What is a parent’s job? In its basic form, a parent’s job is to teach their child how to function as a member of society. In addition a parent may decide to teach values that are personally important, such as religious or cultural traditions.
From a psychological perspective the most important thing a child learns from their parent is that they are loved. As human beings we learn that we matter by being loved. You show love by caring for your children’s needs (food, shelter, clothing, safety, and attention). Needs are different from wants and sometimes kids have a hard time differentiating between the two. It is important for parents to help children learn the difference between needs and wants so that they will be able to take care of themselves in the future.
In order to teach children how to function most effectively in society is important to be calm, clear, and consistent. If you think back on a boss you had whom you liked, he or she probably had these qualities. All people perform best when they know what is expected. Children and adolescents are no different. They behave best when the expectations and consequences are clearly known ahead of time.
Although it may be difficult to maintain a calm demeanor when your child has misbehaved, you will be able to get through to them more easily if you speak in a calm manner without yelling. If you think that you will not be able to do this it’s a good idea to take what I call a “parent timeout”. Letting your children know that you’re going to think about what you want to do is the first step. Next, you take a period of time, whether it’s five minutes or a day, to think about why you are truly upset and how you want to handle the situation. When you are calm you are also more likely to be able to listen to what your children have to say and possibly incorporate that into your decision.
Being clear is important because when you are clear there is less confusion about what is expected. When you have an expectation for your child’s behavior it is important to tell them all of the things you are expecting from them, as well as what will happen if they don’t meet your expectations. For example, when you are taking your toddler to the library it is important to set them up for success by reminding them of the rules for behavior in the library as well as the consequences if they break the rules. Asking your toddler to repeat the rules to you is a good way to test them on learning the rules. If they don’t remember the rules it is important not to give them a hard time about this but simply to fill in the blanks for them. It is also important with the toddler not to have too many rules because they won’t be able to remember them all. Basic rules such as walking only, inside voices only, stay near the adult you came with are good rules to start with. An example with a teen is, when you have given permission for the teen to go see a movie with a friend you describe exactly what you’re expectation is about how the outing will play out, including: who drives, where they will be, whether they will go anywhere else, what time the movie ends, who they will be with, what time they are expected home and what you expect them to do if the plans change. Give the teen an idea about what will happen if expectations are not met.
You may think that you have tried everything to improve your child’s behavior and nothing works. However, upon further thought you might realize that you lacked consistency. Consistency is one of the most difficult aspects of parenting as well as one of the most important. When you threaten your child with a consequence but don’t follow through or allow your child to negotiate a consequence they have the power. The lesson learned is that there is no meaningful consequence. What is meant by meaningful consequence? A meaningful consequence is one that has meaning to the receiver. For example, if you know that your child is looking forward to an outing with a friend this weekend and they have failed to do their homework for the last three days, a meaningful consequence would be to tell them they are not allowed to go on the outing with the friend. This is something that they will remember the next time they are considering not meeting your expectations. Age is nearly irrelevant in teaching or training behavior. The individual child matters much more. Each child has certain qualities that you can utilize to ensure that they follow your rules and values. Watching them, asking them, and listening to them will enable you to realize what to use as a consequence so that it will be meaningful.
When deciding how much to take or how long to take it don’t give all your power away in one fell swoop. Consider the fact that they may break the rules again, as well as the child’s age. Very young children 3 to 5 years old are not yet able to intellectually relate being “grounded” with behavior from the previous day or week. For them it is better to take away something immediately, utilize timeout (one minute per year of age), or take away a toy, an activity or your attention. It is extremely important that you not confuse yourself by being overly emotional when delivering a consequence. When you are angry you may give more consequence than what you intended. As children get older they are able to link the consequence with the behavior. This skill is not as tied to chronological age as you might think. Some children at six are better able to think this way than a child of eight. Consider your child’s specific temperament, intellectual, and emotional abilities when considering a consequence. When it comes to teens, the thought often follows that there should be more freedom and less instruction. It would be better to have more discussion and allow teens to be a part of the decision process so they can learn how to make an appropriate decision, seeing the situation from all angles. They will have the rest of their lives to make decisions on their own. This is the time to teach them by allowing them to have input. This does not mean that you would do what they want, but that you listen to what they have to say and explain in detail how and why you came to your decision. They may not always like your decision but they will not be able to say you didn’t listen.
Although there is no foolproof parenting method being calm clear and consistent will help you parent more peacefully.
If you are interested in family or parenting counseling contact JM counseling at 407-536-8877 or the website jmcounseling.com