Situational Parenting 101

300-parentingKids’ Corner | By Patrick Biron –

Okay, let’s all be honest for a bit. Parenting is really, really hard. I know in this day and age of social media, we all post images of our perfectly behaved children in matching clothes, wearing both shoes at the same time, smiling and enjoying that they are being photographed. But, Christmas card worthy photos don’t show the true, raw, daily experience of parenting.

Much of the stress that comes with parenting stems from a breakdown in empathy or communication between the parent and child. That sounds simple, because it is. The solutions are a bit harder, but let’s understand how those breakdowns can be categorized.

The Child’s Own Problems

These situations directly affect the child but not the parent, and the stress originates when the child feels the parent doesn’t empathize or properly acknowledge the situation. In fact, this is the stereotypical teenager problem: “You just don’t understand, Mom!” It might be based in how the child looks, their relationships with friends or the fact that they texted that one kid four minutes ago and they haven’t texted back yet, so they are worried that person hates them.

To solve this, parents should first realize that the problem is the child’s, not theirs. And because of that, the solution has to be the child’s as well. This is difficult for a parent, since parents have an innate desire to swoop in and save their babies from any paper cut, tear or difficulty. But, a parent can’t text that other kid for their child. The parent’s role here is to listen – not dismiss – the emotions that the child is feeling. Truly empathize and empower the child to both resolve and overcome the situation. Be supportive and encouraging. Think of it like learning to ride a bike. Eventually, the parent has to let go – and let him fall – if the parent wants their child to find his own balance in life.

The Child’s Bothersome Behaviors

200-parentingHere, the parent feels that the child doesn’t understand or properly follow “common sense” or the parent’s expectations. Examples include leaving dirty laundry on the floor or making the bathroom look like it flooded during a bath. The key to realize here is that the child doesn’t empathize with the parent, and in fact, the child usually doesn’t even notice the problem behavior or consider how it might be affecting the parent.

The parent’s goal is to change the problem behavior, and the strategy is to speak with the child about expectations and how the situation makes them feel. Set the child up for success by lessening the likelihood he will do the behavior again, and set logical consequences should the situation arise again. In the example of the laundry, the parent should talk to their child about how a stinky room makes them feel, help by making the laundry basket easy to get to, and perhaps don’t wash the child’s favorite shirt if it isn’t placed in the basket.

A Combination of Both

I call this one the “shopping cart meltdown.” Here, the child feels that the parent doesn’t understand situation, and in response, they exhibit a bothersome behavior in an effort to change that. This is the hardest one to deal with personally. I would pay extra just to checkout at the grocery store in a lane with no candy. But I digress.

The best techniques to handle this situation are to start by acknowledging the child’s emotions and desires. “Yes, I think candy tastes good too. That’s why you want it, because it’s yummy, right?” Second, explain why we can’t give into those desires, even if they are justified. “Well, look at all of this amazing food Mommy is buying for us to have at home. Even the yogurt you picked out too! That candy is yummy, but the yogurt is yummy and will make you have strong bones. Where do you want to sit at home when you eat your yummy yogurt?”

Finally, seeing how the child still will probably throw a fit about not getting the candy, parents can address the bothersome behavior by explaining how the shouting makes them feel and how it might make others around feel too. Tell the child the right way to ask for candy and what goals or expectations he needs to meet in order to buy and ultimately enjoy it. Or, find a check out lane without any candy.