of the cortex.

In other words, the limbic system holds the unprocessed traumatic memories in an isolated network disconnected from the cortex where we use language to house memories. As a result, even when the memory is forgotten, emotions and sensations from a prior traumatic experience may be triggered when some element in our environment seems similar to elements of the traumatic event. Without understanding why, we may re-experience painful feelings like fear, panic, anger or anguish.

The goal of effective trauma therapy is first to establish a strong therapeutic alliance, then to make sure self-calming resources are in place. The therapist can then assist you in forming connections between the brain’s memory networks, putting words to a traumatic experience, thus enabling you to process past trauma and move forward a little more freely in your life.

The ABCs of Learning Challenges (Part 1)

  • Most children with learning differences are affected by multiple challenges.
  • Learning challenges often surface when there is a mismatch between the child’s abilities and the demands of the environment. For example, an academic curriculum may be accelerated beyond the developmental level of the child (or many of the children) in a particular classroom.
  • People with verbal learning disabilities have difficulty with words, both spoken and written
  • People with non-verbal learning disabilities may have difficulty processing abstract concepts, abstract reasoning and conceptualizing concepts.
  • visual processing or perceptual disorder refers to a hindered ability to make sense of information taken in through the eyes.
  • An auditory processing disorder interferes with a person’s ability to make sense of information taken in through the ears.

(To be continued)

Parent Conversations: Understanding Your Child’s Changing Developmental Needs

Event Date: Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Dr. Murphy gave a parent presentation at the Country School about the developmental needs of pre-school children, with a particular emphasis on the critical role parents play in fostering their child’s emotional, cognitive and social development. Topics included:

  • Principles of effective discipline
  • Coping with transitions
  • Managing tantrums
  • Facilitating social skills development
  • Managing adult expectations

Other talks in this series will focus on Elementary and Middle School children.

Please email info@murphypsychologygroup.com if you are interested in having Dr. Murphy speak to parents or teachers at your school.

10-Week Workshop for Parents of Challenging Children


Mothers or Couples Groups

  • Learn easily grasped strategies and techniques
  • Improve your relationship with your child
  • Understand the role of healthy relationships in brain development
  • Learn how your child’s slow-to-emerge abilities affect academics and behavior
  • Develop a calm, problem-solving approach
  • Establish and maintain reasonable expectations

 Call or email to sign up.

Julia Murphy, LMFT (818) 388-1526








18321 Ventura Blvd., Suite 955, Tarzana, CA 91356

Contact: Julia Murphy, MA (818) 388-1526