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Raising a human being can be a daunting task. Though babies may look uncomplicated, infants require a significant level of attention and care in order to grow up into a healthy person. On top of the day-to-day needs that young infants and children have, each child has their own unique personality--these personalities are in part encoded within their genes, and in part shaped by their caregivers and living environment. It is the parent’s task to work with each child--and the unique personality of that child--to develop appropriate behaviors and social skills, learn life skills, and create healthy relationships. Though parenting can be difficult at times, many parents report that raising their child(ren) was the most rewarding aspect of their adult life.
Today’s parents know that what they do and what they say during the two decades of raising a child really matters. Although they cannot control all the factors involved in human development--birth order, peer pressures, traumatic events, school experiences, and all the rest--parents know that they will likely have more impact on their child than any other person in that child's life. Most often, parents want that impact to be positive.
However, parents have limitations. They do not have all the answers. Sometimes their own childhood experiences have left them with deficient models of parenting (i.e. growing up in a volatile home, living through a difficult divorce, having ill or unavailable parents, living with addiction, and so on and so forth). Sometimes their own physical or emotional health challenges can make parenting more difficult. Sometimes parents are simply facing issues with their child that they do not know how to handle--a child who refuses to be toilet trained, a kid who gets bullied at school, a son or daughter who wants to drop out of college before graduating--there are many different types of questions and concerns parents will have to face. In many cases parents need someone to turn to for guidance and support.
Psychotherapy and counseling can help parents in many different ways. For instance, some parents are stressed by a particular parenting challenge, whether it is a one-time event or an on-going situation. Indeed, so many issues arise in parenting that most parents do struggle at one time or another. Most psychotherapeutic models and treatments can provide some level of stress relief. However, some parents need more than the opportunity to get something off their chest--they actually need information, guidance, and/or proven parenting strategies. In this case, professionals who specialize in parenting and/or developmental psychology may be able to provide the best help. These professionals will take into account the parent’s current parenting style and emotional state in order to develop the most appropriate interventions. Often parents will receive specific instructions that they will be able to carry out with their family at home. Progress is monitored in counseling sessions until the parent's specific goals have been met.
Some parents have mental or emotional issues of their own that make parenting particularly challenging. For example, those who are depressed or highly anxious may find the normal stresses of parenting to be more than they can handle. Individual therapy that reduces or eliminates their mood condition or anxiety can help them reduce stress and become more efffective parents. Similarly, parents with anger management issues may find that therapy can help them find healthier ways of communicating with their family.
Parenting issues can trigger deep levels of stress. The stress may manifest in different ways, such as chronic worry, depression, chronic irritability, or explosive anger. Sometimes parenting engenders posttraumatic stress (such as when a mother has had a traumatic birthing experience or a parent has had to deal with the loss of a child). Although psychotherapy and counseling can be helpful for all of these conditions, sometimes supplemented by alternative treatments such as Bach Flower Therapy, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and so on, the medical model also offers diagnosis and treatment that can also help some individuals.
Temporary help from psychotropic medication while a person undergoes psychotherapy can help the person continue to function well at home and work. However, unless the person also participates in psychotherapy, chances are that they will have to stay on medicine indefinitely. Medicine can hold symptoms at bay but it does not treat the underlying causes of stress. By treating those underlying causes and teaching people how to prevent the reoccurrence of overwhelming stress, psychotherapy can reduce or eliminate the need for psychotropic medication.
Sandy, 30, first made an appointment to see a therapist because she was at her wit’s end with her 4 year old son Jay. Jay was, according to Sandy, “a real trouble maker.” No matter how much she punished him, his behavior never improved. He did not listen, he was disrespectful, and he was aggressive toward his younger sister. Sandy just did not know what to do and needed some parenting options. Her old techniques were not working. It was obvious that she was in a negative cycle with Jay--a cycle that needed to be broken. Her therapist advised her to refrain from all discipline for a full week. The therapist explained to her that in the second week, she could start using a parenting strategy called “The 80-20 Rule”--a ratio describing the amount of positive communication compared to not-good-feeling communication that a parent needs to have with a child. Positive communication includes joking, giving treats, showing affection, offering positive feedback, and many more “good feeling” communications; while not-good-feeling communication includes, among other things, all criticisms, corrections, signs of anger, threats of discipline, discipline, and all instructions. The therapist explained that when parents apply The 80-20 Rule, behavioral problems almost always diminish. The therapist taught Sandy how to use positive forms of guidance to replace the need for most discipline and also showed her how to use a special form of discipline (for those few remaining times that discipline might be necessary) that removes all parental anger and does not harm the child in any way. The therapist also gave her other techniques for reducing her irritation and increasing her patience. After four sessions, Sandy was thrilled with her “new child.” She went back to her therapist a month later to review her strategies and to ask some questions about her younger daughter. As the children grew, Sandy would consult with her therapist sporadically to help her find strategies for dealing with parenting challenges along the way.
~ Page content provided by Sarah Chana Radcliffe
Parents can benefit greatly from reading experiences, challenges, and wisdom shared by other parents. Do you have a parenting-related story that you would like to share with GoodTherapy.org's Share Your Story? Original stories that are selected for publication will be featured on The Good Therapy Blog.
Last updated: 03-27-2014