By Nicole M. Young, MSW
April is the Month of the Young Child and Child Abuse Prevention Month, so it’s a good time to reflect on what it takes to raise happy, healthy, resilient children who thrive throughout life. Parenting is a non-stop job full of joy, struggles, love, worries, pride and stress. Every parent I know, including myself, has needed guidance and reassurance at some point.
Yet many parents are hesitant to seek support, out of fear of being judged or shamed. It shouldn’t be that way. I hope that some day seeking support for parenting becomes just as automatic as breathing air.
This monthly column provides tips for anyone who is helping raise children, based on the world-renowned Triple P — Positive Parenting Program, available to families in Santa Cruz County. If you have a question or idea for a future column, please email me at email@example.com.
I love my kids (2, 4) but am worried I’m not a good parent. I grew up with a perfectionist mother who criticized everyone — including herself — and wasn’t affectionate or encouraging. My dad lost his temper easily and yelled a lot. Now I’ve become a perfectionist and a yeller. It’s causing tension (and more yelling) between my husband and me. I want to change but don’t know how. Can you help?
You are not alone! Being a parent is an important and challenging job. Most parents start this lifelong job unprepared, and even the most loving parents get exhausted, frustrated or caught in “parenting traps” that create more stress. Here are a few common traps and tips to avoid them:
Perfect Parent Trap: Many parents have unrealistic expectations of themselves or believe there is only one right way to parent. The pressure to be perfect tends to increase feelings of stress, disappointment, guilt and frustration. It can also lead parents to have unrealistic expectations of their children’s abilities or behaviors and teach children they need to be perfect, too.
Tip: Remember there is no such thing as a perfect parent or child. Set realistic expectations for yourself and your children, and allow yourselves to learn through trial and error. Get support from your partner, friends, family, neighbors or community agencies. If it’s difficult to ask for or accept assistance, just remember that everyone needs help with parenting at some point in his or her lives.
Escalation Trap: This happens when a parent says “no” to something – such as candy, screen time or a later bedtime – and the child responds by whining, begging, arguing or having a meltdown. The child becomes louder, angrier or more argumentative until the parent gives in. This increases the chance that the child will repeat these behaviors in the future to they get what they want.
The escalation trap also can happen when a child ignores a parent’s instructions until the parent yells, criticizes or threatens the child with punishment. Although children might comply with their parents’ wishes, they often learn to ignore parents until the adult has become angry or frustrated. This can lead parents to believe criticism, threats and yelling are the only way to get their children’s attention.
Tips: Establish a few simple, fair family rules with your children. Talk about which rules are non-negotiable and in what situations the rules might be flexible. Discuss what the logical consequences will be if they choose not to follow the family rules. Give clear, calm instructions, and then give your child time to cooperate.
If needed, repeat your instruction once and be ready to follow up with the logical consequence. Take deep breaths so you can remain calm and matter-of-fact. This will help prevent you from resorting to threats, bribes, begging, yelling or giving in.
Leave Them Alone Trap: When parents ignore their children’s positive behaviors, those behaviors are less likely to occur. Or, if parents only pay attention to their children when they misbehave, children learn that the best way to get their parents’ attention is to misbehave or act out.
Tip: Spend brief and frequent quality time with your children each day. Talk, read, sing and play together. Give them attention and descriptive praise to show you notice their efforts and appreciate them for who they are.
Final Thoughts: Raising children is a lifelong job with many potential “traps” that make the job harder. A few positive parenting strategies can help you avoid those traps and make it easier to raise happy, healthy children who become independent, capable, well-adjusted adults.
Nicole Young is the mother of two children, ages 13 and 17, who also manages Santa Cruz County’s Triple P – Positive Parenting Program. Triple P is made available locally by First 5 Santa Cruz County, the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (Mental Health Services Act) and the Santa Cruz County Human Services Department. For more information visit http://triplep.first5scc.org, www.facebook.com/triplepscc or www.youtube.com/triplepsantacruzco. To find a Triple P class or practitioner, contact First 5 Santa Cruz County at 465-2217 or firstname.lastname@example.org.