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Understanding Your Child’s Love Style (Part 1 of 2)

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Understanding Your Child’s Love Style (Part 1 of 2)

Counselors Milan and Kay Yerkovich examine the five love styles parents have and how those styles also apply to children. Our guests also discuss how parents can work through these love styles to help their kids become healthy and secure. (Part 1 of 2)

Original Air Date: July 20, 2016

Today's Guests

Episode Summary

Counselors Milan and Kay Yerkovich examine the five love styles parents have and how those styles also apply to children. Our guests also discuss how parents can work through these love styles to help their kids become healthy and secure. (Part 1 of 2)

Original Air Date: July 20, 2016

Episode Transcript



Mrs. Kay Yerkovich: When you become a secure connector, you’re gonna be able to really emotionally engage with your kids. Their feelings aren’t gonna overwhelm you. You’re going to be able to help them learn what to do with those difficult emotions that we all face. You’ll be able to say no.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: That’s Kay Yerkovich and you’ll hear more from her and her husband, Milan about raising emotionally secure children who are connected, on today’s “Focus on the Family.” Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: Yeah, we had Milan and Kay on just a few weeks ago and they discussed how to develop a deeper connection with your spouse by understanding their love style. In fact, they wrote that book, How We Love and we talked about that in depth. And if you missed that, man, get it because it was really good and I think it will help many, many marriages do so much better.

Today we want to turn that concept toward parenting, because those same styles are in our children, as well and in fact, like in the marriage program, we talked about what we learn as children for coping mechanisms and how we bring that into our marriages. So, today we want to go right to the fountain and make sure that we’re raising our kids in such a way to provide them a healthy environment so they have the chance to thrive in Christ.

John: And Milan and Kay speak and write and they counsel couples and families. And you’re going to enjoy this conversation immensely if the listener response to the last programs was any indication. Today we’re gonna be looking at their book, How We Love Our Kids: The Five Love Styles of Parenting.


Jim: Welcome back to the program.

Kay: Oh, thanks for having us.

Milan Yerkovich: We’re excited to be here.

Jim: Hey, before we talk about those styles, the love styles of parenting, what’s the purpose of parenting, when you look at it? And you strip it all away, what am I tryin’ to do as a dad or a mom?

Kay: I think we’re trying to help children have an amazing picture of who God is.

Jim: Ah.

Kay: You know, as parents, we are the first taste a child has of what someone is like who’s bigger than me. What’s an authority like? What’s a comforter like? And I think if we really invest in our parenting, we’re giving our children an amazing picture of who God is.

Milan: I think the goal of parenting is to teach our children how to regulate their mind, will and emotions.

Jim: That sounds a lot harder. (Laughter)

Milan: I know it is, but think about it for a second. You know, a baby cries, a mom and a dad gives comfort. The child finds relief. It happens thousands of times in the first year of life, second year of life, all the way through the formative years. The child expresses needs, the parents meet that need and the child feels some comfort. And what it does is, it teaches the child to be able to regulate, be able to delay gratification, to be able to self-soothe—

Jim: To trust.

Milan: –to be able to trust others like the—

Kay: Yeah.

Milan: –authority figures and go to somebody when I’m in trouble, as well as to be able to control my impulses. And so, the parent, we don’t think of this, but a parent really is a regulator of the child who in turn, then is able to regulate themselves.

Jim: Well, let’s talk about those styles within our children. We mentioned them, of course, in the program we did on marriage, but put them now into the parenting context. What are the five styles?

Kay: Well, we’re gonna talk about the avoider, the pleaser, the vacillator, and the controller and the victim. And I was the avoidant parent coming into motherhood and of course, I didn’t know that for the first 15 years. But I grew up in a home that dismissed emotions and that taught me that if I had a feeling, I was to not show it. If I cried, I was to go to my room and figure it out on my own.

And so, without realizing it, in my early parenting, when my kids cried, I told them, “You’re fine.” And it was, you know, not an opportunity to go in and comfort and sometimes, of course, that’s an appropriate thing to say, but it was what I always said.

Jim: Right.

