By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
Welcome to Thrive's first parenting blog! One of the components of my work that I am most passionate about is my work with parents through parent consultation (either on its’ own or in addition to a child’s treatment). I am excited to be starting a series of blogs that discuss parenting and give parents useful and effective tips that they can implement right away. I would like to begin today with several common topics in my parent consultation sessions and an overview of ways to set yourself up cognitively and emotionally to be an effective parent.
Before going into the tips, I would like to share a bit about my perspective on parenting and parent consultation. I fundamentally believe that children need rules, limits, and consequences. They also need parents who communicate with them, demonstrate their love, and are present in their lives to show them just how much they care, even when they have made a mistake. I would also like to share that as a parent consultant, I am here for parents as a collaborative partner. I have a wealth of knowledge and experience with children and parents that will help guide our work together but I always respect that parents are the expert on their family and their child. While I give a lot of feedback about how to help their child, none of that is coming from a place of judgment as I know that parenting is not an easy job and that children do not come with an instruction book. Please also keep in mind that the strategies that are posted are general strategies and not effective for every child. Children are all so different and respond to different things! As such, please feel free to seek further help with parenting if these strategies are proving ineffective for your child. I would love to hear from you and consult with you!
Tip #1: You are the parent, not your child’s friend (particularly when discipline is involved)
This is a tough one but so important in any discussion of parenting as our desire to be our child’s best friend leads us away from acting as their parent. Parents always need to remember that they are responsible for teaching their child how to be fully functioning adults and this means saying “no” and sometimes that your child will be upset with you because you are not giving them what they want. While this can be challenging, it is necessary. As a parent, you are the leader and you are in charge so the way you approach things sets the tone for your whole family.
Tip #2: Empathy works
Particularly for highly sensitive and emotional children and teens, they need to be approached with empathy and compassion for their situation and their feelings. Some parents struggle with this because they feel the child is acting “dramatic” but it is important not to shame them for their feelings by pushing them out of it before they are ready but to approach them with some compassion. Start by reflecting their feelings to them, “I can tell you are feeling (overwhelmed, sad, like everyone hates you, etc), that must be difficult.” Then let them share about it before helping them find solutions. Try not to go to solving the problem too quickly because they might feel that you do not understand and shut down more. Also, even when you are providing consequences, it is appropriate to be kind and compassionate. Sometimes parents are working so hard on being “strong” and holding the limits they set that they forget to connect with their child and give them some love too.
Tip #3: Set appropriate expectations
Your child is going to have strengths and weaknesses just like we all do. As such, the areas where they are less proficient will need extra focus, patience, and have more room for growth. These are often the areas that are most frustrating for a parent but it is important to thoughtfully consider if your expectations match your child’s abilities. Then you can recognize where your child is at and meet them there by setting expectations just slightly above their skill level. This way you are challenging them but not overwhelming them with the challenge, which can lead to giving up.
Tip #4: Consistency is key
One of the most important cornerstones of effective parenting is to be consistent. Children need rules and they need to know what to expect. I find a fantastic way to meet this need is by creating visual cues that help parents and children stay consistent.
Tip #5: Always keep your future goals in mind
This is a tip geared towards changing your mindset when disciplining your child and to help you stay firm in your expectations. When parents are wavering in their discipline and not setting consistent limits, it’s helpful to look at the situation differently and from a more neutral approach. For example, a goal for your child might be for them to understand cause and effect. As such, the first step is to recognize that they do not yet have this skill fully developed and will need support. When they make mistakes and break rules (ex. Hitting their brother), a consequence needs to be provided. They will often become upset as a result, but if you can remember that the consequence is there in order to teach them cause and effect, it might be easier to follow through.
Tip #6: It’s okay for your child to experience unpleasant feelings
This tip follows up on my blog last week about the “Happiness Obsession” and my belief that as parents and caregivers, we need to stop thinking our job is to protect our children at all costs. I get it. You love them so much that it is extremely painful for you when they are struggling or feeling uncomfortable/unpleasant feelings. However, sometimes those are experiences they need to learn the lesson at hand. For example, when a child makes a mistake, it is okay for them to feel remorse about it and to be bummed for a while. It is then our job to say, “I get it. I make mistakes too and I feel awful when I do. It’s okay to feel badly about it but remember that you are still a great person and everyone makes mistakes. How can we make this situation better?” Then we are providing support and empathy but validating that it’s okay to feel badly when we mess up. Protecting them from the unpleasant feelings would look more like telling them what they did is not a big deal anyways, telling them they were not really responsible for the mistake, or letting them off the hook for a consequence.
Tip #7: Take the yelling out of discipline
One of the most important parts of any discipline discussion is what I call “firm and neutral” parenting. This means that when giving a consequence it is done in a firm and neutral way. There is no yelling involved or shaming your child. Just matter of fact, “that is unacceptable behavior.” Then you give a consequence in a similar way “because you hit your sister, you will not watch TV for the rest of the day.” And that’s it! End of story. Try not to discuss the mistakes a child makes over and over as that simply gives the negative behavior more attention (which sometimes increases it!).
Take away points:
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