There is probably no more exhausting, exciting, frustrating, or gratifying job than that of being a parent. One-minute things are going well and the next you are pulling your hair out wondering if you are going to survive. No matter what your socio-economic status or your education, parenting is an adventure second to none.
One well-educated mother recalled phoning a friend when it seemed that world war three was breaking out in her home between the adults and their child. The mother confided that she felt like a failure as a parent. Her friend reminded her that every parent encounters challenging times. If what you are doing isn’t working, then you have to try something else.
"That is a good thing for parents to remember," said Brenda Niel, local child and adolescent therapist. "Children are going to act out. You have to keep trying things until you find something that works with your child. The key is never to give up. And believe me, there will be times when it is tempting, but you have to hang in there."
In order for children to feel safe and secure they need to know that their parents are in charge.
"Some parents who grew up in an authoritarian environment might lean toward being less restrictive with their children giving them more freedom than they know how to handle, which can lead to disappointment for both parents and child, " said Ms. Niel. "It is critical for parents to understand that children need their parents to be authoritative, which means they are in control, setting limits and putting appropriate boundaries in place. Children who grow up in authoritative homes are constantly making decisions, which teach them how to be responsible for themselves. Children need to know that within the boundaries they can move freely, but outside the boundaries it can be dangerous."
Parenting is a 24/7 job requiring the tenacity of a lion and the gentleness of a lamb. While the job may be exhausting, there is no excuse for not stepping up to the plate when it comes to taking responsibility for your children.
“When children act out there is usually a reason,” said Ms. Niel. “Instead of getting frustrated, parents need to become super sleuths. Ask yourself these questions: What is happening that makes them feel like they need to do this? What is it that the child is lacking? It is almost like they have a hole in their bucket and you have to figure out how to plug the hole by giving them what they need. Watching what they do throughout the day will help you get in touch with who they are and what they need most from you.”
There is no “one size fits all” answer when it comes to parenting. However, according to Ms. Niel there are some basic things that parents can do to help their children behave.
Set limits and stick to them. A young lady said to her mother, “You would kill me if I got pregnant wouldn’t you?” The mother thought for a moment knowing that she would never hurt her child and then turned to her and said, “Yes, I would kill you.” Every so often during her high school years the daughter would pose this question to her mom to which she would receive the same response. Knowing the limits and her mom’s expectations of her helped keep her on track through high school and on into college.
Eat dinner together as a family.
“Even if I had to pick up dinner on the way home, we all sat down and ate dinner together,” said Ms. Niel. “I learned everything I needed to know by sitting there listening to the conversation and learning how not to make a ‘conversation stopping face.’ I wanted the conversation to flow.”
Be clear about your expectations and reiterate them frequently. Children need to understand what your expectations are of them.
“Being a parent is a wonderful, amazing role,” said Ms. Niel. “Be prepared to struggle some, but be encouraged because as long as you stay engaged most acting out behavior will stop over a period of time. Eat your Wheaties, put a banana on it and keep putting one foot in front of the other and enjoy the journey.”
Biography: Julie Baumgardner is the Executive Director of First Things First, an organization dedicated to strengthening marriages and families through education, collaboration and mobilization. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.