As a parent, we all have those moments when our best efforts and most time-tested ideas about how to be a parent fail. Our children melt down in public (or at home). They can’t seem to get along with people. They don’t do what we ask.
Some of the clients I work with ask me for suggestions. They say, “I’ve tried everything, and it doesn’t work. What am I doing wrong?”
In most cases, I find that these parents are not doing anything wrong. They just need a few more strategies, and maybe a refocussing of their efforts. It’s probably true for you, too. I bet you’re a great parent. You love your child. You want the best for them.
But sometimes it just doesn’t work, especially if your child is wired a bit differently. So, over the next few days, I’m going to offer my list of the top 5 things that parents can do, or think about, to readjust their parenting when all is not going well. It may help you, it may not. Remember, children are wonderfully forgiving, and daily life offers us many opportunities to experiment with new ideas. If it doesn’t work, tomorrow is a chance for yet another do-over.
1. Be as attached as you possibly can.
Most of my ideas about this come from my time spent living in Japan, watching the way children responded to their mothers, who had established very tight bonds through co-sleeping, wearing their babies and spending a lot of one-on-one time together.
Then I had my own kids and learned about “Attachment Parenting”. AP is a big umbrella term that includes some practices I can’t recommend, but the basic idea is sound. Children who care deeply about the bond with their parents usually do not want to do things that disrupt that bond.
What does being more attached look like in practice? It’s parents spending time together with their kids, really being with them. No computers, no phones. Talking, playing, walking, touching, rocking, reading, dancing.
Of course I don’t mean 24/7. But if your child is being whiny and difficult and you don’t want to be with them, that can become your cue to give them a “Time IN” instead of a time out. Time IN might only take 10 minutes, while trying to force your child to behave takes much longer. There is a fancy term for this, Interpersonal Neurobiology, which means that the person with the better regulated nervous system can help reset the disrupted person by just being close and calm.
Dr. Gordon Neufeld, the author of “Hold On to Your Kids” (a highly recommended book) teaches that parents allow other things and people to take away our child’s attachment, then when we make a request, they ignore us, because we have become less important in their lives for that time. When a child has been at school or daycare all day, or even watching TV or playing a video game or playing with friends, it is important to reconnect before asserting our authority. We can “gather” our children with warm eye contact, a gentle touch, or by joining the child in what they were doing, to prepare them to want to respond to us.
Some parents feel that they should not have to do things to make their child obey. They resent having to woo their child’s affections away from other influences, and they want to receive unquestioning obedience. I feel that this is a cultural hand-me-down from the Victorian era, and I’m going to talk about why it works against good parents when I come to #5 on my list.
So please stay with me as I work through these ideas, and let me know what your experience has been with protecting your child’s attachment to you. And let me know how these ideas sit with you. Helpful? Impossible to follow? Not applicable to your family? I’m curious, so feel free to comment.