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Improving Your Parenting Style 

January 10, 2010

For rigid parents, try letting go of some of the control you have in parenting. Identify situations in your child's life that are not that crucial and give them control. Many battles can be avoided if we can give children a little more control in their lives. Remember, children are trying to become adults and they need to be able to practice. So let them do some things on their own. Picking their own clothes out or doing their own hair is an easy way to give them control. It may be slightly embarrassing, but we can get over it. They generally are very proud of themselves unless we make a critical comment that shames them in some way. Learn to give compliments to the effort and success. It is not lying by saying "those are the best pony tails I have ever seen you make," even if they are completely uneven and lopsided. There are many other battles that are much more important. Let the little stuff go.

For over-protective or permissive parents, you may be sharing too much control in some areas. Work on social boundaries like not letting your child interrupt you. Learn to ignore your child until they either learn to wait or can interrupt in a respectful way like saying "excuse me." Teach them how to be polite in interrupting then do not respond to them until they use the correct words with a polite tone of voice. If they get it right though, make sure you do respond, otherwise they will go back to their more effective methods of getting your attention.

January 3, 2010

Each parent has certain hopes and dreams for their children. Many of you want your children to gain a good education, other want their children to be good workers, others want them to improve their life situation, and yet others want them to be spiritually connected. Our parenting styles are our approach, style or method to getting our children to move in the direction we would like them to. Unfortunately, not all parenting styles are equally effective and can even be counterproductive. Parenting styles generally fall on a continuum where the extremes are generally where we do not want to be, and yet many of us during times of stress struggle with staying away from these extremes.

There are three basic extremes that are dangerous. The first is to be overly permissive. This is when the child seems to experience very little discipline or boundaries. These children seem to be able to do whatever they like. Parents that struggle with this style often want to be good friends with their children and rarely say no, or if they do say no, it is simply disregarded by the child. The second is the over-protective parent who seems to be continually rescuing their child from their own consequences. Children from this kind of parenting often struggle with anxiety because life is presented as something that is fearful. The third is the overly rigid parent. These are the parents that struggle with giving lots of demands to children. They seem to be continually telling their children what to do and often enforce harsh discipline. Extremes in either of these three styles can be more harmful than helpful.

The most effective parenting style is one where there are clear boundaries with clear and consistent consequences. In addition, there is a constant message that a child is loved and nurtured despite any negative behaviors that are presented. Flexibility exists when there are special circumstances where deviation from normal boundaries would be helpful to the child's development. Finding this healthy balance between structure, permissiveness, and protection is where I see the most successes in parenting. Parents are able to maintain control while children are able to develop and gain healthy self-competence. Continuing posts will focus of specific strategies to be more balanced.

Parental Sensitivity

November 16, 2009

Being able to be empathic with your child is a key ingredient to parental sensitivity. It is hard for children to be able to trust you if they cannot sense that you really understand what it is like to be them. Empathy is not feeling sorry for your child. Empathy is your best attempt to truly understand how your children are feeling. Can you understand the whole context of your children's situation and can you express it to them?

Because children are learning and experiencing things that adults already know, we adults often forget what it was like when we were first learning. How many of you remember how difficult it was to first learn to read with all of the crazy rules and sounds of the English language? Can you remember the anxiety you felt when first learning to drive? Being able to recall similar experiences in our lives is often helpful. Be careful with this, however. Our children have different personalities, so we have to try and understand a situation from the perspective of their personality. An outgoing child is going to have a different experience than a shy child at their first day of school.

When observing your children, watch their facial expressions. Can you identify the emotions their faces are expressing? If so, then the next step to empathy is being able to express that to your children. Too often, we skip this step and move directly into what we are wanting children to learn. A classic example I see is when children hurt themselves. We want them to learn to be tough, so we disregard that they are in pain, and simply state to them "Your OK, quit crying." Yes, we know they are OK, but that is only because we have enough experience to be able to recognize that their injury is not very serious. They don't have that experience yet. Instead, try saying "Ouch, that looks like it hurt. It's really painful to skin your knee." Often statements like these with a little comforting is all they really need. They learn that the pain subsides and are playing again quickly.