Kay: And so, I really didn’t see emotions as something to develop and something to help a child name and to help a child regulate. I saw emotions as something to get rid of.

Jim: Yes, so, that’s the avoider. What are the others?

Milan: Well, you have the pleaser, the vacillator and the controller and victim. I was the pleaser parent and so, I was distressed by my child’s distress.

Jim: Huh.

Milan: If my child was agitated, I’d get agitated. Then I’d need to fix that as quickly as possible. And so, I would try to make them happy or divert them or be funny or have fun. Why? Because I didn’t, like Kay, want them to be in negative emotions, because those negatives or difficult emotions would stress me. So, instead of empathizing with them, instead of listening to them, I would want to fix them quickly and make it all go away.

Jim: Is that a helicopter parent?

Milan: Yes.

Jim: Okay. (Laughing)

Milan: Yes, it is. And I mean, we can be a lot of fun as helicopter parents and rescuing parents, but the problem is, is we often unfortunately, we rescue our children from too much distress and they don’t know and learn how to wear adult responsibility. We rescue them from bearing stress and some stress is good for a child. Some stress is important. Too much stress is trauma. To “understress” a child is to not prepare them for reality.

Jim: And they’ll be stressed later in their life.

Milan: That’s right–

Kay: Right.

Milan: –when they’re too weak to face that.

Jim: So, we talked avoider, pleaser, vacillator is the next one. Talk about that vacillator parent. What do they look like?

Kay: Well, the vacillator parent’s probably one of the most idealistic parent. They come into parenting really wanting to be the best parent that ever existed and they want to have the best kids that are an amazing reflection on them. (Laughter) And so, of course, kids don’t always quite follow that plan, do they? So, for the vacillator, they really like intense connection they can feel. So, they really like the baby stage a lot, because that kid is really just so—

Jim: Totally dependent.

Kay: –oh, and endearing and adoring of them.

Jim: You can cut their hair any way. You can dress—

Kay: Anything.

Jim: –them anyway.

Kay: Right, right.

Jim: You’ve got total control.

Kay: Control.

Milan: They adore you no matter what you do.

Jim: Yeah, right. (Laughter)

Kay: Right and so, for the vacillator parent, the 2’s and the teens are really hard, because that’s when a child says, “No, I don’t like you. I don’t want to do what you say.” And the vacillator often takes this as rejection and so, the vacillator parent is sort of in and out. They are preoccupied often, so they can be great parents when they’re really truly, fully present. But there’s many times, too, where they’re preoccupied. They’re mulling something over and they’re not present for their kids.

Jim: So, it sounds like they’re either hot or cold.

Kay: Yeah, they’re in; they’re out. They’re hot; they’re cold.

Milan: One of the things they have, if I might add, is the reason that they’re idealistic and the reason that they want their child to perform well, is they have a shame factor where, if they’re embarrassed or they feel like they don’t look good, the child is not making them look good, they get very embarrassed and humiliated and then that is really a big factor to them. And so, they want to then correct the child or correct the place where that child did that—school, a teacher, the sports team. Shame’s a very big piece of the vacillator soul.

Jim: I jumped immediately to Little League.

Kay: Oh, yeah.

Jim: I mean, how many vacillator parents (Laughter) are there at Little League. “Come on, umpire!”

Milan: Yeah.

Kay: Exactly. They’re the ones that are gonna yell at the umpire.

Jim: Correct.

Milan: I said to a lady the other day at a Little League game, she was just raggin’ the umpire. And I said, “Do you know him?” She said, “No.” I said, “The way you’re talkin’ to him, I thought maybe you knew him or something.” She said, “Do you think I shouldn’t be saying this?” I said, “Look, if I was the umpire, you’d be my worst nightmare.”

And I said this to this lady because she was really raggin’ on this guy. I’m not a pleaser anymore, so yeah, I could (Laughter) say things like that now. And she stopped and she goes, “Oh, well, maybe I shouldn’t do that.” And it was just one of those moments where you’re absolutely right.

Jim: Yeah.

Milan: That wasn’t the right call, so I’m gonna call it.

Jim: (Laughing) That’s avoider, pleaser, vacillator. Talk about controller parent. That sounds obvious, but what are the adjectives that describe the controller parent?

