Every child is different; therefore, parenting is going to look different for each child. Mindpath Health’s Julie Killion, LCMHC, explains how to give appropriate consequences and follow through without punishing yourself.
As a therapist, no matter what the presenting problem seems to be for a patient who’s a parent, it is inevitable that parenting difficulties eventually come up in session.
Parenting is hard. It feels hard because it is hard. Raising a well-adjusted human being is a lot of pressure, and there are so many opinions, strategies, and programs out there. It is overwhelming. It is important to know that every child is different; therefore, parenting is going to look different for each child.
Having a consequence for unwanted behaviors is important, and equally important is the need for this consequence to be appropriate. It needs to be appropriate for both the child’s age and developmental stage, as well as appropriate for their behavior.
- Example: If a three-year-old is having difficulty sharing, an appropriate consequence might be immediately removing the toy. An inappropriate consequence is to say they now cannot go to the pool next week. Developmentally, a three-year-old cannot understand a consequence that is far into the future, and because that is a large consequence for a small-problem behavior.
Once you have verbalized a consequence to your child, it is crucial that you follow through with that consequence. Do what you say you are going to do. Children need this consistency and predictability. Doing this can also reduce “whining” and negotiating. This is the hard part for many parents, often because the consequence may not be appropriate.
It is important to note that parents should be careful not to accidentally punish themselves with a consequence for their children. This means being thoughtful and prepared with appropriate consequences so that it is easier to complete the follow-through.
- Example: You tell your child they must stay at the table until they eat their vegetables. Now, you are in a power struggle and stuck at the table until the end of time. An alternative would be to tell your child they must eat their vegetables or stay at the table until the bath time/bedtime routine starts at 7 pm. This is more specific, allows you to follow-through, and avoids having the parent accidentally punish themselves too.
Remember the purpose of parenting
It is important to remember that your child’s problem behaviors are not personal towards you. Does it feel personal though? Absolutely. Whether the child is three years old and testing boundaries or 17 years old and testing boundaries, children are learning and growing. We are here to guide them through that process.
The purpose of parenting is to help your child learn, not punishment or having a perfectly behaved child. Raising a well-adjusted human involves lots of learning and guiding. Keeping the mindset of recognizing that your child is working hard to navigate life successfully can be helpful.
Our children need us to correct problem behaviors and provide the opportunity to make better decisions. It is part of the process, and it is certainly a difficult job.
Finally, remember your child’s behavior is not a reflection of you. Only your own behavior is a reflection of you. Focusing on what you can control, rather than what you cannot, can help to decrease the inevitable pressures of parenting.