As parents, we all make mistakes. On the Parental Support Line, I often encourage parents to give themselves a break—after all, it’s impossible for any of us to be perfect. Our kids test us at every age and stage; it’s part of their job as children to push boundaries with us and see where the line is drawn. As they get older, it can often feel like we are running through a parenting obstacle course: just when we’ve figured out one stage—and its many challenges—our kids move on to the next one. So you might feel pretty confident in your role as a parent when your child is nine, but then everything changes again when he moves on to the tween years and starts acting out in new, unimagined ways.
While mistakes happen, I think it’s always a good idea to be aware of what you’re doing so you can adjust your reaction to your child’s behavior; this helps you become a more effective parent. Over the years, I’ve helped parents get through all kinds of “obstacles” with their kids, no matter what the stage. Here are the 5 top mistakes that we hear about on the Support Line:
1. Personalizing your child’s behavior.
It’s hard not to take it personally when your child misbehaves or says something hurtful to you. I think it’s important to accept that you will get upset from time to time and your feelings will be hurt. You might be shocked and angry when your child misbehaves, and that’s natural—you’re human. But try to recognize when you’re too upset. Remind yourself that when you feel this way, you’ve got to give yourself some time before you interact with your child about it; try to calm down before you come up with your discipline strategy.
How will you know you’re personalizing things? You’ll feel really upset. You’ll say or think things like, “How could he do this to me? How dare you speak to me that way! You’ll do what I tell you to when I tell you to do it.” What you want to do instead is recognize that you’re taking things too personally and then try to detach from the situation. Calm down and leave the room if you need to. On the Support Line, I often start by asking parents “What behaviors are you concerned about?” The parent might respond, “My child is disrespectful.” But in order for parents to begin to tackle problem behaviors, we need to talk in terms of “doing” and not “feeling.” I’ll then ask, “What was going on when your child wasn’t respecting you?” The answer might be, “Well, he wouldn’t do his homework,” or “She won’t clean her room.” I actually like to hear that, because I know that now we have something to work with—a behavior that we can tackle, instead of an emotion. As James Lehman says, “Focus on the behavior, not the feelings.” You can fight with your child until you’re blue in the face about disrespect or motivation, but the way to really effect change is by focusing on their behavior.