Effective Parenting Even When You Want to ExplodeParents
Effective Parenting — Even When You Want to Explode!
Our goal in parenting is to raise children prepared to thrive far into the future. If only the route they chose was uniformly smooth and our role was just to be the wind behind their sails. But the course, in the best of cases, is bumpy. Therefore, our challenge is to help them learn from their mistakes, move forward, and somehow be better off precisely because of the wisdom gained from their experiences. As a parent, there are a few things you can do as part of effective parenting — and others you shouldn’t — to assure that your child learns from his or her mistakes.
Five Things to Do to Drive Home Life’s Lessons!
- Be grateful you know. Seriously. I know life would be much easier sometimes if we just could keep blinders on. But the fact that you know means you are in a position to be protective. And, especially if your child told you something, no matter how upsetting, it means you have that vital protective connection.
- Stay calm yourself. Your fear, frustration, and anger will transfer immediately to him. Even if he is not in panic mode, he can easily be pushed into it by absorbing your feelings. Don’t get us wrong, we are not suggesting that you are not allowed to feel angry or frightened out-of-your-mind. Those feelings are justifiable. We are just saying to take a time-out until you can discipline properly. (Remember “discipline” means to teach, not to punish.) You discipline best when you are in teacher-mode rather than attack or I-told-you-so mode.
- Be a sounding board. Trust in her ability to think through the problem and be there as she processes what happened. Feel free to prompt her with, “What might you do differently next time?” or “If a friend or your little sister was in a similar circumstance, what advice would you give?” Listen and notice her increased wisdom.
- Express your trust in his ability to problem-solve. Base this on an existing strength or positive past experience. Rather than saying, “You always do this. I shouldn’t be surprised you got into this mess,” try something along the lines of “Well this certainly is a mess, but in the past, you were able to do (fill in the blank). That is a real strength of yours. How do you think that strength/skill might help you now?”
- Be unconditionally loving. Remember that unconditional love does not mean unconditional acceptance. You should not accept behaviors that compromise safety or morality. (For example: using illegal drugs, vaping, drinking while under the influence of alcohol.) But your presence is unquestionable and there is always the possibility to be forgiven and to get a do-over. A consequence is an act of love designed to help him own or solidify a lesson. Loving parents give consequences because they care, not to punish or get even. Another reason to remain clearly loving is to be certain your teen never feels as though she has done irreparable harm to your relationship. If she does, she will feel she has nothing to lose in continuing the undesirable behavior. Maybe even worse is that next time she might hide the behavior from you rather than letting you help her get through it.
Five Things NOT to Do to Drive Home Life’s Lessons
In the most challenging parenting moments, every instinct in your body drives you towards actions you may regret later. We need to rise above our baser human instincts to be strategic in our parenting. Here are five things to avoid whenever possible.
- Don’t try to talk through a problem while he is still in a panic. It is critical that he is able to think if he is solidifying a lesson. That means he can’t be in “running from danger” mode. It is not possible for his brain to absorb a lesson in active panic mode. Remind him how happy you are he is safe. Hug him if it feels like it will help and tell him you’ll talk later.
- Don’t lecture. Your goal is to have her own her solutions and incorporate them into a growing repertoire of decision-making wisdom. Lectures backfire because they simply aren’t understood by young people, especially when they are upset.
- Don’t use guilt — even when he deserves to feel guilty. There is a good chance he already feels bad. He should absolutely know how concerned you are. He should know what the right way to handle the issue should be in the future. He should be reminded of the open and respectful communication you deserve. But if you make it about you, instead of the lesson he needs to learn, he may feel so bad he’ll miss the point. What’s more, guilt could push him above the emotional threshold he can handle. That could cause him to reject you rather than attempt to feel what he’s not capable of processing.
- Resist the urge to point out a pattern. As much as it may be obvious to you that she should have learned this lesson previously, adolescents don’t respond well when they feel like you are “piling on” with past memories. It could trigger her saying something like,“You’re always bringing that up. You just want to make me feel worse.” On the other hand, you can calmly point out that she has had a similar experience in the past and invite her to draw from past experiences.
- Never say, “I told you so!” Enough said.
Commitment and Safety
Ten tips are always nice to get. But expert advice can feel very unrealistic when the challenges are overwhelming. So, consider two critical points.
- The best of parents become overwhelmed at times. It is not a sign of failure to seek professional help. In sharp contrast, it is a sign of strength and committed parenting.
- When something is an immediate or serious safety issue it is your responsibility to launch into a full protective mode. The lesson can be learned later. The “teaching” can wait. Just as you grabbed your child’s hand before she put it on the stove, rather than launching into a calm discussion on burns, you do not allow your teen to risk her life in a car or take other hazardous risks.
A Heart on the Outside of Your Body
Having a child really is like having your heart on the outside of your body. You must protect your heart. Sometimes that requires drastic action. Sometimes it requires a team approach that involves building your child’s own wisdom. That wisdom is sometimes earned best through lessons learned from circumstances we wish our children never experienced.
Remember, preparation is protection for the future. Earned wisdom is longstanding protection.