- Feel like you cannot get through to your kids? Like they just don’t listen?
- Are you fantasizing about sending your kids away?
- Are you tired of the power struggles? Are your efforts at discipline creating more stress and anger in your home?
- Would you like to have that nice balance between being a parent first, and a friend second?
- Is your relationship or marriage suffering because of parenting issues?
There is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ parent. Parenting is not about perfection. It is about love, balance, consistency & follow-through. While your kids WILL test your nerves, it is important that you reward good behavior, AND enforce immediate, natural consequences for the bad behavior.
Basic parenting considerations
First, if your kids feel included in the creation of some of the rules, rewards, and consequences, and ideas, then they will be more invested in the process, and more likely to cooperate with the expectations.
Regarding communication, try to be:
* Non-threatening (you want them to feel safe to ask you questions, tell you their mistakes and ask for help)
* Non-shaming (again, if they feel that you will simply judge them for their mistakes and decisions that you disagree with, then WHY WOULD THEY TELL YOU?)
* Non-judgmental (related to non-shaming. Your kids will not communicate with you as much if they feel judged, especially as they approach their teenage years – when the stakes of communication are overtly much higher)
* CATCH ‘EM BEING GOOD!! Why do I put this advice in discipline? Because most have been trained (most often with the very best of intentions) by parents, and society in general, to mostly catch children being bad (followed by punishing discipline) in an effort to extinguish the negative behavior . . . we forget that parenting is about teaching and guiding, NOT just about discipline. The most powerful form of guidance is rewarding the positive, along with natural and consistent consequences for negative behaviors.
* When you need to enforce consequences for negative behaviors, make sure that you KEEP YOUR COOL and that the consequence fits the mistake. . . in other words, if your teen is on the phone for 10 minutes longer than curfew, grounding them from the phone for a month is completely inappropriate and jeopardizes your credibility as a reasonable parent that your teen can learn from. As a general rule of thumb, grounding should last no longer than 2 weeks for extreme behavior. The reasoning behind this number is that for children and teens, any longer might as well be an eternity, and for young children, they forget what they are being punished for and may come to associate their grounding with appropriate behaviors they have developed since the grounding was enforced. . . for teenagers, they are likely to begin a power struggle where their logic is, “Well, I’m grounded forever anyway, I might as well get ’em back, or have some fun while I’m grounded.” (Sometimes, 3 weeks is appropriate as it typically takes 21 days of a new behavior being repeated for a new habit to be formed–again, this length of grounding should be reserved for serious behavioral issues. Always feel free to contact me for help in deciding the length of consequences . . . and forms of rewards).
* BE CLEAR about what the inappropriate behavior is, and why it is not appropriate. Explain what the more appropriate behavior is, and always try to wrap up with clarifying that you love them even though you may not like how they are behaving.
* BE CONSISTENT! If you ground your child for a week, then follow through for the week (sorry kids! read on though, it gets better for you down the page). However, if you realize that you have overdone a consequence, then you may use the opportunity to teach your kids how to apologize and make things right by scaling down the consequence to a more reasonable level.
* Have ground rules written down in advance, and add to the list as necessary . . . if a behavior is not listed or alluded to on the list, then you don’t have to impose a consequence . . . YET. Add the behavior to the list, explain why it is inappropriate and what the future consequence will be, then move on. Of course, if the behavior is an obvious violation of laws, safety, etc., then some sort of consequence is fine. Just remember to keep your cool and NEVER ACT OUT OF RAGE.
*Adapted from Transforming the Difficult Child. See Booklist.
Philosophy: Reward the good by giving points; impose immediate/natural consequences for the inappropriate behavior by deducting points along with other consequences (timeouts, replacing/repairing broken items, an apology, etc.) if needed (just taking away points is often sufficient for many difficult behaviors; however, do not hesitate to use ‘time-out’ etc. in conjunction; just do NOT overdo it).
Motto: “CATCH EM BEING GOOD!!!!”
Create a system that is age appropriate (sticker and star charts for younger kids, graph paper a little later on, and accounting ledger for teens) where positive behavior is awarded points (more points for how big the behavior is), and negative behavior has points deducted (again, more points for bigger behaviors). Your Point Chart can be divided into 3 levels of positive behaviors (and 3 levels of rewards/points), and 3 levels of negative behaviors (again, with 3 levels of consequences/point deductions); try to use broad terms where possible (for example, accountability, respect, honesty, etc.) so those obvious infractions or positive displays of these principles can be addressed through the broader concept (respect, for example).
Be creative with this . . . feel free to check it out with a counselor if you are not sure about the details. Be willing to debug the system as you go along though. . . this process is an excellent opportunity to model learning and putting learning into action in a calm, healthy manner.
Many people find a basic point system where points are directly cashed out for rewards to be most effective in their particular family situation. Others find more complex systems motivate more behavior change in their lives as long as the system is not so complex as to defeat the purpose.
**INCLUDE your kids in the making of the lists that get rewards & consequences, and how much those actions get awarded/taken away; be willing to bargain a little. The more invested your children are in the process, the more likely they will abide by it.
**If a behavior is not on the list, do not deduct points; simply explain the behavior, why it is not OK, and how many points will be taken away next time. Of course, major negative behaviors that endanger people/property (setting fire to a cornfield) should not be overlooked and just added with no consequence . . . clearly, use your judgment.
**REMEMBER that you must keep this system in place for 6-8 weeks before it begins to ‘stick.’ The point system only tends to work when parents keep it in place over time.
