How many times have I heard “So, do you have a manual for my kid?” We learn early on in parenting that there is no such thing. For first time parents, it is hard to know what’s common for a certain age, or what a typical reaction is when going through a stressful experience. When kids come to therapy, working with the parents can be as important as working with the child. Once parents have a grasp of developmental standards or typical reactions, they can support the child by finding new methods to manage emotions and behaviors.
One book that I find valuable in learning these new methods is, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. I like the examples, along with cartoon strips and summaries, since—let’s face it—overwhelmed parents often don’t have much time to read. Parenting advice can sometimes seem like common sense, but it never hurts for us to hear it again (or for the first time). Common themes in this and other parenting books include the following:
- The 3-Ps: Praise, paraphrase what they’re saying, and point out good behavior. Children often don’t feel understood, so it may seem silly or obvious, but active listening works.
- Free the child from playing a negative role. Have the child see him- or herself in a positive light by introducing new abilities, singing his/her praise to others, and reminding him/her of past accomplishments.
- Build autonomy through choices. As parents, we often want to control everything, which is often why we so easily notice resistance. Children need a sense of control early on. Make it simple, like choosing between two items. Encouraging independence in decision-making, such as how to do a project, answering questions, and problem-solving are great ways build autonomy.
- Help the child deal with emotions. We often don’t think a meltdown or outburst is an appropriate reaction, but adults also get angry and don’t deal with things as well as we could. This is a great skill to learn early on, and then use throughout life. Start by just listening. Just being heard has a strong impact, and frequently improves that way a person feels about a situation. Acknowledge feelings with words or give these feelings a name. You can also help them verbalize what they wish for, that would make things better.
- Pause before going directly to punishment. Express your feelings in a strong manner, but don’t attack the child. State what the rules and expectations are. Show the child how to make amends, to problem solve, and decide what needs to happen in similar future situations. I’m not naive enough to say that kids don’t need punishment, but the techniques listed above will help to keep things from getting to that meltdown place.
- Use behavior/chore charts. Though they take work for the parents to monitor and follow through on, there is a payoff. Focus more on positive reinforcement than what the child has done wrong. Losing privileges can work too, but not as much with younger kids or kids that seem to have everything (and wouldn’t miss what they lost).
Being a parent is the hardest and most rewarding job you will ever have, so be patient with your children and with yourself; and, if all else fails, start writing your own manual.
© Copyright 2011 by Melissa Wright. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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