“When do I want my child’s behavior to change? Like, yesterday!”
Many of the parents I talk to every day on through our 1-on-1 Coaching Service have this thought at one point or another. Some of them verbalize it, while others may not even know they are thinking it. I hear the exhaustion, panic and frustration that these parents feel, not only for the behavior they are seeing in the moment, but in nervous anticipation of fights and unease for their child’s future as well. To be the most effective parent possible, it is important to stay in the moment with your child rather than some distant future. Here are some tips I give to parents to help them cope.
1. Expand your view. In scientific research, there is a term called “confirmation bias,” which in basic terms describes when researchers see what they expect to see, and overlook other data which could be equally important. Much in the same way, if you are driving home, sure that your son hasn’t done the dishes or his homework and you’re fuming that he is not living up to his fullest potential, you are probably going to hone in on those things when you get home, and use that to “prove” to yourself that he is lazy and will never succeed on his own. It is more helpful to have a more optimistic view and look for the little victories in the larger picture. That is not to say that you should not hold him accountable for not completing his responsibilities; however, it is going to be more helpful (and calming!) for you to have already planned how you are going to hold him accountable and give him the benefit of doubt on your way home so you are not expecting a fight the minute you walk in the door.
2. Be in the here and now. That is, don’t predict some awful future for your child based on their current actions. The truth is, you are going to be more effective if you are focused on your child not doing her homework today, and holding her accountable for that action today, rather than looking at the fact that your child is not doing her work in fourth grade and thinking that she will not graduate from high school. Each day is a new day, a fresh start. One piece of advice I frequently give parents is that you cannot give a consequence for something that has not happened yet.
3. Realize where your control lies. Namely, yourself! As hard as it is to accept at times, you do not have control over anyone but yourself. While many parents of teenagers bemoan their “new” lack of control over their child, the fact is that control was never there. As any parent of an infant can tell you, he ultimately has control over when he cries, when he sleeps, when he smiles and when he needs a diaper change! You can influence your child; ultimately it is up to him which actions he is going to take.
The truth is, no one can predict the future. No one knows for certain what will happen, or won’t happen for any of us. As scary and confusing as that prospect is, it can also be beautiful and hopeful. It is all part of the roller coaster ride called parenting.