The psychologist Svenja Taubner trains parents in five skills in parenting. She reveals the common mistake many parents make and the potential „traumatic consequences“ it can have. Up to 20 percent of children and adolescents in Germany have a mental disorder. But not all children are equally at risk. What children experience in the family and how parents behave has a significant impact on their mental health.

„Parents constantly mirror the mental state of their child. And if they do it wrong, the child doesn’t learn to understand themselves,“ says Svenja Taubner. She is a psychologist and wants more parents to know what they can do better. Many mental illnesses are creative adaptations, says Taubner. How does this happen? A child is angry, the parents respond with withdrawal of love or punishment. The child learns that it is not safe to express negative emotions like anger and frustration. „But the feelings are not gone. The child must transform, deflect, suppress this anger. It does not do this consciously, but with psychological tools. When the anger is then directed towards oneself, depression can arise,“ she explains. „I am too much, I am bad, I can’t do anything“ – negative core beliefs that many of Taubner’s patients have. She is the director of the Institute for Psychosocial Prevention at the University Hospital Heidelberg and says, „These negative core beliefs are internalized reflections of overwhelmed parents.“ And: „Parents do not do this intentionally. This happens to all parents.“

How parents react to their children’s emotions can be crucial for their health. Psychologist explains: For their mental health, children must learn that feelings are okay. To avoid endangering children’s mental health, parents must convey a secure attachment and teach children about their feelings – „namely, that they are okay,“ says Taubner. The prerequisite is that parents themselves have a good understanding of what their child thinks and feels. „We call this mentalizing,“ explains the psychologist. Mentalizing is one of the five skills that Taubner and her team train parents in.

„If parents have difficulty empathizing with their child, interactions go wrong,“ says the psychologist. The ability depends, for example, on the level of stress. Societal norms, that is, certain expectations about how children should behave, also play a role according to Taubner. How can parents mentalize? „We tend to, especially under stress, attribute negative intentions,“ says Taubner. Parents should be open and curious, find out the reasons for their children’s behavior.

An expert gives a tip on how parents can avoid a common mistake. After the „mentalizing“ comes the „validating,“ explains Taubner. „Validating means that the needs and feelings of the child are valued and taken seriously,“ she says. In this case: It’s no wonder you’re jealous because you now have to share your parents‘ attention with your new sibling. „Many parents make the mistake of adding a ‚but‘ after validating. Then the validation doesn’t come across,“ explains the psychologist.

If there has been an escalation, parents should repair the relationship by mentalizing, validating, and then actively apologizing. The initiative of the parent is required. Many justify themselves. That’s not a good way to repair, explains Taubner the third skill. Mentalizing, validating, repairing, motivating, and setting boundaries – five skills for a child’s healthy psyche.

Another skill is „motivating.“ Parents should describe a contradiction between the child’s behavior and their values – but leave the solution to the child. „Many parents get caught up in endless power struggles. This is totally destructive to relationships and undermines the child’s self-worth,“ says Taubner. If the child is held back, for example, during brushing teeth, or when they have to get a shot, „it can have traumatic consequences.“

Taubner and her team also practice setting boundaries with parents – the fifth skill. „Parents can set boundaries without giving the child a dressing down. If we tell the child, you are impossible, then the child may only hear this personal criticism and not the boundary,“ says Taubner. The child reacts defiantly and does not learn the boundary. Boundaries must also be communicated through body language, explains Taubner. She practices with parents to put the body in readiness. By the way: If the child presents good arguments, parents can also change a boundary, says the psychologist.