Kay: Well, the controller parent grew up in a home where they were controlled. There’s trauma in the history of this parent and so, when they become a parent, it’s very hard for them to identify with a baby and a toddler and a little kid and really remember what was it like to be a kid, because they survived by cutting it off, forgetting it and never, ever again do I think about the past.

So, you know, little kids are a bundle of feelings and needs and this was something that the controller in his own home growing up or her own home, these needs were not met. So, it’s very difficult for the controller parent, coming from trauma, to have any skills in their own parenting. And they’re constantly triggered by their kids’ crying and neediness.

Jim: In fact, in your book, How We Love Our Kids, you even said the controller parent is an aggressive taker. That’s an interesting description. What is aggressive taker? What are they doing?

Kay: Well, for the controller, the aggression is about, you have to stay in my box and then I can relax. When you look at the history of the controller, there was no box. It was a chaotic home. Anything went. I mean, there was trauma and so, the controller controls to try and prevent that feeling of being out of control that they had growing up. So, the aggression is about keeping someone in the moment within a place where they feel not threatened.

Jim: So often, as we describe these and there’s a couple more we’ll get to in a second. But children, it’s almost like this pendulum effect and I don’t know if that’s the Lord’s way of keeping balance, but when parents have certain attributes that are negative, kids tend to have the opposite response to that when they grow up. Is that fair? I mean, it doesn’t happen every time.

Kay: Yeah, I think it can kinda go either way. You know, if you had a really angry parent, you might say, “Well, I’m gonna be a really kind parent.” But interestingly enough, what we often find is, that when … when that child, especially at the 2’s when they’re difficult, you know, those things in your history are gonna come back out.

I’ve had so many little moms of preschoolers come up to me and say, “I’m trying so hard to be, you know, a parent who’s not angry, but I have to admit, I feel rage.” And my next question is, “Was your childhood difficult?” They always say, “Yes.”

Jim: Yeah.

Kay: And so, it’s like—

Jim: Interesting.

Kay: –it sneaks in there. It’s just hard to control.

Jim: Okay, we hit avoider, pleaser, vacillator, controller. Talk victim.

Milan: Well, the victims come out of homes where they have learned to tolerate the intolerable. They’ve been hurt. They’ve been wounded and so, they’ve learned to live in circumstances that are absolutely untenable, but they’ve learned to live there.

And so, what happens is, they walk into adulthood or teenage years and they continue to live there. I’ve been taken advantage of my whole life. Well, nothing’s new. You want to take advantage of me, well, everybody else has. You want to push me around, tell me what to do. Well, that’s all I know how to do.

And so, victims typically don’t have a strong voice. They don’t know how to say no. They don’t know how to put up an arm and say, “You, stop. Back up. Move away.” They can’t do that. And so, assertiveness is really missing on their part.

So, what happens is, is they’re revictimized over and over and over throughout life. And it’s really a tragedy. In our offices, a lot of times what we do is, we try and teach these people assertiveness training and how to say no and how to have the ability to hold up the hand and say, “Don’t come any closer.” And that’s a part of the process of learning to stop the madness of being abused.

John: Well, we’re discussing love styles and how they’re at work, whether we know it or not—

Kay: Yes.

John: –or like it or not in our parenting. And the book we’re talking about is written by Milan and Kay Yerkovich. They’re our guests on “Focus on the Family” today. It’s called How We Love Our Kids and we’ve got that and a CD or download or you can get our mobile app, so you can listen on the go, at or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

Jim: And then lastly, as we talk about avoider, pleaser, vacillator, controller, victim, we’ve covered a lot of ground there for the discussion, the place we want to be in secure connector. Describe that.

Kay: Well, the secure connector is raised in a home where they learned to take their pain and their difficult emotions into relationship. There’s a wide range of emotions. Every emotion is okay and they’re taught to manage those emotions appropriately as they grow up.

So, when you become a secure connector, you’re gonna be able to really emotionally engage with your kids. Their feelings aren’t gonna overwhelm you. You’re going to be able to help them learn what to do with those difficult emotions that we all face. You’ll be able to say no. It’s not gonna be a feeling of like, well, I can’t say no. My kids won’t like me.