Regarding making tough parenting decisions:
* ASK YOURSELF, “if my son/daughter were faced with this very decision about their child, what would I hope for them to do?” Then, start from there. This is a great filter since it is fairly uncommon for people to wish actual harm upon their children; AND since you would wish for your kids to act in a certain way, then you will be modeling that for them. The old saying, “Do as I say, not as I do” can be a very confusing lesson that backfires. It teaches double standards and is extremely confusing for children and teens alike. As a parent, it is your responsibility to behave in a manner consistent with what you expect from your kids… remember, they learned to talk by watching you. . . they learned to tie their shoes by watching you, they learn their manners by watching you, they learn problem-solving, conflict resolution, etc. all by watching you…They will learn how to interact with others by how you treat them.
* Consult with other parents, counselors, clergy, mentors, friends, family, etc.
* Remind your children that you love them no matter what.
* If you are unsure of what to say, tell your children that you love them.
* Be willing to be wrong; and be willing to correct the mistake in a manner that models appropriate ‘mistake-management’ for your children.
* Use your instincts and previous experiences of what has worked before, and build on those.
Parenting styles change with each family. There are a few trends, though, that prove to be very useful when raising kids of any age.
One of the most important parts of parenting is how to talk to your child. Finding ways to teach your child about feelings, values, rules, rewards, and consequences is a challenge faced by all parents.
Most often, communication with a child of any age should be:
You should try to avoid being:
According to Dr. John Gottman, a family’s Emotional Heritage has a tremendous impact on the development of a child’s ability to manage difficult emotions later in life (The Relationship Cure, 2001). Emotionally Coaching families that provide acceptance and reassurance along with teaching healthy coping skills tend to have the most success. Families that are Emotionally Disapproving, or Emotionally Dismissive tend to create significant problems for children learning basic socialization skills and conflict management.
Basic practices that help lead to the healthy development of both the parent and the child:
* Catch your kids being good. Try to reward positive actions with a point system (see above) or privileges. Keep in mind that kids like to be happy and to please their parents.
* Assume success, and reward behaviors as they approach success.
* Use immediate, fitting consequences that match the intensity of the behavior (being too harsh can hurt your credibility as a parent).
* Respect your child’s age level. A 16-year old will likely deserve more responsibility than a 10-year-old. Try to avoid treating a 16-year-old like a 10-year-old because of your being angry with him/her. Also try to avoid giving a 6-year-old the responsibilities of a 16-year-old (babysitting for several hours, for example).
* Listen to, and learn from your child. Be open to the idea that you may not completely understand their experiences, thoughts, and feelings in the same way that they do. Ask them to help you understand their experience. Remember to validate the feelings/experiences first.
* When listening, try to hear your child’s message, and then say it back to them. Try to hold off on judging their message or trying to convince them that they are wrong. Just begin by letting them know that you hear what they are trying to share with you, even if you disagree. Once a child (especially a pre-teen or teen) feels that they have been heard and respected, they are more likely to hear what you have to say.
* Model the behavior you would like to see in your child. In other words, if you do not want to see your child yelling and screaming when conflict comes up, then be careful not to yell and scream when conflict comes up for you. Remember, your kids learned how to tie their shoes by watching you, they learned their manners by watching you, they learned how to talk by watching you. They WILL learn how to deal with conflict and how to face tough emotions by watching you.
* In any situation, imagine your kids in the same situation, and then imagine how you hope that they would handle themselves. Then handle yourself like that. This way, you are showing them how they should act.
* Focus on working through mistakes . . . not on the mistake itself. Just like this is your first time parenting your child, it is your child’s first time, too. You may make mistakes, and so will your child. By teaching your child that you do not only focus on the bad (instead, focusing on reward and natural consequences) they will be more likely to work with you willingly in making a smooth home life.
* Work with your child’s school. At the same time, try to respect your child’s privacy and boundaries. PTA meetings are an excellent place to check in with teachers and counselors about your child. If there is trouble at home, talk to teachers and see if your child’s behavior is better at school. If it is, ask the teachers how they work with your child; be willing to learn from your child’s teachers. If your family is experiencing a difficult time (divorce, death, etc.), let school administrators and teachers know so that they can keep an eye on your child and offer support when needed.
* Take an interest in your child’s development. Go to their games, celebrate their success, and comfort them when they don’t succeed (be careful not to overdo it since sometimes children, especially teenagers, need to have the time to work through their feelings using the skills you have taught them).
* Ask questions/be curious, but try not to pry. Ask your child to help you understand (ex. “Could you help me understand what it is like being a teenager today.”).
* Respect privacy and try to avoid ‘snooping.’ Remember that your kids learn by watching your actions; if you snoop around . . . they will snoop around, too. Clearly, if you are concerned for your child’s well-being, there may be appropriate times to do a search, but try to ask your child first about what you are concerned about, then talk to a counselor if you feel the need to search their personal belongings. If your instincts tell you to snoop, then snoop! They are still children under your care, and while respect for privacy is important, your child’s physical and emotional well-being is more important.
Learn more about Counseling in Austin.
Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s has worked in the helping profession since he started college in 1990. After completing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas, Austin in 1994, he attended the highly-regarded University of Minnesota to earn his Master’s degree in 1997. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is recognized as a Board Approved Supervisor by the State of Texas Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Jonathan is a Gottman-trained Couples Counselor, and in 1998 received training by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation in Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management & Debriefing. To learn more about Jonathan’s practice, click here: Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s.