Q. How can I stop myself from reacting to my son, almost 2, when he constantly yells "no."
I grew up in a dysfunctional home where mental and physical abuse were exhibited every day. I know I lose control with my son because people lost control with me when I was growing up.
I have been going to a therapist, but progress seems to be at a standstill. The doctor is only interested in the present, and not my childhood.
I also behave compulsively. I've abused alcohol, food and laxatives, and have now turned to cigarettes. Please help me.
A. It's particularly tough now because your little boy has reached the Age of Defiance.
The push for independence begins at about 15 months and lasts until he's nearly 3 -- a natural, necessary stage that helps him feel in control of his life and tests the most sanguine of mothers.
It generally doesn't test them quite this much, however. If your son says "no" constantly, he's probably getting too many "no's himself. You need to lighten up, so your son will be less obstinate.
It may help to carry a little pad in your pocket to mark down every time you say no. You'll be amazed, after a few days, at the number and you'll quit giving your little boy so many negative orders.
It also helps if you give him a choice instead of a command -- the either/or routine -- as in "would you like to wear your red sweater or your blue one?"
Your son still will be a handful for a while. At this stage you have to lower your expectations so you don't react too strongly, because this can lead to abuse. This is a possibility for every parent, and it's a particular danger for you. We all tend to repeat the techniques -- good or bad -- that our parents used with us.
As you so wisely realize, you need to dig into your childhood.
Since your therapist doesn't want to explore this territory, look for one who not only specializes in dysfunctional families, but who understands addictions. At this point you're substituting one dependency for another, without grappling with the underlying problem.
Your most immediate help, however, could come from Parents Anonymous, a free support group for parents who have been abused, who are abusive or feel they may become abusive, and for those who simply want to know how to handle their temper and be a better parent, a day at a time.
This group also will give you the names of other parents you can call when you're upset. They'll teach you to whisper when you want to shout; to do sit-ups until you fall down or hug yourself until you're ready to hug your child. You'll learn to count to 100; to meditate for 20 minutes.
You'll also learn to thumb through the baby book, so you can feel your love wash over you again; to listen to dreamy music or dance to hard rock; or to brush your hair 100 times; to take a shower if you can't take a hike, or knead some dough -- anything to expend your fury safely -- and to take any of these preventive measures as often as you need. It's better to unload your anger several times a day than deal with an accumulation of it.
Also, learn more about the dysfunctional family. "Becoming Your Own Parent," by Dennis Wholey (Doubleday); "Divorcing a Parent," by Beverly Engel (Contemporary Books), and the audiotape, "Overcoming the Pain of Childhood," by David Viscott (St. Martin's Press), may help.
You'll still have some bad days -- all parents do -- but since you try so hard to find your way you're bound to do it, and then you'll realize that you haven't been as lost as you thought.
Call Parents Anonymous, 1-800-421-0353 for free brochures and numbers of chapters near you; National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 1250, Chicago 60604-4357 for catalogue of publications or send $3 for booklet, "What Every Parent Should Know."
Questions may be sent to P.O. Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.