Strategies of Parenting
When providing therapy it is common to see patterns, especially within families. More and more, I am seeing two types of kids in my practice. There are kids who make mistakes, experience natural and logical consequences of their actions, and make better choices. Those kids are easy to deal with from a parenting standpoint, because they seem to learn from their mistakes.
Most parenting programs advocate that parents need to create consequences that fit the misbehavior. For example, a child who is late for a basketball game loses car privileges for the weekend. Tommy doesn’t brush his teeth. The parent withdraws snacks for the day and explains that sugar causes decay and if Tommy is unwilling to brush the decay out of his teeth they will not allow him extra sugar. Sandy doesn’t do her homework and loses chat time from the computer, because homework comes before social time. You get the concept.
The second type of kid is the one who makes mistakes and doesn’t seem to be affected by their choices or the consequences imposed upon them. This poses a problem for parents. Understandably, parents want to impose consequences that will make a difference in their child’s life.
Parents with strong-willed children come in frustrated and discouraged because they cannot figure out what they can do to get their children to make better decisions. Their children consistently want to do things their way. If you look at the behaviors, it seems like everything revolves around them and they have no regard as to how their actions affect others. For this type of kid I recommend a parenting approach that teaches “the lessons of life”.
I tell parents that their job is to reinforce societal rules and if a child breaks a rule the parent needs to find a consequence that matches the “misbehavior”. That’s all they can do. Their job is to be consistent and set up guidelines. They can’t force a child to conform. The child has to figure that out for themselves.
The sad part is, the parents understandably want a formula for change. It’s scary to think that there isn’t a recourse to get a child to conform, but many kids have to do it their way despite the fact that it’s the wrong way. Luckily, these kids usually figure it out in their mid- to late 20s, after they have been totally independent and have experienced the “school of hard knocks”.
If you have one of these types of kids, and you are consistently using the strategy that when A happens (misbehavior), then B occurs (the consequence), know that you are doing absolutely everything you can to help that child make better decisions. You are laying the groundwork and building the foundation for that child to eventually figure it out.
Kids need their parents to validate and encourage them. They need their parents to love them unconditionally. Obviously, the crux of parenting is being there for your child. Emotionally, financially, and physically. When kids make mistakes repeatedly, it may require that you withdraw some of the emotional, financial, and physical support. You are teaching them the consequences of life and societal norms.
Here is the good news. Kids who are strong-willed usually figure it out as adults. So, continue to keep the faith, and most importantly, take care of yourself in the process. Why focus on yourself? Raising one of these types of children can take a toll on your mental health. You are not a failure if your child has to learn from the “school of hard knocks”. Be consistent. Stay emotionally detached. Yet, love them unconditionally. They will appreciate it…at age 29.