One thing most parents can agree on is that parenting is challenging, whether you are a parent of a baby, toddler, or teenager. One day you may feel as if you've figured it all out and then the next you feel like the worst parent in the world.
As a therapist and parent of two young children, I am frequently asked for strategies to change children's behaviors.
How can I get my baby to sleep through the night?
Why won't my toddler behave in the supermarket?
How can I get my teenage daughter to stop talking back?
Many parents spend too much time searching for ways to change their child's behavior. This method of parenting often backfires and parents are perplexed when they are left with crying babies, toddlers having major meltdowns, and disrespectful teenagers.
What if we stopped trying to change our kids and, instead, changed how we thought about parenting? What if we chose to view parenting through rose-colored glasses? What if we decided not to take everything so seriously?
We may not have the power to control our children, (and we shouldn't be controlling them anyway), but we do have the power to adjust our thoughts and feelings about the struggles of parenting. With a few changes, you can enjoy your children more and when your behavior changes, so does your child's behavior.
Changing the way you view parenting will create a stronger and more positive relationship between you and your children.
1. Adjust how you perceive the problem
Think about something your child does that makes you lose your cool. We are all triggered by different things. Is it when your toddler raises her voice in public? Or is it when 10-year-old refuses to clean his room? Think about why the behavior bothers you. Are you embarrassed in front of others? Was this behavior unacceptable when you were a child?
Many of these behaviors are frustrating, but they are also developmentally appropriate. Think about what your child may be getting out of this behavior you consider “bad." A negative reaction from a parent is good enough for a kid who is trying to get any attention, but it will only keeping the behavior going. The less you stress about the behavior, the sooner it will come to an end. Sometimes the power struggle is the reason the behavior continues.
2. Share the emotional responsibility
For many parents, it is hard enough to share the physical responsibility of raising a child. One parent may take on more responsibilities such as changing more diapers and running the kids around to after-school activities.
Many parents don't consider sharing the emotional responsibilities. If you are feeling worried about how your kid is doing in school or simply feeling overwhelmed by all the emotions that come with parenting, share those with your partner, a friend or someone you can trust. Find your village.
3. Try to lower your expectations
Sometimes we forget that our kids are kids. Expecting your kids to act more mature or do things that are not age appropriate will only set them up for failure. Do you expect your child to have proper table manners, to sit for long meals or greet all your friends and relatives. Teaching your children these “adult" behaviors and modeling them will encourage your children to do them, but keep your expectations in check, especially if your child has not napped or is hungry.
Holiday season is a time when these unwanted behaviors come out because kids get overwhelmed by big gatherings or their schedules and routines are thrown off. Some kids are more introverted or shy and feel uncomfortable talking to adults. If you try to lower your expectations, there is less room for you to get frustrated with your child.
4. Put your oxygen mask on first
Taking care of yourself is one of the most important parts of parenting, but one that gets put on the back-burner. Self-care is not selfish; it is necessary. Daily parenting is overwhelming, stressful and can cause burn-out. Parents need time to re-energize. Taking time away from your family, whether it is an hour or a weekend, will be the best thing for your family.
5. Be consistent
Being a consistent parent is very important. It is also incredibly hard, after all, sometimes we put a rule in place and then let it slide when we are rushed or tired or simply don't want to deal. Children learn through repetition and feel secure when they are able to predict what will happen next.
If a parent has a different response each time a kid has a tantrum, the brain's process of rehearing and internalizing is disrupted. Inconsistencies teach children to live with anxiety and chaos. Children thrive with routine, structure and limits.
6. Connect instead of correct
If your child is exhibiting an undesirable behavior, first try and connect with your child before addressing the behavior. The behavior may be a manifestation of a need for attention, feeling isolated, sad, or another negative emotion. After your child feels connected and responsive, you can address the behavior in a calm manner.
Correcting by yelling or timeouts is not teaching your child any positive lessons. Connecting with your child will make your job as parent easier because children who feel connected have better listening skills, feel less frustrated, have higher self-esteem and make better decisions. Spend at least 15 minutes a day engaging with your child, with no other distractions. Engaging in meaningful activities with your children is a wonderful way to get to know them better, build their self-esteem, share values, strengthen emotional intelligence, and create special memories.
7. Coach instead of control
Parenting is essentially being your child's life coach. You are the person who teaches them how to make good decisions, learn from mistakes, be brave enough to get through hard things. Kids learn by watching you. If you control your child, how will they ever learn to make decisions for themselves? Let your child problem-solve with you so they can build the confidence to go into the world.
8. See through your child's eyes
Many times, parents dismiss kids feelings because they view them as immature or dramatic. When your child is upset, take a step back, don't judge, and view the situation through your child's eyes. This exercise makes it easier to be empathetic towards your child's feelings. Once you are feeling empathetic, you can validate their feelings which is key to raising resilient kids. Showing empathy will let your child know it is safe to tell you his or her sad feelings.
9. Parent the child you have, not the child you want
Did you hope to raise an athlete and you have a kid with a brilliant brain? Remove your ideas of what you thought your child would be like and really appreciate the one you have. This is especially important for parents of multiple children. Each child is different, with different qualities, flaws, and personalities and each should be parented in a way that suits their needs. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Once you start parenting the child you have, your job as parent will feel much easier.
10. Be the person you want your kid to be
Children learn directly from watching you. They model what you do and what you say. They treat people the way they see you treat people. Children are not born perfect. They also cannot be bribed, tricked, lectured, or coerced into being respectful, compassionate human beings. Your children will become what you show them so treat them kindly, trust them, respect them. Be the change you want your kids to be.