The art of parenting



Parenting is an art.  There are no manuals that give us all the answers.  Sometimes we learn through trial and error.  The key for parents is to discontinue doing the same things repeatedly that don't work.  Try a different approach.  Remember that mistakes are a necessary function of change.  The goal of parenting is to help your child develop a sense of autonomy.  Teaching him to be self-directed and responsible means that one must learn to stop under-functioning or over-functioning as a parent.  Under-functioning or being an "absent parent" leaves a child feeling vulnerable and without support.  The lack of encouragement, nurturing, and affirmation can have a detrimental impact on a child's current behavior.

Often, parents may over-function in the process of parenting.  They will get overly involved in every aspect of their child's life.  They unknowingly may vicariously live their lives through their children.  I always tell my parents, "Never do for a child what he can do for himself."  Children learn to manipulate over-functioning parents to get what they want.  Since over-functioning parents fear the disapproval of their children, they cater and acquiesce to their wants and needs even if they are unreasonable requests.  Fritz Perls, Gestalt therapist used to remark, "Kids need to be appropriately frustrated."  What he meant was that over-parenting creates an environment whereby children do not learn the skills necessary for self-regulation.  Sometimes we need to let our kids figure things out without interference.

Parents often tend to parent the way they were disciplined.  This may involve some archaic notions about childcare that no longer work in today's world.  For parents, this may mean giving up the image of parenting that was established during their childhood.  Sometimes a parent will swallow the image of parenting that was handed down to them, even if that perception was intolerable.  Sometimes caretaking for our kids involves doing the opposite of what was done to us.  As parents we need to get in touch with the child within us.  We need to remember what it was like to play and have fun.  If our childhood wasn't fun, then we need to grieve it and vow to make things different for our own children.  If our "inner parent" is critical, we will most likely have unrealistic expectations for our children.   The inner critic is full or moral injunctions and is the judge and jury of our behavior.  Parents need to get in touch with the critic, understand its contents and then detach from the oughts, musts and shoulds.  Parents will want to rationally respond to the inner critic with more reasonable ways of viewing specific issues.  This process will assist in clearing up the "muddy water" when it comes to coaching and advising our children.

In parenting, using positive reinforcement when your child gets things right, or using encouragement helps promote involvement.  Maintaining consistent consequences, both positive and negative, are more effective than trying to coerce your child to do something for you.  Asking kids to make value judgments about choices they make is more effective than moralizing or pontificating about the right way to do things.  If a child brings home a poor grade from school, resist the urge to lecture on the value of education.  Ask your child, "Is what you're doing in this class good enough for you?  How do you feel about this evaluation from the teacher?"  Do not accept excuses, such as I hate this teacher, or I forgot to do some assignments.  State your disappointment in what has happened and ask your child what he plans on doing to improve the matter.  Box her in by making her accountable for coming up with a reasonable plan for improvement.  Get it in writing if you wish, or with a handshake, but get a commitment for improved behavior.  Never let your child off the hook.  Make your child explain how he will change things for the better.  Be calm, somewhat emotionally detached and persistent. Remember, parenting is an art.
 
James P. Krehbiel, Ed.S., LPC, CCBT is an author, freelance writer, and cognitive-behavioral therapist practicing in Scottsdale, Arizona.  He recently released, Stepping Out of the Bubble:  Reflections on the Pilgrimage of Counseling Therapy which is available at http://www.booklocker.com/books/2242.html
James can be reached through his website at http://www.krehbielcounseling.com


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