So, a secure parent brings a lot into the relationship. They’re coming from a place of strength as a parent. And they’re taking the skills that they’ve learned into their parenting. You know, the Bible says a teacher can’t really rise above the teacher.

And so, what we had to do was, we had to change ourselves as parents. Instead of changing our kids, we really had to look at ourselves and say, where are we lacking the secure connection, these traits? Where do we need to grow up to be better parents?

Jim: Well, and what you’re saying very clearly is, it starts with the parents.

Kay: Absolutely.

Jim: I mean, don’t blame it on your children.

Kay: Right.

Jim: If you’re seeing behavior issues there, you can probably—

Kay: Look at yourself first.

Jim: –look at yourself and your parenting style and you’ll probably find some answers there–

Kay: Absolutely.

Jim: –even though rightfully, I mean, kids like all of us, were born with independence at some point. But that’s manageable.

Kay: Right.

Jim: Is that what you’re saying?

Kay: That is what I’m saying.

Jim: Okay. Let me give you an example and maybe you can determine for me. This literally just happened this morning, so I go to the pantry. I findfourempty boxes in the pantry, right—a cereal box, a Triscuit box, a protein bar box and I took them out and I kind of put them down on the floor and then the boys eventually woke up. And I said to the boys, “Whoever took the last one out of each of these boxes, I want you to throw it away.”

Well, it turned into this whole discussion. “You don’t have to get so angry, dad.” I’m going, “No, I’m saying this very plainly. I just want you to throw the box away, ’cause I’m not the pantry cleaner. And if you’ve taken the last item out of the box, throw the box away.”

And I mean, it literally, it lit this whole discussion about [it] and I’m finally saying, “Guys, it’s not about how I’m asking you to get it done. I’m tellin’ ya, you’re not doing your fair share if you’re taking the last item out of the box and leaving it in the pantry.” “Nope, there you go. You’re getting’ angry again.” I go, “You guys, you’re not hearing me.”

John: And oh, by the way, you could’ve already done it—

Jim: Right.

John: –if you hadn’t argued with me.

Jim: It turned into this big debate. I’m going, “Just throw the box away.” And Troy particularly, he really wanted to go with me on this and fight me on it.

Kay: How old is Troy?

Jim: He’s 13.

Kay: Oh, well, see.

Jim: Yeah, there we go.

Kay: I was gonna guess. I think you’ve got some teenagers in your house. (Laughter)

Jim: But what’s happening in that dynamic? Why aren’t they getting it?

John: Why aren’t they listening?

Milan: Pointing to you?

Jim: Yeah, (Laughter) what’s—

Milan: Why don’t teenagers—

Jim: –happening there?

Milan: –just listen to us?

Jim: Yeah.

Milan: Teenagers don’t listen because they are on the cusp of coming from childhood into adulthood and their brains are undergoing this massive transformation where they are actually pruning circuitry in their brain and laying down new pathways, which makes ’em very squirrely. It’s like construction projects on the freeway. So, they’re challenging to work with.

What I challenge parents to do and what we encourage all parents to do when we get into the teenage years, is lessen the amount of rules in the house and work it down to three things, which your illustration clearly brings up.

No. 1, I want my teenagers to know what respect is. I want them to know what it means to be responsible. And I want them to know what it means to be productive.

Now the empty boxes have to do with all of those. (Laughter) You see, I’m not respecting the household. You see and I’m not being respectful to the rest of the people in the house. I’m not being responsible if I ate this last ones and throw it away and maybe put it on the Costco list, you know. And I’m not being productive to figure out how to make this home work. These are the three things I want teenagers to get to know and then personally absorb as values, rather than having tons of rules, so they get the larger concepts.

Jim: Yeah. You know, another things that comes to mind is, you can come from brokenness. You know, you can come from pain and one of these attachment issues that we’re talking about, but that doesn’t give you the right to be a bad parent.

Kay: Well–

Jim: I mean, sometimes we can make an excuse, rather than grow in Christ, we—

Kay: –that’s right.

Jim: –we leave ourselves there. This is how I am.

