Parenting can be stressful, but it doesn’t always have to be.It is important to feel you have control of your household without overexerting yourself, or feeling like you are doing more work than anyone else in your home. Often I have found, that what is actually going on in our lives is less important than the level of control we feel that we have over the situation. Here are seven tips for less stressful parenting that have helped other families I have worked with, and hopefully will make things much easier for you too.
7 TIPS FOR LESS STRESSFUL PARENTING:
1. Avoid power struggles – Family problems often stem from everyone struggling for power within the household. Parents want to be in control of their children and the choices they make, while children want to be in control of their own choices. Children as young as two years old, are often trying to control the world around them by demanding what they want and when they want it. As children get older into their teenage years, they want to be as independent as possible and treated as adults. Both children and teenagers alike, try really hard to manipulate the little things they can; such as their grades, their friends, what they eat or how much, how they look, the clothes they wear, and how they do their hair. It is crucial to let children feel they have power over some things, so they won’t go out of their way to rebel, participate in dangerous activities or even harm themselves. As parents we have to first be able to recognize the things we can control and accept the things that we cannot control. As a parent, you can control the rules of the home and the consequences if those rules are broken. You can control the nice things that you do for your child such as; cook them foods they like, do their laundry, buy groceries they like, drive them to places they want to go and any other regular favors you do for your child. You can’t control if your child chooses to follow the rules or not. You can’t control how hard your child will work at school, at home or in life. For example, I once worked with a father who insisted his son got all A’s and wanted school to be his first priority. His son did not think school was important and in response to his father, purposefully failed all of his classes. Although it is encouraged to share what is important to you with your child, you aren’t going to be able to force them to share the same opinion. You can’t control what interests your child will have and what they will like or dislike. I once worked with a mother who believed her daughter would gain more self confidence if she joined a dance class despite being shy and uninterested in dance. Trying to force your child to do something will make them uncomfortable and is not going to improve their self confidence, however supporting their interests and strengths might! You may not understand, or even like some of your child’s interests, but ultimately your child is going to do what they are motivated to do. Do not put more effort in than your child is willing to give. In the end, you can only control your own actions and not theirs.
2. Give choices – Giving choices is one of many ways to allow your child to feel they have control when ultimately you have the final say. This can also be really helpful if you want another way to tell your child “no” while also teaching your child how to compromise and problem solve very early on. Come up with 2-3 different options that your child can choose from; this helps them feel like they’ve decided the outcome of a particular situation. Make sure you are fully committed to honoring whichever option your child picks! If you have a small child, this can be as simple as giving different food choices or letting them decide on whether to read a book or watch a tv show during the bedtime routine. If you have a teenager, the choices can be more complex and over a longer period of time such as which chores to complete around the house, or the activities they want to be able to do once the chores are completed. Don’t feel comfortable with somewhere your child wants to go? Give them a few different options that you do feel comfortable with. Let’s say they want to go to a concert with a friend you don’t necessarily trust. Tell them they can go if they let you drive them, if a different friend wants to take them, or they don’t go at all. You still determine what you are willing to give while they get the end result they wanted. Children of any age can come up with really good compromises that make everyone happy. I worked with a four year old who has learned to propose other ideas to his parents after they say “no” to something he wants. For example, if he asks for McDonalds and they tell him “no”, he will then say “Okay, how about we watch a movie and have popcorn instead”? Children will learn how to not just think in black and white terms but think outside of the box. This will assist with their problem solving skills and creative thinking later.
3. Stay consistent but flexible – Sometimes it is so hard to be consistent but if you make rules you need to stick to them. If you don’t stick to the rules your child will notice right away and guess what? The rules will mean absolutely nothing. First as a parent, you will have to decide which rules are the most essential to you, but more importantly choose rules that are going to be easy to stick to. Then have your children sit down with you and decide what some of the rules of the home will be. Children are more likely to follow rules if they feel they have a part in creating them. You could even post the rules up in a place where everyone can see and be reminded of them. Be careful not to forget the rules and make sure everyone follows them, including you as the parent because if you are not following the rules, your children won’t either. Consistency is also crucial when following and enforcing rules outside the home as well. Parents make up rules every day, like when we go shopping we warn our children ahead of time we aren’t going to buy them any toys. We tell them that they have to finish their dinner before they get dessert, or that they cannot go out with their friends until they are done with their homework, etc. These are the things we say that are so easily and so often broken. These are the ways our inconsistency comes back to bite us, teaching our children to not listen to a word we say and we only have ourselves to blame! Don’t say it if you don’t mean it, and if you say it you better make sure you stick to it! That being said, some flexibility is important too. For example, what if your child comes up with a really good reason to go against something you said, just this one time? Especially if they come to you (before breaking the rule of course) and plead their case? This is where it is good to not be too rigid. If your child comes to you with an actual pretty good reason to break a rule, that shows not only initiative, but also demonstrates problem solving and thinking for themselves. I personally think those are behaviors worth rewarding! It is ultimately up to you as a parent, but you can decide to allow a rule to be broken while explaining to your child why breaking that rule is okay, that particular time. This illustrates that while rules are essential, sometimes they need to change because there are better ways to do things which can be discovered by self sufficient thinking. You want your children to follow rules of course, but you don’t necessarily want them to follow rules blindly all of the time. We don’t want to create little robots that just do everything they are told, just because. We are paving the way for our future scientists, doctors and government after all, and what better way to do that than by fostering independent thinking while teaching the importance of structure!
4. Don’t be afraid to give explanations! – Giving explanations is another way to really help children learn and also prevent future stress for you as a parent. Your children may not like what you are saying, but it helps them to at least have some understanding behind what it is you are telling them to do (or not do). They deserve to know why and why not, and in some cases the understanding just may make them follow the rules a little more often. The days of “because I told you so” are over. We hated when our parents said it to us so why would we say it to our children? Nothing is learned or understood in that statement, and it makes children feel helpless and less in control. Sometimes when children feel this way they end up acting out in other ways that we don’t like. Parents want respect and the parents that say “because I told you so” are often hoping they will be respected and obeyed. Respect cannot be forced, it has to be taught and earned. The most successful way to teach respect is to be respectful yourself. Instead of saying, “you need to clean up this mess.” Try saying, “I have a really busy day and I would appreciate it if you helped me out by cleaning this up.” Parents are often afraid that being respectful to their children is somehow treating their children as an equal and that their children will not respect them. It is actually the opposite! If you show respect, you will teach respect and you will probably see more in return. You will be much more respected as a parent when you are firm, clear and consistent and there are no confusing, dishonest or hidden messages. Plus, giving explanations is a good way for us as parents to check ourselves a bit. If you as a parent can not think of a reason or explanation, maybe there isn’t a good one! Sometimes as parents we make up rules just because we are frustrated or have other things on our mind, and that can be confusing for children. We are then taking our frustrations out on our children by telling them what to do for no apparent reason, and this often leads to a battle which ultimately makes more work for us! A simple explanation can go a long way and be less stressful for everyone involved.
5. It is okay to let your child make a mistake or even fail sometimes. – It is so hard to see bad things happen to our children. We don’t want to see them fail and we want to rescue them any time we see a problem coming their way. I have worked with parents who do their child’s homework and make sure every answer is correct or are constantly on them about studying for the upcoming test. I have worked with some parents who bail their child out when they get caught stealing or getting in trouble with the law. I understand completely about not wanting our children to get in serious trouble, but if we rescue them all of the time they will never learn from natural consequences or how to do things for themselves. I hear so many parents say “I don’t want him or her to learn the way I did” or “I want them to learn from my mistakes.” Well, they might just need to learn the same way you did! Some people have to learn the hard way or by experience. After all, that is how we learned, right? Sometimes it is important for you as a parent to step in if your child is in serious danger of hurting themselves or others. However, in any other situation, failure teaches you something. It teaches you that not everything is easy or that there might be something else that could work better. It teaches children to keep trying and to feel good about achieving success when they have worked hard to get it. Parenting is all about balance. We have to try to find the best balance between challenging our child when they need it while also being there when they need our support. If you don’t ever let your child fail, you are robbing them from that learning experience.
6. Prioritize what is important. – Happiness, health, family, friends, success – the list goes on and on. What do you feel you already have? Are you okay with that, or could things be improved? We often get caught up on the little things that aren’t really important in the big picture. Your child may not like sports, or be good at math. Maybe your child moves at a slower pace or gets distracted from time to time. Maybe your child is really shy or sensitive. Sometimes these things are okay! Every child has their own unique little personality and we should embrace them for who they are without trying to completely change them. Find out what is important to you and to your family. Decide what you can let go of, if it isn’t perfect. No child is perfect just as no parent is perfect. We don’t want our children to be the same as us or the same as every other child. Above all of our discipline and rules, we want to make sure we show our children unconditional love. No matter what our child decides to like or how they behave, (even when they drive us crazy) we love them. The little things won’t matter as long as everyone is happy and healthy. So pick your battles, because there will probably be plenty enough of them in the future anyway.
7. Take care of yourself too! – Parents feel so guilty taking care of themselves. We feel that we are being selfish and that parenting is only about doing for our children. Yes, of course we have to do a lot for our children because they require a lot of nurturing, teaching and support. However, we can’t take care of them effectively if we can’t take care of ourselves! That is not selfish thinking. Parents need sleep, need exercise, need mental stimulation, need to be involved in social activities, need intimacy with their partners and need proper nutrition. Without these required things, we cannot function at our best. When you are tired (hungry, bored, or deprived of anything else) you can get angry quickly, have difficulty thinking straight, and end up making impulse decisions based on your own feelings and not the needs of your children. Understand that it will take time to balance obtaining all of these needs and at certain points in time some will be easier to fulfill than others, but always make sure to listen to your body. If you are in need of something, get it. You will be a much better parent if you are able to fulfill your needs. You will have more patience when you need it, and you’ll be able to make better decisions for your child. Not to mention, it is a great skill to model for your children! Ask yourself, what would you say to your child if they were an adult not taking care of his/herself in the same way as you might be neglecting yourself right now? You want to show your child how to take care of his/herself so that when they are a parent, they will be able to do the same.
ABOUT LAURETTE LIPMAN, MA, LLPC, NCC Laurette Lipman, MA, LLPC, NCC has over 2 years experience as a mental health therapist, and as a graduate of Oakland University, she is currently under supervision of a fully licensed professional counselor.
See related posts below or our HEALTH/BEHAVIORAL HEALTH tab for more columns by Laurette Lipman or to learn more about Embracing Life Counseling in Farmington Hills, Michigan.