A Psychology Blog
See Erinne Magee's full article in Business Insider.
While most therapists make it a priority to reassure parents they're doing a great job, they also try to help make the job of raising children a bit smoother by zeroing in on a handful of important reminders — some of which they don't always get the chance to say to parents directly. We asked 11 mental health professionals what they wish that parents of their young clients knew. The most common advice stemmed from reminding parents how integral their influence — direct or indirect — is on children, no matter the age. Here are the areas where therapists believe an extra dose of awareness could go a long way.
1. ‘Don’t let baggage fog decision-making’
Parents often believe they are thinking only of their children without realizing the power of their own unconscious experience and its impact on how they raise their kids. "I think parents often don't realize how their own emotions, thoughts, feelings, and overall 'stuff' significantly impacts their decisions and perspectives," said Shuli Sandler, a psychologist.
2. ‘Your child is not you’
As charming as it sounds to raise a "mini-me," children are not only unique, they aren't wired exactly like Mom and Dad. "It is important to realize that what worked for parents when they were a teen does not always work for their own teen," said Irene Little, clinical director of Access Counseling Group. "Children may be very similar in personality and mannerisms, but it does not mean they think alike or feel the same about situations their parents did when they were younger."
3. ‘Rethink those intimidation tactics’
A trusting relationship is certainly not built from fear. Kids should not feel like they are walking on eggshells in their own home. "I have had several instances where I meet a parent and it brings up fear and anxiety in myself," said Marisa Hendrickson, a licensed mental health counselor in Seattle. "Their presence is so intimidating and the vibes they are putting off make me so insecure, I can only imagine what their child's experience living with them and feeling that pressure every day is like."
4. ‘Parenting equals leadership — every day’
With 40 years of experience as a marriage and family therapist, Rick Capaldi know what children need: committed leadership from the single most influential people in their lives (their parents). "Many parents are not paying attention to what their children are being exposed to and how well they're managing the challenges presented by such exposure," said Capaldi, who gives a contemporary version of the three R's based on his book: reading their child's environment, regulating their child's emotional temperature, and redirecting their child's behavior.
5. ‘Trust your role as the most important one’
Step back and ask yourself how your actions, perspective, and language could shift to help your child work through a problem."Parents need to remember that despite the fact that they may not have the therapeutic tools or ability to help their child in a particular situation, they still play a major role in their child being successful in treatment," said Jenna Vogler, a licensed mental health counselor in New York.
6. ‘Follow through on consequences and rewards’
Kids need to know what to expect on a day-to-day basis, not just once in a while. This instills trust and respect and cuts down on tantrums. "I wish all parents knew that children need consistency," said Heather Ackley, a therapist at New Hope Parenting Solutions. "They need consistency in every aspect of their lives. When we are talking about schedules and rules, follow through at least 95% of the time. When we are talking about rewards and consequences, follow through 100% of the time."
7. ‘Privacy is not a right’
Even though it seems to be widely discussed, experts agree there is not enough emphasis on safety in terms of technology. "Parents need to be more aware of their children's phone activity," said Ackley. "They should have their children's phone passwords and they should check them consistently. Children unknowingly do things that are unsafe on their phones every day. Whether it turns into an unsafe situation or not depends on the level of parent involvement."
8. ‘Give the plan time to work’
Circling back to consistency, be ready to put in the work that is given to you by your child's therapist or that you've implemented yourself. "If we come up with a plan in therapy, try it for 10 days at minimum before stopping," said Cari Wainio, LAPC with Towler Counseling, LLC. "If you try it any less, you haven't given it a chance."
9. ‘When you mess up, apologize’
Don't presume that your parenting has to be perfect or that you're not entitled to moments of weakness. "Making mistakes provides the unique opportunity for you to model how to make an appropriate apology," said Caroline Fleck, a psychologist in California. "Model how to take responsibility, apologize without making excuses, and repair any harm done."
10. ‘Ease up on the grades’
Believe it or not, pursuing achievements doesn't start with good ranks in school. "Learning to establish realistic expectations and create schedules that are conducive to good sleep and self-care will arguably serve them better in life than learning to sacrifice their stability for success," said Fleck.
11. ‘Practice what you preach’
Your non-verbal examples carry a great deal of influence and not to mention, aren't confrontational. "Most of the parents I work with are hypocrites," said Fleck. "Heck, I'm a parent and I'm a hypocrite. I don't allow my 6-year-old to play on a phone or tablet for fear that she'll develop bad habits, yet I frequently check my phone during dinner. I tell her to limit treats, but it's rare for me to go a night without something to satisfy my sweet tooth. The fact of the matter is that modeling remains one of the most effective ways to shape behavior."
12. ‘When you enable, you disable’
It's easy to turn your head and make excuses for your child, but ignoring challenging behavior will make it hard to transition into adulthood. "When you keep doing everything for him or her or engage in permissive parenting you take away your child's ability to think for themselves and to learn to do things for him or herself," said Catherine Jackson, licensed psychologist in Chicago.
13. ‘Remember the science of development'
It's not that your kiddo doesn't want to be rational; they simply don't have the capacity like an adult does. In fact, there's a reason children seem to respond in the seemingly fight or flight mode. "Your teenager's brain is still developing and this miracle won't be even somewhat done until they are at least 25 years or older," said Carla Buck, a mental health therapist at Warrior Brain, who explains that children, unlike adults, process information with the emotional part of their brain.
14. ‘Learn within the joyful moments’
"If there was one thing I could tell a parent it would be not to lose sight of finding joy in the little things," said Tracy Ball, a speech language pathologist at Enable My Child. "They should always be striving to connect with their kids in these moments, so that they're more in tune with who they are. Before you can teach or engage them in anything, you have to understand what motivates and drives them."