Dear Parents and Caregivers,
Happy New Year!
As 2021 rolled in I realized that I’ve written over 30 pieces for Jackson Hole News & Guide’s “Parent Talk” column. When I started writing I originally intended to write in a linear fashion where topics about child behavior and raising kids built upon one another. However, as I began to write, ideas came in that didn’t necessarily flow linearly. My work with parents would bring up new ideas to write about, and it seemed vitally important to begin discussions on current events such as the college admissions scandal (see my five part series on that subject found here and here), a deadly pandemic (see my columns on parenting during the coronavirus the impacts of school closures, living in lockdown and a parents role in hybrid learning), or racial injustice and the Black Lives Matter protests (see columns on having open family conversations about antiracism and specifics on how to talk to your children about race).
These topics continue to be important, and I’m sure these and new events will compel me to write. Yet now as the new year begins I’m also feeling drawn toward examining important ideas about the development of adolescent and child behavior and the parent-child relationship in a more linear progression.
I believe so strongly in our role as parents in helping our children grow into healthy adults in a way that gives them the tools to not only weather and rise up from society's challenges but to also take action, create change and make the world a better place. In order to do this it helps to start with a foundation.
Read this week’s column in Jackson Hole News & Guide where I ask you to start with a vision of what you want for your family and give you specific exercises to think about. I go on to explain where I intend to head with future columns. Notably I’ll be offering a monthly virtual discussion group that parallels each column. You can find details and register on my website here. The first discussion will be held on January 27.
Be well, go hug your kids, and take good care of yourselves and others.
With love and faith in you,
Parent with Intention in the New Year
JACKSON HOLE NEWS AND GUIDE:
To many, a new year signifies a new beginning – a fresh start. We do this for our work and personal lives when we create resolutions. Why not consider this for our families and how we raise our children?
Parenting with a vision in mind can be hard and in the long run has great benefits.
We all see behaviors in our children that can raise our tempers – whining, disrespect, extended screen use, defiance, not following directions, and so on. It can be helpful to ask ourselves whether or not our strategies for working with these behaviors are effective. In other words, do we see the behavior diminishing? If the answer is no, it is often a sign that what we are doing isn’t working. (As I say this, I want to acknowledge that there are times that parents feel like they are barely surviving and behaviors may develop from factors that we have little control over such as social isolation, homeschooling during a pandemic and stressful times like we are currently experiencing).
In this new year I invite you to try the following exercise as a means of being intentional in getting more of what you want in your family life.
First start with who you want your children to be. For example you might hope your child develops into a kind, responsible person who has strong self-esteem and knows how to take care of themselves. Keeping in mind that we can’t force our children into anything – we can only guide and influence – make a list of the qualities you would like to see in your children that match your values.
Second, given that discipline actually means to teach, ask yourself what it is you want to be teaching your children. Often the qualities you hope your children develop and what you hope you are teaching are very similar. For example, you might want your child to learn to make good decisions, to not interrupt when you are doing something important, to think about the consequences of their actions, to pick up after themselves, to manage their own bedtime and morning routines, or whatever small thing it is in the moment of a particular interaction. Make this list too.
Now put yourself in your children’s shoes – do you think they are learning what you want to be teaching? Are your responses truly teaching your children what you want them to learn? Make a third list of how you tend to respond to your children during times of “misbehavior”, when your blood is about to boil, or when your kids aren’t doing what you want.
Looking at this list, you might find that you have positive strategies of connecting, empathizing, working through problems or ignoring the pesky behaviors. If you are like most of us, myself included, you might also have strategies that aren't as constructive. Some of our go to strategies are often used because we don't know what else to do, because we are tired or rushed or frustrated, or because we just want the behavior to stop. This is all very normal – especially during challenging times such as these.
When your reserves feel strong and you feel up to the task, ask yourself if strategies such as bribing, threatening, yelling, punishing, nagging, reminding or criticizing actually get you to where you want to be. Are these strategies teaching what you want to be teaching or developing the qualities in your children you hope for? And importantly, do they work for the long term? Are you seeing a change in behavior – or does the behavior only temporarily stop and then come back again in a day or two?
For example, can we teach a child not to hit if we hit them? Are we teaching a child how to manage their anger if we yell? If our child whines or interrupts and we give them attention by telling them to stop whining or interrupting, are we teaching them to stop those behaviors?
Lastly, using author Vicki Hoefle’s exercise, think about who you want to be as a parent and how you want your children to describe you when they are 30 years old? Would your current interactions with your kids during times of challenge get them to your ideals? You can think about this in terms of how you were raised and how you would describe your parents to a close friend. While parents describe their own parents to me with love, affection and appreciation, they also talk about their parents as being critical, perfectionistic, not present, needing control, worrying too much or disregarding their opinions, for example.
I encourage you to sit down and really write out these lists. The idea is to consider whether what you are doing is getting you and your family to where you want to be. Is it getting you to more of what you want – the strong relationship, the ease of getting along and the ability to compromise, see the other side and cooperatively problem solve – in other words more harmony?
Over my next several columns, which come in six-week intervals, I’ll be talking about changing things up so you can get more of what you want. The first step is to start defining what you want – so get out paper or poster board and start your visioning process!
I’ll start from ground zero – the hows and whys of child behavior: where does a child’s behavior come from, how does it develop, and what do children and teens need in order to develop into thriving adults. And then we’ll go on to discuss what this looks like in daily interactions using real life examples (so send me your questions and scenarios). I’ll give you ideas and exercises along the way. What I plan on discussing is applicable for parents of all age children – toddler through teen.
To this end, I invite you to join me in a monthly Zoom discussion group. Topics will parallel those of my column and you’ll be able to get insights into how these ideas apply to your personal family dynamics (find details at www.GrowingGreatFamilies.org).
Thanks to Amy Lew, Ph.D., and the books she co-authored from Connections Press for inspiration for this column. Rachel offers individual and group parent coaching sessions at rates that work for individual family budgets. You can find her at www.GrowingGreatFamilies.org.
Rachel Wigglesworth has an M.Ed. in Parent and Family Education and is excited to explore the world of raising children with you!