Parenting is one job that never takes a holiday vacation. As families are celebrating holidays, parents are also coping with sibling bickering, backtalk, temper tantrums, and power struggles. Here at Empowering Parents, we hear about these struggles every day. The fact that you, as a parent, are willing to reach out and share your challenges and struggles with us speaks volumes about your commitment to building a good life for you and your family.
Your job as a parent is to provide [your child] with the tools and opportunities to be successful. What they do with those tools and opportunities is not something you have control over.
Raising children certainly can feel like a thankless job at times. The job can get easier, though, when you learn new parenting skills and reach out for support. So as we move together into the New Year, here are eight tips that we’ve seen make a difference in families’ lives and that we want to share with you.
- Control what you can: your response.
Don’t let your emotions get the better of you by responding with harsh punishments in the moment. The reality is, when you are giving a consequence, it isn’t about how bad it stings or how much you inconvenience your child. It really is about how consistent you are. Being steady, measured and predictable will work even if your child is not demonstrating his or her discomfort in a visible manner. Stay focused on what you do have control over: your response. The wonderful thing about being confident in this process is that you can stay calm and in their corner, which is where you want to be anyway.
- Walking away is often the best response in the moment.
When parents call into our coaching line, they are frequently frustrated and burned out from constant power struggles. The technique we recommend often is setting the limit and walking away. This means not engaging in a power struggle with your child. When you respond this way, you are showing your child you will no longer reinforce negative behavior. By taking some time to cool down and allowing your child to do the same, you are increasing the chance that you will be able to have a calm conversation with your child that’s more effective and productive.
- Tackle one behavior or issue at a time.
When we speak with parents, they’re often focusing on several behavior issues at once. This is understandable. School attendance, grades, chores, arguing and tantrums are all valid reasons for a parent to step in and teach their kids how to meet their responsibilities respectfully and on time. Trying to do it all at once is not an effective way of bringing about behavior change. Most parents and kids just become too overwhelmed with the pressure to improve every part of their lives at once. Giving yourself permission to slow down and focus on a plan to help your child practice better behavior will be more effective in the long run. It will give you and your child a chance to stay grounded and clear about expectations and limits at home and school.
- Role model the behavior you want to see.
Role modeling is a powerful way to influence good behavior. It’s true that kids watch what we do more than they listen to what we say. Even if it doesn’t seem as if you are having any influence at all on your child’s choices, remember that perception is not always reality. If you’re practicing a consistent method of teaching and coaching your child with clear limits, expectations and appropriate consequences and rewards, then you’re providing them with the opportunity to solve their problems more successfully. Remember, your job as a parent is to provide them with the tools and opportunities to be successful. What they do with those tools and opportunities is not something you have control over.
- Don’t personalize behavior.
When you are in the midst of an escalated situation, you might not have the ability to look at all sides with a clear, objective lens. It’s easy (and normal) to personalize behavior that seems to be directed at you. One of the tools many parents find helpful is to imagine the situation as if you are an outsider. How would you respond to a neighbor or their child exhibiting the same behavior? Chances are, even if you care about your neighbor and their family, you would implement consequences for specific behaviors. On the flip side, you might also be willing to let some things go, and recognize that the inappropriate behavior is more about that person having a bad day or being in a bad mood.
- Aim for “good enough,” not “perfect.”
Too often we look to those around us and compare our lives, our kids, and our parenting to what we see others doing. We often find ourselves coming up short as compared to the lives we believe other people are living. Don’t give into that “not good enough” mentality! Most people are not going to share the struggles they face with others. Everyone struggles and no one lives a perfect life. Everyone is doing the best they can, including you. You’re human. You’re not going to do everything perfectly all the time. Sometimes you are going to continue engaging in a power struggle when you wish you would have walked away. Sometimes you will raise your voice when you wish you would have modeled calm for your child. You can learn from every experience and try to do it differently the next time. What would you tell your best friend if she was experiencing similar parenting issues? Chances are, you wouldn’t tell her that she is a failure at parenting. You would probably give some encouraging words of support, or help her to find the humor in the situation, if possible.
Remember, too, that your child is doing the best she can. At a young age, she doesn’t have the skills and strategies to manage the feelings that come along with being human. We’re all just doing our best to navigate through life. The more we remember this, the more it can help us to have empathy when someone—your child, your spouse, yourself, or anyone else in your life—is struggling.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of self-care.
Self-care is often overlooked in our hectic day-to-day lives. It’s difficult to be an effective parent when you are stressed out and exhausted all the time. By practicing self-care, you will have the energy to tackle your child’s behavior and feel empowered to consistently apply new parenting tools.
Having a “self care plan” can be useful in times of stress. This can be anything you want it to be, from doing an activity you enjoy, taking part in physical recreation, journaling, or talking with someone about the issues you are facing. Many of the families we speak with comment on how helpful it is to have the opportunity to call us when they are stressed or in highly emotional situations. We’re here to help in those exact moments.
- Have patience. Behavior change is a process, not an event.
Just like behaviors are learned and developed over time, so does changing those behaviors and learning new ways to solve problems take time. It is important to remember that creating change first starts with the parent. The more consistent and repetitive you are in addressing your child’s behavior and choices, the more likely you are to create effective change for the long term. Be patient; change will happen if you stick with it.
Finally, we’d like to wish you all a moment of peace in this busy time of year. Take some time right now, before moving on with your hectic day, to acknowledge all the work that you do. Know that there are other parents just like you working right alongside you. It helps, when you are struggling with your most challenging parenting issues, to know that you are not in this alone. Let’s all start 2015 off with kindness and compassion for those we love as well as ourselves. We wish you all the best as we move forward together into the New Year!
With gratitude for all that you do,
Denise and the Empowering Parents Coaches
Denise Rowden is a parent of two teens: an 18-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son. She has worked in Special Education, Alternative Education and adolescent group homes. She has a BS in Psychology from the University of Southern Maine and is currently working on her Life Coach certification from the International Coach Federation.