By Dyan Eybergen
As a parent educator I cannot tell you how many times I have heard “I tried that, but it didn’t work for me”. Early on in my career, I sat in judgment; thinking the parents’ were at fault for not being consistent enough or they didn’t administer the “parenting technique” properly. As I began to have my own children, I learned very quickly that not all experts parenting advice was a “good fit” for me or my children. How could they be? Although much of it is based on sound psychological theory and principles, there are too many variables when it comes to parenting. Parenting strategies cannot take into account specific family dynamics, unique parent and child personalities and temperaments. They cannot address fluctuations in mood or extraneous family stressors. In short, these parenting strategies in their concrete form fall short in addressing the individual needs of parents and their individual children.
When my boys were young all I had to do to get my eldest child to listen to me was to count to three. At parenting workshops I often tell a story of when I had friends over for dinner and while eating at the table my eldest son was doing something I wanted him to stop, so I began counting. Once I got to the number two he ceased doing whatever it was that was annoying me and reverted back to the pleasant boy I wanted my guests to see. One of my dinner guests asked the question:” What happens when you get to three?” I responded with: “I have absolutely no idea!” And I didn’t. I never had to get there. When I used the same strategy with my second born, he would verbally race me to the count of three and then stand there with his hands on his hips, daring me to react. A threat for time-out usually followed, but that did more harm than good. His need to be in close proximity to me was threatened by the prospect of being sent away to sit on the stair. He would launch into a tantrum which completely dismissed the original misbehaviour because now we had to deal with an emotional tirade that seemed to last forever.
The difference between my two boys is that my eldest has always been quite conscientious with regards to his own behaviour. He could recognize when he was not acting appropriately and a simple reminder would play on his own internal barometer for what was acceptable and what was not. He didn’t necessarily listen to me because I asked him to; he would stop misbehaving on his own accord because he intuitively knew it was the right thing to do. My second son is highly sensitive. Just the thought of me sending him “away” for a time-out would hurt his feelings to the core. His anger and hurt would cause him to challenge my love and attachment to him by daring me to do the very thing he feared most: “send him away”. The threat was more psychologically disturbing to him than the act of actually having to sit in time-out.
One parenting strategy executed in the same manner on two different children: Two very different outcomes. So what can we do when parenting advice fails us? Better yet, what can we do to take parenting expert advice and make it work for us and our individual children?
Here are some parenting tips on parenting tips:
- Test parenting tips against your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, or you could not picture yourself staying the course, then don’t use that particular strategy. Shop for parenting advice like you would clothes. It has to be a good fit. i.e. if you don’t think you could survive a teenager being grounded for two weeks moping about the house, then grounding is something that probably wouldn’t work for you. You may be tempted to give in and your child would get the message that you are a pushover.
- Know your children. Listen to them, observe their reactions. Learn about their personalities; what makes them afraid, what makes them feel safe, what works in helping them to change their behaviour, what causes more behavioral problems. Then respond to them according to what you know about them. The parenting strategy also has to fit with the child’s personality. My child who fears rejection took personal insult to time-outs. It did more harm than good. Time-outs were not a good fit for him.
- Find a philosophy that brings you and your parenting partner to the same page. When parents are at opposite ends of the discipline spectrum, children learn quickly that they can play one against the other. And not to mention, consistency goes right out the window.
- Don’t be afraid to modify parenting strategies to fit the needs of your individual children. My second son would take a time-out if I sat with him on the stair to help him through his tears. It was a deterrent enough to get him to stop misbehaving and have him think about what he could do differently next time. In this case, his attachment to me was not threatened. Voila, temper tantrum avoided.
- Ignore well meaning neighbors, friends and relatives. Other people do not live your situation or know your children the way you do. So the next time someone says “he’s not toilet trained yet!” or “you let him have a snack before dinner!” Just remember you are the parent and you are doing what is best for you and your child. Maybe your child isn’t ready to be toilet trained yet and forcing the issue would do more harm than good. Maybe your child doesn’t like cooked vegetables so offering him a brownie made with spinach before dinner ensures he is getting the nutrients he needs.
- Give yourself a time limit. The time it takes for a child to change his behaviour varies by individual response. If a text book strategy says “get your child to sleep through the night in three nights or less” be prepared that your child may take up to seven nights, or ten. Decide before implementing any strategy how long you are prepared to “wait” before you see desired results. Eight nights of allowing my child to cry himself to sleep was too heart wrenching for me. I caved, and then felt like a failure for not training my child to sleep independently.
Parenting strategies are great when they work, but when they don’t it’s us parents that feel like we did something wrong. After all, the experts couldn’t be wrong! Could they? Go confidently brave parents. Trust you know what is right for you and your children. Use what works for your family and file the rest under “G”. Mother (and father) really does know best!
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See Also Parenting Articles by Dr. Randy Cale at www.TerrificParenting.com