By William E. McGee
We know that it is easy to become a parent; those of us who are parents know that it is not easy to be a good parent. It’s rather cliché’ these days for parents to remind each other that their children did not come home with an instruction manual.
Whether they like it or not, most parents’ initial knowledge of parenting comes from their experiences in childhood. They may or may not describe their own parents as good parents but, as they begin their own job of parenting, they are likely to use the same methods that they experienced.
The parents that I work with love their children. However, often they are frustrated and usually have tried everything they know before they consult with me. When they call to schedule an appointment, they do so because of their concern, their love for their child.
I find that two kinds of information are helpful to many parents. The first is a basic listing of the skills that parents need to teach their children to increase the likelihood that their children will grow into competent adults who enjoy life, who have healthy relationships, and who thrive in their world. The second is a technique that equips many parents to grow and enhance the parent-child relationship.
I remind you that I am providing basic information in this blog. I do not intend it to be a complete and authoritative guide that provides all the information you need to be a good parent, nor is it intended to take the place of professional counseling or psychotherapy if it is needed. I intend this to be information that can be useful to parents who want help to improve how they interact with and teach skills to their children in the context of a healthy and mutually satisfying relationship with their children.
Teaching children the skills of mutual respect, cooperation, courage and responsibility form the foundational skills in a healthy family system. Teaching means that we are active in the process of educating a child; it implies that we acknowledge that children do not come from the womb equipped with the skills needed to thrive in this world. Teaching means that we parents do something, that we actively engage our child in order to educate him or her. Teaching and loving are active verbs that tell us that parenting itself is a very active process.
In order to parent competently we have to remember that children do not think like adults. As adults, we usually try to avoid potentially unpleasant interactions with others as best we can. Because of this, many parents think that a lecture or a nagging session is so unpleasant that their child will work to avoid it by doing what they were asked to do. Like adults, children will attempt to avoid what they consider unpleasant. However, for most children, time with their parents is one of the most valuable events in their life. Most children consider time with the parent as desirable, rather than evaluating whether the time is good or bad time. Thus, what might be negative for a parent (e.g., being nagged at) becomes something a child may work to attain because it means spending time with a parent.
An improved parent-child relationship typically results in less frustration for both parent and child, improved enjoyment within and outside the family system, and improved physical health for both. As a way of improving or enhancing the parent-child relationship, I often suggest the following process. It represents a specific technique and, as I said above, it does not take the place of counseling or psychotherapy if they are needed.
This technique involves only one parent interacting with only one child.
- Ask your child to name some activities he or she would like to do with you. This might involve some conversation with your child.
- As you and your child discuss some possible activities, use the following guidelines:
- The activity will last for 30 minutes each time, no more and no less;
- You may not spend any money;
- You (the parent) may not teach a skill
- You (the parent) may not correct any behavior unless there is danger of personal injury or property damage;
- The activity may not involve any electronic device;
- The activity may not involve watching movies or videos;
- The activity must involve interaction only between the parent and child with no one else; and
- The parent may veto any activity that the child suggests.
3. When the activity is decided, the parent will schedule it twice each week. This is a formal process and requires the parent to be intentional. The time should be firm and not movable, just like an appointment. It is best if the parent writes it on a calendar.
4. It is the parent’s responsibility to keep to the schedule and to remind the child of the activity.
William E. McGee
M.A., Ed.D, Licensed Psychologist – Health Service Provider, Certified Professional Counselor
Pediatric and Developmental Psychology; trauma counseling; psychological evaluation and counseling with children and adolescents.