Parenting with Dr. Ramey: 3 most common regrets from children, teens

Many people begin therapy to talk about their past, reflecting upon what might have been as a way to understand what is.

It’s healthy to think about the impact of yesterday’s decisions, and having regrets are common. Research published by Morrison and Roese in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science revealed that the most frequent regrets focused on romance, followed by concerns about family, career, education, finance and parenting.

It’s not surprising that regrets about relationships and family were the most common. Our happiness is most affected by the connections we have with others, particularly our spouse, children and close friends. When we feel unhappy, it’s appropriate to wonder about those relationships. Are they real, loving, supportive and emotionally rewarding?

While we can’t change the past, we can learn from it. Understanding the conditions that led to certain decisions may help us avoid similar problems today. Even so, many parents seem to be prisoners of their past, making it more difficult to live in the present.

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Kids have regrets as well and freely talk about those feelings in the safety of my office. I tell youngsters those emotions are not to be avoided, but rather understood and acted upon. However, it’s hard to write a new chapter in your life if you are preoccupied with revisiting yesterday’s events.

Here’s my unscientific list of the three most common regrets kids discuss with me.

1. Regrets about school. I hear this from older kids, who finally realize that poor grades have long-term consequences that limit their choices about what they will do with their lives. Regrets about education are the fourth most common concern of adults, as well.

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2. Regrets about "not telling." Kids talk with therapists because of problems, and often those issues are related to something bad happening to them. It may be connected to family turmoil, abuse, bullying or intense insecurities.

Kids don’t usually talk with adults or peers about serious problems, and often regret not doing so. This is particularly true in situations of child abuse, where youngsters remain silent for a variety of complex and confusing reasons. When they finally do speak up, there is a tremendous sense of regret for not telling someone what was going on.

3. Regrets about hurting their family. Some kids have been the source of incredible pain for their parents. I may initially encourage this guilt as a way to motivate these disturbed kids. I'll have them write letters of apology, and focus on what they can do as restitution for bad behavior. Wanting their parents to feel proud of them can be a strong motivator for behavior change.

Next Week: How to be a therapeutic partner


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