Kay: Well, I think as the best thing we can do is be a growing parent, because we can’t be a perfect parent, but I do want my kids to say five years from now, no matter how old I am, my mom is different than she was five years ago. And I want them to be able to observe growth in me.

Now I have a thought about your son. Kids, that are in the adolescent years love to point out what they think are the weaknesses in their parents and they’re usually a little bit accurate.

Jim: (Laughing) Yeah, absolutely.

Kay: Okay.

Jim: Okay, here we go.

Kay: So—

Jim: Go ahead. (Laughter)

Kay: –so, what you could say is, “I would love to have a discussion with you about how you think I’m angry and you know, what kind of things do I do that make you feel like that? And how do you feel when I’m angry, as soon as you throw the box away that you emptied. But you know, you keep bring up, ‘Dad, you’re mad; dad, you’re mad.’ I think we should have a talk about that.”

So that you’re inviting them to give you feedback about your own behavior and I think what that does is, if we work on our behavior while we’re asking our kids to work on theirs, I think they’re more receptive.

Milan: Yeah, if I said to my son, “What would’ve been a better way to address you on this topic? I came in. I’m frustrated. Let me tell you how I’m feeling. I come in. I’m looking for cereal, Triscuits and protein bars, ’cause that’s what I have every morning for breakfast.”

Jim: Triscuits you spell out.

Milan: I’m just pretending. I just love Triscuits. (Laughter) Okay, so, I’m looking, “How would you like me to have shared that with you? Because I’m asking, so what do I do that bugs you?” You know, maybe Trent says, “Dad, that’s the first thing that came out of your mouth. I would’ve loved to have heard ‘Good morning,’” you see.

Jim: That’s probably true actually, (Laughter) now that you say that.

Milan: So, you see, and so, we have to ask them, “What do I make you feel like when you’re around me?” And we did that with our teenagers and asking them, “What’s it like to be around me?”

Jim: Okay, I fessed up. You give me one of your own stories.

Kay: Oh, gosh. (Laughter) We have so many.

Jim: Give it to me.

Kay: Well, I can think of, you know, I almost have the opposite problem. When my son became a teenager and got testy like that, I found myself just being almost speechless.

Jim: Now you’re the avoider parent.

Kay: I’m the avoider parent and you know, but when I looked at my own history, my dad was pretty testy and he could get angry. And up to this point in this kid’s life, he’s just been this happy kid. And now all of a sudden, he’s turned into this angry kid—

Milan: Monster.

Kay: –that can boss me around.

Milan: A man.

Kay: A man, really. (Laughter) And so—

Milan: Big man.

Kay: –I had an interesting growth journey there. I thought, what’s happening here? Why am I losing my voice? And I realized, oh, my gosh, this is reminding me of my dad.

Jim: Huh.

Kay: And I never had a voice around my dad. So, one of the ways I went to my son and I said, “I’m having a hard time saying stop to you when you’re really getting out of line.” And I said, “I just figured out [that] it has to do with my dad.” And I said, “I never had a voice around my dad,” so I said, “I’m gonna be working on it, but I want you to know, it’s not right where I’m at.

So, I think we have to be aware, as parents, especially when our kids are adolescents, where are my weaknesses? ‘Cause they’re gonna tell ya, so, you might as well own up to ’em and have open discussions like, you know, I’m gonna work on this. This is isn’t a good quality as a parent. You need a parent that can say, “That’s enough.”

Jim: Yeah. How do I determine my children’s style? I mean, we’ve described them, but how can I look at my kids and say, okay, they’re a vacillator; they’re a pleaser; they’re an avoider?

Kay: It’s a great question.

Milan: Uh-hm, I think the avoider child is going to not ever want to tell you how they really feel. They’re not gonna want to go to vulnerable feelings, negative feelings, except for anger. They’ll go to anger, but they’re never going to ask or inquire or reveal their real feelings underneath what’s going on inside.

Jim: When would you see this? About what age do these patterns begin to form?

Milan: Oh, I think you can see them as early as 4- and 5- and 6-years-old and on into adolescence and childhood and adolescence. It’s a pattern of never addressing negative feelings and emotions. And that’s what we must learn as parents to observe, what is our child’s stress response?