Even when we disagree with how are children are feeling and behaving, we can still offer empathy. If a teenage son comes home after his curfew and just lost the keys to his car, he is likely going to be unhappy. Even though we are the one enforcing the consequence, we can still offer empathy. We can say: "Your upset that your losing your driving privileges. It stinks to not be able to get around as easily. I can tell your mad that I'm not accepting your excuses. I often felt the same way about my dad when I broke the rules." You will each find your own way in expressing empathy. What's important is that you are trying to see things from their perspective and context, even if you don't agree. Seeing you try can go a long way in building a healthy attachment relationship. Also, don't be afraid to ask sincere questions to try and understand them better.

November 2, 20009 

In order to understand the importance of Parental Sensitivity, one must first understand the importance of attachment with children. Attachment is a child's ability to trust and depend on his/her parents in a way that facilitates healthy development. If there is not a healthy attachment, then children will struggle in many areas of their life. Attachment serves two basic purposes for children. The first is to use their parents as a safe haven to provide safety and comfort when they are distressed. The second is to use parents as a secure base from which to explore the world.

Parental Sensitivity is how parents interact with their children in ways that promote healthy attachment. The better we get at Parental Sensitivity, the easier children will be able to form healthy attachments with us and with future significant people in their lives.

Parental Sensitivity is defined as a parents ability to "accurately perceive the child's signals and to respond to these signals in a prompt and adequate way" (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978). There are two important parts. The first is to recognize the signals and accurately interpret what they mean. The second is to respond promptly and in the way the child is needing. One cannot come without the other.

An activity I have often given parents to do in helping to develop Parental Sensitivity is to "observe with Awe." With our lives being so busy these days, we often do not take the time to do this. Observing with Awe simply means that we watch closely what a child is doing and admire their capabilities. If you put yourself in the right frame of mind, it is not difficult to do this. There are so many things to be amazed about when we watch children closely. It does not take a lot of time, but it does require intent.

Try just taking a little time and simply watch your child in different situations. Notice how they have changed over time, how they have become more capable. My six year-old is now reading pretty well and she gets better daily. That amazes me. A year ago she could barely sound out small words. My three-year old can now write letters that are recognizable instead of random scribbles. My one year-old can run and is climbing places I don't want him to climb, yet it amazing me that he can. There are so many things that we can be in awe about if we just take time. In turn, our children see us paying close attention to them which sends the message that they are important and valuable. We also get to learn a little more about them that we may have missed otherwise. Give it a try this week.

Building Self-Competence

October 25, 2009 

Sometimes, parents unintentionally deprive children from being able to experience success. We do this by not allowing children to fail. Most parents recognize in some areas of childhood that it would be silly not to allow a child to fail. For example, imagine your child getting to the age of learning to walk. Can you imagine never letting your child fall down -- always holding their hand, helping them balance, catching them before they are about to fall, and picking them back up to the walking position? We may do this initially to help them get the idea, but for them to truly learn to walk well, we have to let them go on their own, and even let them fall down. But guess what? When they fall down and they get back up for the first time, we cheer like crazy acknowledging that they have accomplished something -- they have succeeded.

Sometimes, we as parents tend to lose this trait as children get older. We begin to interfere in the child's ability to fail which takes away their ability to succeed. Let me give you an example that I have seen or sometimes done myself. You're sitting there eating breakfast and your child says that she wants to pour her own milk for the first time. What do you do? Some parents would say, "no, your not old enough" or worse say, "no, you'll just spill it," depriving them of the opportunity to learn. I hate to clean up spills just like the rest of you, but children cannot learn if we don't give them the chance. Hopefully, the jug is mostly empty and lighter (for younger children, pouring milk in a smaller container for them to pour from minimizes the bigger spills and increases success rates). I may talk them through it, show them how to hold the jug, how to pour slowly, and may even hold the cup steady for them; but ultimately I give them the jug and let them poor on their own. If they "fail," (spill), then this is another great opportunity to teach them how to clean up their own mess. Does this take more time than just pouring it for them? Yes, of course. Good parenting takes more time. So if your goal is to be a good parent, start adjusting your expectations and time allotments.

