As a therapist, no matter what the presenting problem seems to be for a patient who’s a parent, it is inevitable that parenting difficulties eventually come up in session.
Parenting is hard.
It feels hard because it is hard. Raising a well-adjusted human being is a lot of pressure, and there are so many opinions, strategies, and programs out there. It is overwhelming. It is important to know that every child is different, therefore parenting is going to look different for each child. The purpose of this article is to describe the most common parenting strategies that are discussed over and over in sessions. In the last article on this topic, the strategies of understanding your child’s behavior, expectations, and consequences were discussed. This article will cover additional parenting strategies that are commonly discussed in therapy including appropriate consequences, following through, and remembering the purpose.
Having a consequence for unwanted behaviors is important, and equally important is the need for this consequence to be appropriate. It needs to be appropriate for both the child’s age and developmental stage, as well as appropriate for their behavior.
Example: if a three year old is having difficulty sharing, an appropriate consequence might be to immediately remove the toy. An inappropriate consequence would be to say they now cannot go to the pool next week. This is inappropriate because developmentally, a three-year-old cannot typically understand a consequence that far into the future, and also because that is a very large consequence for a small problem behavior.
Once you have verbalized a consequence to your child, it is crucial that you follow through with that consequence.
Do what you say you are going to do. Children need this consistency and predictability, and doing this can also cut down on “whining” and negotiating. This is the hard part for many parents, often because the consequence may not be appropriate.
It is also important to note that parents should be careful not to accidentally punish themselves with a consequence for their children. This means being thoughtful and prepared with appropriate consequences so that it is easier to complete the follow-through.
Example: You tell your child they must stay at the table until they eat their vegetables, and now you are in a power struggle and stuck at the table until the end of time. An alternative to set yourself up to follow-through would be to tell your child they must eat their vegetables, or stay at the table until the bath time/bedtime routine starts at 7 pm. This is more specific, allows you to follow-through, and avoids the parent accidentally punishing themselves too.
Remember the purpose of parenting
It is so important to remember that your child’s problem behaviors are not personal towards you. Does it feel personal though? Absolutely. Whether the child is three years old and testing boundaries or 17 years old and testing boundaries, children are learning, growing, and we are here to guide them through that process.
The purpose of parenting is to help your child learn. The purpose is not punishment or having a perfectly behaved child. Raising a well-adjusted human involves lots of learning and guiding. Keeping the mindset of recognizing that your child is working hard to navigate life successfully can be helpful.
Our children need us to correct problem behaviors and give them the opportunity to make better decisions. It is part of the process, and it is certainly a difficult job.
Finally, remember your child’s behavior is not a reflection of you, only your own behavior is a reflection of you. Focusing on what you can control, rather than what you cannot, can help to decrease the inevitable pressures of parenting.