Jim: Right.

Milan: What do they do when they’re stressed? Every time my avoidant child is stressed, they withdraw, for instance. They’ll go to their room. They’ll also go start fixing things, doing homework and the whole house could be this wild place, but they’ve just shut down and closed off and they’re not participating in this home anymore. I might go ask them, “Are you stressed right now, or is this home atmosphere stressing you?”

And I think we must observe and then as parents, we have to inquire and say, “Okay, I think you’re stressed. I’m the parent. I’m observing you. Every time you’re stressed, you withdraw, so I want you to give me three feeling words off the feeling word list and tell me what’s going on in the inside and then I’ll leave you alone.”

Jim: And that’s the avoider child.

Milan: That’s the avoider child. I want to get them to access and you know, retrieving and learning these feelings. Now it’s not to be confused with the introverted child, who needs to recharge their batteries through withdrawal. And Kay was both, so I had the avoider and the introvert who would withdraw for various reasons. So, it’s important to find out. We outline this in our book, How We Love Our Kids. The introverted child is not the same as the avoidant child.

Jim: Right.

Kay: But either way, you gotta pursue them either way.

Milan: Pursue.

Jim: Correct.

Kay: You have to pursue the avoider. You have to pursue the introvert. They’re not just gonna tell you.

Jim: Ah and I think what we need to do for people to look at that list, we’ll put a link on the website and they can look at the various lists, because that’s a good reference tool and the book, of course, has it, so that’s a good place to start, How We Love Our Kids. We’ve only talked about that avoider and their attributes. Let’s come back next time and talk about the others and also some parenting techniques to help your child land in that secure attachment place, which again, is the goal. You’ve been listening to “Focus on the Family,” Milan and Kay Yerkovich, their book, How We Love Our Kids. Thanks so much for bein’ with us. Let’s come back next time and keep diggin’.

Kay: Sounds great. Thank you.


John: I like that idea, Jim, digging, because the parenting task can be kind of hard, but it’s worth that effort.

Jim: Oh, without a doubt and we havetouched on a lot of themes today and it might be that you’ve struggled in your role as a mom or a dad and that’s okay. The best part’s ahead where you can correct those things and … and do a better job in the future. If you need someone to talk to, it’s fine to give us a call. We want you to do that. We have caring Christian counselors, who have over the last almost 40 years now, heard just about everything under the sun really and you’re not gonna shock us with uh … a need that you may have. And I hope you’ll take advantage of that.

John: And to speak to a counselor, our number is 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459 and I should note that due to call volume, we may have to take you name and number and give you a call back.

Jim: And here at the close, let me say thank you to all of you who regularly support the ministry here at Focus. Because of you, we’re able to minister to literally millions of people every year around the world. And we recently heard from a listener who wrote this to us. She said, “I called Focus on the Family” more than 25 years ago when I was 12-year-old. I didn’t know what to do about a serious situation going on in my life. I can’t remember the name of the man that called me back and wrote letters to me, but I have never forgotten the loving and respectful way that he spoke to me. Thanks to Focus on the Family for the way you care about people of all ages.”

And I’m telling you, folks, we are here for that purpose, to put the … the right foot forward on behalf of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When you donate to the work at Focus, it enables us to come alongside people in an individual way like that and to meet them at their point of need. And right now we are currently experiencing a bit of a summer shortfall related to our budget and we need to hear from you today. So, if you’re able, please make a donation so more people will be touched like this woman and their marriage and their family restored.

John: And we’ll invite you to make that donation at or by calling 800-A-FAMILY; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And when you get in touch, you’ll want to request a CD or the download of this two-part conversation and a copy of How We Love Our Kids, which as you’ve heard, is a great parent toolbox of ways to learn more about your child’s emotional makeup and to help them process feelings that they’re having. We’ll send that book to you when you contribute a gift of any amount to the ongoing work of Focus on the Family. Once again, or 1-800-A-FAMILY.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back next time. We’ll have our guests, Milan and Kay Yerkovich back and once again, help you and your family thrive.

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