Seven year-old Mark’s mother Lisa sought me out after a talk I had given on “Teaching Children Self Control”. She wanted nothing more than for Mark to have self-control… exhausted from dealing with all the ways in which the youngster could get himself in trouble at home, school and on the playground, she had run out of consequences and punishments to give him. Nothing worked. She asked the question many parents ask, “ Do I have to follow him around everywhere to keep him out of trouble? Why can’t he just follow the rules?”
The first thing Lisa (and every harried parent) must do is breathe… deeply. As parents we are familiar with the thoughts that are triggered every time we get one of those calls from a teacher, a coach, a neighbor….it’s my fault, I’m a terrible mother (father), Its my responsibility to fix this, they don’t understand my child, I’ve got to protect him from their insensitivity…and on and on!
Taking a deep breath will give you a moment to step back from the chatter in your head. You will notice that much of what has been distressing you is about you… the responsibility, the embarrassment, the self-criticism, and yes the love for your child and your desire to smooth his path everywhere he goes. When we react to our children from this emotional place, our words and actions can be quite counter productive. Instead of solving a problem behavior, we can create shame and confusion that compound the problem and harm the developing self-image. Now the problem becomes the way you relate to each other.
Now you can take a more proportionate view of the matter as it concerns your child, and a few things are likely to fall into focus:
As your child’s most important coach, its not for you to do her project, hit his home run, make her bed or pick the clothes off his floor. Lisa can’t follow Mark around and make sure he never misbehaves. What she, and you, can do is to start with that deep breath.
Then take a step back, as though you are stepping away from all that head chatter, and ask yourself what is getting in your child’s way, and what would be realistic for a child of that age and temperament.
Please keep visiting this blog. My intention in writing it is to offer you the resources to be the best coach for your children. You know them better than anyone and I bring my training and experience - professional and personal. It takes collaboration between parents and “experts” – between knowing the particulars of one child and the universal patterns of development and family living – to give each child the best chance to become a secure, balanced, productive and responsible member of society.
Dr. Sunaina Rao Jain
Child & Adolescent Clinical Psychologist
Pathways Transition Programs