Tools to help you consider your child's future in your parenting choices By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
Often when I am working with parents we think and talk a lot about what is going on RIGHT NOW. Usually that is because many of the parents are coming to me for help because they are struggling to know what to do with their child, for a multitude of reasons. We then work on different strategies that can prevent the issues the family is having and ways to react when those issues do come up to be most effective as parents.
My interventions usually incorporate these steps 1.Increase structure and boundaries in the family 2.Provide appropriate consequences and rewards 3.Build communication between parents and child 4.Increase understanding of the child’s needs and particular areas of skill deficit.
The approach that I take is firm yet compassionate towards the child and conceptualizing many of the challenges they experience as a skills deficit, rather than a character deficit. Often, the kids are just as unhappy at the way things are going as the parents are! I repeat as this is often missed, the kids do not like the way things are going either but just don’t know how to be more effective in the way they interact and cope with the world.
This particular component of my approach is key. I think it is very important for all of us to recognize the fact that we will most certainly fail sometimes and make lots of mistakes. That includes the kids and teens in our lives. They are human and will totally screw things up sometimes. As the adults in the situation, our job is to help them recognize the mistake, understand that mistakes are normal and not the end of the world, and walk them through the steps to do better next time. I think often we get caught up in the idea of always doing our best and that this must mean that we are perfect in that moment. People can be 100% doing their best but still totally mess up or not do what they know they SHOULD be doing and this does not mean they are not trying. It just means they are human and there is a lot of space between knowing how to do something and actually doing it. Typically, I see this space as ambivalence and work with people in a particular way so as to help them resolve their ambivalence and take steps towards change.
So, back to the topic at hand today. Do you know where you are going? I like to help parents think about what their choices will mean for their child’s future. For example, if you decide to give in when your child complains about a consequence, consider what this teaches them and if it is teaching them the skills you would like them to learn. Consider, what lesson are you teaching by giving in? What will happen the next time you give a consequence if you go this route in parenting? Are these the parenting decisions that will lead to your children being effective, productive, and compassionate members of society when they are adults?
These questions are so important as they help put things in context. I think it can be extraordinarily helpful to always try to consider the future and take the emotions out of some of the parenting choices you might make. Perhaps you can sit down with your partner or just with yourself and really think about what you want for your child in 5, 10, 15 years and how your choices can help them get there. The following steps and examples might help you identify some areas you would like to make changes in or just help you start thinking in this way and brainstorming your own ideas!
1. Set goals for your child (not specific goals but general life goals are usually best to focus on). Some examples include:
Being able to be successful in a job/career
Having happy and healthy relationships with a significant other
2. Think about what skills your child needs in order to accomplish their goals.Some examples include:
Understanding cause and effect (breaking rules will have consequences at work too!)
Ability to be responsible
Being patient with other people and understanding their needs too
Showing up (emotionally and physically)
Engaging in the world we live in (not just the one on our screens!)
Persistence, hard work, or "grit"
3. Consider what you can do as a parent to help your child accomplish these goals… this might include the following:
Model patience in the way you interact with people in front of them as well as manage your frustrations effectively around them
Apologize when you are wrong and not showing them this is the end of the world. We all need to own our stuff and our mistakes!
Give consequences – we need consequences to understand boundaries as well as cause and effect principles
Be really present for your child – ask them how their day was and really listen and try to engage them in a conversation about it, put down your phone, turn off the TV, etc. Just be there with them and hang out with them doing whatever it is they want to do sometimes. This way they understand how to connect without all of the technology and hopefully will talk to you about the important stuff after you’ve spent time investing in all the things that are seen as less important to adults (but not to kids!).
Give them responsibilities – chores, jobs around the house, jobs in your business
Model helpful ways to cope with failure - continuing to try to attain goal, working on strategies to change outcome, etc.
These are just some examples to get you started on thinking about how you parent and what you are modeling and teaching your child through your actions. So often, we can change a lot in our families and our child’s behavior simply by changing our own actions!
I’d love to hear how you are implementing these ideas or your thoughts about them! Feel free to comment on the website or follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest!