As a marriage and family therapist in community mental health, I would say about a third of my work consists of “providing skills to help you manage your child’s misbehavior,” AKA one on one parenting classes.
You see, I can’t just straight out say that I’m providing parenting classes, because then parents get defensive and think I’m blaming them for their child’s misbehavior (which I’m not), when it’d be far easier to believe that their kid is just a bad kid. These kids are usually brought to the clinic because their parents think that they are little psychopath terrorists and the parents have run out of ideas on how to manage their little psychopath terrorist ways.
That’s where I come in.
When I first started therapizing and parents would ask if I had children, I’d tell them the truth: “No, I don’t have any children, but I do have a dog!” An honest, cheeky answer for an honest, borderline-“nonya-biz” question. And then we’d move into the “parenting support” portion of therapy.
Well, very early on into my career as a therapist, it became very apparent that unless I have kids of my own, any parenting strategies I provided would be met with either a verbal or non-verbal, “Shut up lady, you don’t have kids so what do you know?” Never mind that, oh, I don’t know, I spent like a billion dollars to go to school for forever and have received additional training and certification to be able to competently provide parenting support. BUT THAT’S BESIDES THE POINT. (Although…now that I think about…why should we trust doctors with our diseases if they’ve never had them before themselves?? What do they know?? Frauds!!)
Street cred, folks. As I mentioned in my previous post, it always comes down to street cred.
Which is why I started speaking as though I have a kid when I share parenting strategies with the parents I work with.
Technically, I’m not lying when I share these personal stories of how I’ve used these parenting strategies in my own life. I use them nearly every day, and these stories are 100% true.
But what these parents don’t know is that I’m really sharing stories about my husband.
Parenting Strategy #1: Praising the Positive
“It’s so important that we remember to praise the positive things our little ones do. It can be so discouraging if all they hear are the things that they do wrong. When I forget to focus on the positive and only focus on the negative, it can be so discouraging for my little one. Then, all he thinks is that I don’t think he can do anything right and then he stops wanting to try to do good things if I’m not going to notice and appreciate it anyways.”
Did I say “little” one? I meant “big, hairy, six foot” one.
Parenting Strategy #2: Active Ignoring
“Sometimes, our little ones just want our attention, but they try to get it in ways that bother us. The problem is, when we acknowledge them when they use these problematic attention-seeking behaviors, like pestering or tantruming, they succeed in getting what they want, which only makes them do it more. For example, when Junior (get it?? RJ backwards??) is in my face calling me over and over again, or when he continually pokes and prods me, if I respond, even with irritation, he’s succeeded in receiving what he wanted: attention. However, if I actively ignore him until he is able to address me in a more acceptable way, then we are able to reduce the problematic attention-seeking behavior and replace it with more acceptable and desirable behavior.”
True story. Sometimes when RJ pesters me and it seems like I’m not paying attention to him and he doesn’t know that I’m actively ignoring him, I just say, “Active ignoring,” without making eye contact and he gets the hint. Or he keeps going. Because maybe I just gave into him by acknowledging him. Damnit…
Parenting Strategy #3: Single Commands
“It’s important when we give instructions to our little ones that we give them one at a time. If I rattle off five things that I want for Junior to do one after another, for example, ‘Can you get dressed, turn off the television, put the dog away, put on your shoes, and get your things ready?’ most likely, he’s going to forget most of what I ask for him to do because he just doesn’t have the capacity to remember. This can be frustrating for a lot of us, and it can seem like our kids are being defiant or intentionally forgetful when they really just can’t remember so many things at once.”
Parenting Strategy #4: Clear Instructions
“Make sure that what you are requesting is concise and clearly communicated. The other day, I asked for my little man to clean up all the clothes hangers from the ground. What I wanted for him to do was to hang them up in the closet, but what he ended up doing was picking them off the ground and then leaving them on the bed. Later, when I told him to please clean them off the bed, he moved them to the closet floor. Of course that made me frustrated, but all of this could have been avoided had I clearly communicated in the very beginning, ‘Please hang up the clothes hangers in the closet.’ Our kids can’t read our minds and know what exactly we are trying to ask, and yet so many times we get angry with them, thinking they’re intentionally not doing what we ask.”
Good news, the clothes hangers are finally hanging in the closet. Where they belong.
Parenting Strategy #5: Gaining Your Child’s Attention
“Related to giving clear instructions, when our kids are engaged in an activity and we yell at them from another room to go and do something and they don’t do it, it can be frustrating, as though they are intentionally ignoring you on purpose. Maybe they are, but most of the time they are just distracted. When Junior is playing video games on the computer and I yell for him to do something from the other room, he’ll kind of mumble, ‘Okay,’ but isn’t really paying attention. This used to make me angry, but then I realized that when my attention is solely focused on one activity and he tries to speak to me, I have no recollection of what he’s asked. In order for us to increase the likelihood that our kids do what we ask, we need to get their full attention. This might mean going into the same room, getting in between our kids and their phones, or their video games, or the television, stooping down to their level, making eye contact, and then presenting your request.”
Yeah, when RJ is playing video games, there is no way he hears anything I’m saying to him.
Parenting Strategy #6: Rewards
“Sometimes, our little ones need incentive in order to cooperate. This can be a small toy, a treat, some extra quality time, or a fun activity to participate in together.”
Like ice cream. Or sex.
Parenting Strategy #7: Transitional Period
“Before going out, or asking our kids to stop whatever activity they are engaging in so that they can participate in another activity, it’s important to provide some sort of a warning, a transitional period, in order to minimize power struggles or fights. When it’s time for us to go out and I don’t provide a transitional period, I can get frustrated really easily because Junior is still in the middle of his video game, he’s nowhere near ready, and he gets upset because he doesn’t get to finish whatever mission he’s on or he has to rush through it or leave his friends online.”
Oh no, RJ, Alby, and Timmy can’t finish their campaign to counter strike something and shoot things!
Parenting Strategy #8: Planned Outings
“When we bring our kids out to the grocery store, for example, it’s important to keep some things in mind. Will they get hungry during the outing? Will they be sleepy? Will they get bored? All of these things can make for a cranky or chaotic outing. When I bring Junior out and he’s hungry or sleepy, he gets cranky and fussy easier, and then I get frustrated and flustered because I’m trying to finish up as fast as possible to minimize a meltdown in Target. I need to make sure he is fed and well-rested. Also, while on the outing, be sure to establish some ground rules, put into place a rewards system (sex), and give them a job to do. When I don’t give Junior a job to do at the grocery store, he gets bored and starts running up and down the aisles, throwing paper towels and toilet paper on the ground, shooting other grocery store patrons with imaginary guns, pretending that the cart is a race car and that he’s drifting, and hiding candy in the cart so that I have to buy it at the checkout line.”
What they don’t know is that RJ is also yelling out, “Evasive maneuvers!!” while knocking the paper towels and toilet paper down in the middle of the aisle and making race car noises as he’s pushing the cart.
There are a bunch of other parenting strategies I could share, but you get the idea.
See? If you just read the spiels I give the parents I work with, you would totally think I had a kid, right? Which means that not only am I not fabricating stories, but my street cred as someone who can speak from experience (since education and training apparently aren’t enough) is restored as well! It’s a win-win situation.
Thanks for joining us for today’s episode of Parenting With Alice. Join us next time to learn how to get your kid to stop eating rocky road ice cream every night!
Do you find yourself using parenting strategies on your significant other? What’s your favorite?