Parenting Problems and Solutions
By Deborah Godfrey
“Why do I have to ask over and over again to the point of yelling to get my child to do anything, and then when she does it, she does a lousy job of it?”
This is such a common parental complaint! One thing I have noticed about children’s behavior is that it usually makes sense when viewed it from the child’s perspective. Often we expect them to make the mistake, forget the directions, or in some way fail to meet our expectations. We keep trying by giving them more hints (nagging), being very clear (yelling), or attempting to motivate them into the “right” behavior (manipulating or making them feel guilty). Yet over and over again, they seem as if they are not “getting it”. A dad in one of my classes, Kevin, had been having a particular challenge with his daughter. Taryn had to have breathing treatments for asthma, which she really disliked. Dad’s patience with her resistance was wearing thin as this had to happen several times a day and just was not optional. One particular time, he could see the power struggle coming as it was time for her to take her treatment. Instead of fighting with her, he began talking to the empty space around the breathing machine. He used comforting words as if Taryn was sitting there and taking her treatment. The way Kevin explained it, “I talked to the space she should be in and she asked me, ‘What are you doing?’ and I said, ‘I’m talking to my daughter who is taking her breathing treatment’ and she jumped right into that space and took her breathing treatment!”
Kevin had a literal example of creating the space for a child to do the right thing. This is something I talk metaphorically about in my classes and workshops. How can you have belief and faith that your child will do the right thing, when they so often seem to make poor choices? I would assert that it’s because we expect them to fail so often so they do. When we start believing and acting as if they will do the right thing, they will do much more of that! So what is this “creating the space” for them to do what’s right? It means having faith in your parenting skills, trusting their basic good nature, and allowing for any experience to be acceptable.
Have faith in your parenting skills. One reason moms and dads parent inconsistently is that they feel uncertain about their parenting skills. If you are a parent that feels guilty that you are being too harsh, or helpless at being able to set limits and follow through, then you need to get some confidence in your parenting skills! You can do this through, classes, books and online resources as well. While none of us are perfect parents, there is a term used in parenting called, “good enough”. If you are a good enough parent, then you have decent parenting tools. These tools usually need to be gleaned from an outside resource as listed above, unless you were also raised by a “good enough” parent. If you were, congratulations! Good enough parents usually convey through role modeling good enough parenting skills to their offspring, (YOU!) and you can be rest assured that you are parenting good enough as well.
There are two voices that can block your achievement in this area. The first is the voice in your own head. It is usually you being too harsh on yourself. If you follow this voice more deeply, you may see the connection between things you heard as a child and the details of this voice of criticism in your head. Explore this fully and work on being gentler and kinder to yourself, giving yourself the kind words you deserved then. This will lessen the power of those negative thoughts to disturb your confidence in your parenting skills now. The other more obvious voice of criticism is our well-meaning friends and relatives. One mom told me her best friend was such a “perfect parent” it always made her feel bad about herself and her kids. She would try to be perfect like her friend, wanting to follow her advice, but rarely being able to follow through. In her heart, mom didn’t agree with the harshness of some of the methods her friend used to get compliant behavior from her children. This mom valued creativity and spirit above the perfect behavior, but so wanted her friend’s approval, that she was in nearly constant conflict over her parenting decisions! I advised her to love and respect her friend, and work on trusting herself to know what is best for HER children and try not to hold her friend up as a role model if it continued to cause her to feel bad. It’s OK to trust a friend’s advice if we respect MOST aspects of how that friend is parenting and can use their wisdom to make our decisions. It will not work however if something in us feels there may be something wrong with those parenting tools for us and our children. Becoming “good enough” is a sense inside of you that you are doing your best and giving yourself enough time and energy to focus on those things that give you that confidence to have faith in your parenting skills.
Trust your child’s basic good nature. All kids are born wanting to please you and make you happy and proud. It is in their basic nature to do so. Most parents do not realize how we unknowingly train them to do the exact opposite! When children are small and love to help, do you encourage them and allow for age appropriate achievement to be good enough? Or are you critical and expect more from them then they may be capable of at that age and stage. When my kids were little, they loved to mop the floors and wash windows. Now of course, they weren’t yet capable of doing it “correctly”, but I loved the spirit they had doing it and celebrated that. Over time, they came to do their chores with accomplishment as well as pride, and that sense of fun and achievement I instilled when they were younger.
Trusting their goodness also means trusting their integrity. I call this a child’s inner “Jiminy Cricket”, that sense of right and wrong born into all humans. So much of our (poor) parenting masks our children’s inner voice. When we judge them, yell at them, don’t hear their side, we push their integrity way down in them, so they cannot even reach it, and over time forget that it is even there. Instead, we need to believe in their goodness and create space for them to do what is right. One time, my kids were waiting for me in the car. I got in and Briana and Michael were shouting from the backseat, “MOM! Michelle took a dollar out of your wallet!” I looked up into the review mirror at the tattlers in the back and said, “Peanut gallery, enough! Sounds like you two need to take care of yourselves! Michelle would never take money from me!” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a little hand carefully slipping a dollar bill back into my purse. I smiled to myself, started the car and went on my way. I believe kids will do the right thing if we give them a chance!
Allowing any experience to be acceptable. While I had what I consider a good result in the above example, many times children make poor choices. In that case, we have a dilemma. If the child has proven to be untrustworthy, shouldn’t we become more critical and vigilant to make sure they do the right thing? How can I accept a poor choice? My argument is if you continue to criticize and micromanage, they will get less responsible, not more responsible. What the child needs is space to do the right thing! So if a child makes a poor choice, see this as an opportunity to get on their side, to be empathetic, to console them and to become their safe haven when they make a mistake from which they need to learn one of life’s lessons.
My son, Michael, had gone snowboarding with a buddy. They couldn’t make it to the ski resort because the road closed and he had no chains. So they pulled off the road where there was a nice hill and spent a few hours there. When they came back to the car, Michael was taking off his gear and his friend Rodney was trying to hurry him up. My son is somewhat of a slow poke when it comes to transitioning from activity to leaving! I know this from my experience with him at the beach. If I say, “Time to go” I can be assured it’s at least another 15 minutes of carefully getting out of wetsuit, rinsing board, wetsuit and feet several times and putting on clothes! If I interrupt this transition, he will invariable forget something, a shirt, shoes or some part of the gear. So I allow time and space for him to make his transition. Now Rodney didn’t know this, and neither did Michael in a conscious way. When Michael got home and began to unpack his car late that night, his snowboard wasn’t in the trunk! He was shocked as he realized he had set it down beside the car when and when Rodney hurried him, he accidentally left it there! I felt bad for him, asked if he could drive back up and look for it. He said no way, it was over 2 hours away and in such an obvious place that someone had surely taken it already. I bit my lip hard from any moralizing, judging or criticizing, he obviously felt horrible. When he told me how Rodney had rushed him, I made the observation of how I noticed that he needed to make his transition in his own time and has trouble when he’s rushed. I think he understood that as never before! I also think he felt supported by me for understanding that, rather than being critical of him for forgetting.
The “Redirecting Children’s Behavior” class is full of parenting tools that assist parents in all aspects of discipline and behavior. Wouldn’t you love to have tools that create space for a child to become more responsible and make better decisions?
Deborah has been teaching parenting classes and workshops for over 20 years. She is passionate about parenting, relationships and children.