Parenting educator Bonnie Harris says she used to struggle with her now-grown daughter every morning and night. Sound familiar?
“She was out to get me – being her grumpy, ornery self on purpose, as far as I was concerned,” recalls Harris, author of “Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids” (Adams Media, 2008) and “When Your Kids Push Your Buttons – and What You Can Do About It” (Grand Central, 2004).
Eventually, Harris saw in her child’s behavior some clues as to what was really going on. The key: Her daughter’s temperament made it tough for her to make transitions between activities.
When she considered that her child HAD a problem and wasn’t setting out to BE a problem, everything changed, Harris says. She dealt with her daughter with compassion instead of anger and helped the child adjust. She encourages today’s young parents to take a similar approach without resorting to bribes, rewards and punishments to control behavior.
The philosophy, what Harris calls “connective parenting,” is presented in her books, workshops and in newsletters available at bonnieharris.com.
Trying to stop a child’s behavior with a power struggle asks the child to be the grown-up first, she says. But there is no power struggle if you refuse to engage. Her tips include:
• Detach: This is your child’s problem, not yours.
• Observe and listen: Allow the child’s feelings to come out until they dissipate.
• Acknowledge feelings: “You really don’t want to go to school today. I bet you wish you could stay home and play with me.”
• Offer a choice: “Do you want to put your clothes on or would you like me to today?”
What to avoid:
• Don’t try to reason with an upset child.
• Don’t punish, threaten or coerce.
• Don’t give in or try to fix it. It’s easy to feel responsible for your child’s feelings, but you don’t have that power.
• Don’t take your kid’s feelings or behavior personally. It’s not about you.
• Don’t jump to conclusions.
Another problem Harris helps moms and dads tackle is “helicopter parenting.” Hovering parents take too much responsibility for their children and fix their problems to protect them from disappointment. When a parent hovers, the child learns to depend on the parent to step in and can’t learn responsibility and problem-solving.
If you’re not sure whether you’re a helicopter parent, Harris suggests asking yourself:
• Do I care more about what other people think of me than what my child needs?
• Do I stay on his back because I’m afraid he will fail if I let up?
• Do I worry that she will fall apart if I am not with her?
• If he gets a D in math, do I give myself a D in parenting?
A “yes” to any of these indicates hovering. Harris’ tips for fending off “helicoptering” are similar to her suggestions for avoiding power struggles:
• Understand that you aren’t responsible for your child’s feelings and behavior, but you are 100 percent responsible for everything you say and do.
• Never argue about your child in front of your child.
• Own your emotions and behavior.
• Let your children make small decisions for themselves starting young, such as what to wear.
Overall, be intentional about your parenting, Harris says. Plan, anticipate, give warnings, set predictable expectations and be clear with limits.
“Take risks,” Harris suggests. “It feels like a risk to step back and let your child figure something out himself. The fear is he might fail, but tell yourself he will learn from it.”
Betsy Flagler is a mother and preschool teacher. Email her at email@example.com.
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