Too often interactions between parent and child resemble a tug of war of energy, will, and words. Too often we forget that we are adults and that we are raising a child and not a “mini-adult” who “should know better”.
For many of us sarcasm, blaming, lectures, warnings, even name-calling and threats (“If you do not brush your teeth daddy’s going to spank you”) are too often part of our parenting repertoire.
However, parenting at such a level is unhealthy in many ways. The parent exerts too much negative energy, affect and attention and ultimately feels like the bad parent who lost control. The child, in turn, feels angry, most often unheard and in the worst case scenario unloved. Such negative interactions hamper the child’s trust in her parent and can lead to her feeling unsafe to express her emotions. To consider the child’s perspective think about how the following phrases feel to you:
“Stop fidgeting. Sit down now and tie your shoes properly. I said STOP squirming around…. We’re late to pick up Aunty Jenny. If you do not sit quietly right this second you can forget about going to Tommy’s birthday party!”
If your boss or spouse talked to you in this manner would you be motivated to cooperate? How would such communication make you feel about yourself?
The truth is that you would feel offended and lousy. Understanding the child’s perspective by putting yourself into her shoes would, therefore, be a major advantage to your parenting. A child should learn that “bad choices” do lead to consequences but not severe punishment. Punishment has been researched for decades in fields of social sciences. Research has discovered that punishment may work in the short term but your child will resent you for it in the long-run.
Instead of getting your child to feel sorry for her bad choice of action, punishment invokes fear and feelings of retaliation. Therefore, in a warm and caring relationship, the punishment should not exist. An effective parent, parents at “child-level” and utilizes alternatives to punishment. Instead of shouting, threatening or punishing remain calm and follow this process:
- Point out a way to be helpful to your child: “It would be helpful if you could sit down and tie your shoe laces so that we can pick up Auntie Jenny from the airport.”
- Express your expectations if the child misbehaves: “Susy, I don’t want Jenny Hilda to have to wait at the airport for us all by herself. I expect you to put your shoes on within the next two minutes.”
- Give a choice: “Susy, no fidgeting please. Here are your choices. You can tie your shoelaces or you can stay home with your nanny while I go pick up Auntie Jenny.”
- Introduce the consequence if your child chose to continue misbehaving: “I see you decided to stay with your nanny while I go pick up Auntie Jenny.”
- Stick to the action without getting angry or feeling guilty about it. Your child had a choice and chose. This process leads to a consequence (not going with mom to the airport) and is not a punishment (i.e. no spanking, shouting, blaming i.e. “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you behave?”)
You will realize that remaining calm yet determined is the hardest part. Too often parents feel that their child is provoking them on purpose. But again, they are children. It is a sign that they feel safe with you to test limits. Parenting is like learning to ride a bike. The more you practice the more successful you will be at riding the “parenting bike”.
Dr Vanessa von Auer is the Clinic Director/Psychologist of Von Auer Psychology Centre VAPC. She has spent her career helping parents learn effective parenting strategies, has helped children process their emotional difficulties in healthy ways and has helped families grower closer in their dynamics with one another. For more information, visit www.vapc.sg
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