Here's another good example that just happened to me this past week. My wife had just finished mopping the floor and the kitchen chairs were upside down on the back of the couch. I began to flip them over and put them back around the table. My oldest daughter, who is six, wanted to help. My initial instinct was to help her out of fear that the chair was too heavy for her and she might drop it. I stopped myself though. She's getting stronger and I wanted to see how she did. As she started flipping it over, it slipped a little and fell on her foot. She did not acknowledge it, even though I'm sure it hurt a little. Instead she was determined to complete the task. She began working her feet and hands in different positions to get some leverage and eventually uprighted the chair. There are two things to learn from this example. First, if I had helped her a little and the chair would have hit her foot, I guarantee you that the pain would have been acknowledged by her and it would have been MY FAULT. Second, if I had helped her, then she would not have truly accomplished the task on her own, depriving her of having the full feeling of success and in turn depriving her of improved self-competence. Instead, I saved myself from getting yelled at for hurting her, and she got to choose success, even despite a little pain in her foot. You could see on her face that she was proud of her strength and ability and I got to acknowledge that to her and be a witness to her success. 

Give it a try. Let your children take a little risk within their abilities and let them choose success. Let me hear your success stories and I would love to post them for others to learn from. Click here to post.

Building Self-Competence

October 19, 2009 

One of the ways parents try to build children's competence is by frequently saying "good job" or some other form of that. Although children love to hear these words, there are more effective statements that can be given to build competence.

Self-competence is all about children being able to recognize and appreciate what they are good at. When we say "good job", we are not letting them necessarily know what they are good at and in some ways we are building their competence to be dependent on what we think is good. Instead, try the following.

Be more specific in what you want them to be able to recognize. For example, if my daughter is drawing a picture, I might say the following comments to build her self-competence. "I like how you have used the different colors in your picture", "I can tell that you have really been working hard to put details in your picture", "tell me about your drawing that you have been so careful with".

Also look for opportunities to recognize how they are feeling about what they are doing. With the above example you might say, "It looks like your proud of the work you've done", "you seem to be enjoying your activity".

Even when children are struggling with something and not necessarily happy, instead of rescuing them from their feelings by saying something that neither you or they believe, you can say the following. "I see you getting frustrated because it is important to you to do a good job", "I can tell you really want to improve at what your doing".

Try using these tips on a daily basis this next week. Let me know how well they work for you by sending me an email.

Next week: Allowing children to choose success.

Power Struggles

Power Struggles happen when the parent wants a child to do one thing and the child wants to do something else, and each is attempting to use whatever power they have to get their way. Because children have very little power, they often gain power by doing things that parents have no control over. Tantrums are a good example of this. We as parents can take away toys, we can put them in their rooms, we can yell at them, but ultimately none of those can stop a tantrum if the child is determined.

Although it may seem counter-productive, one of the best ways to reduce power struggled is to give the child more power. The simplest way to do this is to give choices. Choices give children a sense of power while the parent still maintains control. Two many choices can overwhelm younger children, so try using only two choices. Both choices need to be a true choice, so no "you can choose to go to bed or have  a spanking." Nice try but those are not choices, that's manipulation. Instead try things like "Would you like to go to bed in five minutes or ten minutes", "would you like to go to the bathroom first or brush your teeth first", "it's your turn for the dishes, do you want to do them right after dinner or after you play for  15 minutes", or "do you want to do your homework right when you get home from school or after you have a snack?" Of course, they are going to choose the one that you probably don't want them to choose, so make sure that both choices are ok with you. Good luck.

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