As a therapist, no matter what the presenting problem seems to be for a patient – if they’re 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.
Understanding Your Child’s Behavior
This is a tough one because it is not concrete or tangible. So much of what children do is seemingly unexplainable, and even baffling at times. Do you find yourself asking “WHY did they do that?” often? It’s so common.
One of my most helpful suggestions for parents tends to be to take a moment and try to see the world from the eyes of a child. It is hard to be a child – their brain is not fully developed, there is so much they don’t understand, emotions are overwhelming, and they have relatively little control over their own life. Often times, children do not know how to correctly identify what they are feeling and ask for what they need. Frankly, many adults are not very good at this. This inability and frustration frequently presents itself as “bad behavior.”
Example: A 3-year-old suddenly begins refusing to do things by himself and wants mom’s “help” with even small tasks. This is a change in behavior, and relatively atypical for a 3-year-old who would usually be fiercely seeking independence. Why? Is this defiance? Probably not. This is probably a 3-year-old who is trying to communicate that he needs more attention from mom, and this is his way of seeking that time and attention.
In order to be able to do your job well, wouldn’t it be helpful to know exactly what is expected of you? The same is true for children.
They need clear expectations about both what is expected of them, and the behaviors that will not be allowed. This is hard to do because there are so many scenarios of what to do and what not to do! Much of this is learning, giving your child the opportunity to learn. If you haven’t explicitly set an expectation, that is a time for learning and guidance, not implementing a consequence.
Example: Prior to going to a get a haircut, have a detailed conversation with your child about what behavior is expected during the appointment. This means behavior like sitting in the chair still during the haircut and using inside voices. This can also look like preparing your child for what the visit will be like and what they might expect to see, hear, and experience during the appointment.
Once you have set expectations for your child’s behavior, it is then important for the child to know that there are consequences if they break a rule. The best-case scenario would be that a child would know what that consequence is ahead of time, but this is not always a feasible reality. Sometimes we can specifically predict potential problem behaviors, but many times we cannot!
Example: Your child receives a new toy, you tell them right away that if they do not share their toy with their sibling, it will be taken away for the day.
If you are not able to “predict” something like this, you can give a warning once you see a problem. You notice your child is having a hard time sharing, you tell them right away that if they do not start sharing, you will take the toy away for the day.
In both situations, your child is informed before the consequence. This is setting them up for success. Alternatively, in a situation where you see your child having trouble sharing and you immediately take the toy away for the day, (without the child knowing this is a consequence) this may feel frustrating, unpredictable, and not “fair” to the child.
These parenting strategies are simply the ones that seem to come up the most in sessions. They are basic tools to use to help you get through some of those really tough parenting moments. Will these things solve all of your child’s behavior concerns? Nope! Children are complicated and parenting is hard. Each child and each family are so different, it is helpful to seek out personalized support from a professional if you are struggling.