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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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 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.
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.