Parenting Skill: Trying different approaches as your child grows

One size does not fit all in parenting. What worked for your daughter might be a disaster for your son. What worked for your oldest might set the younger one up for failure. We cannot afford to get stuck in a rut in parenting. Our children are all different, and furthermore each individual one is in a state of constant change. So, our parenting approaches need to be willing to change along with them.

The question cannot be what is natural for you as a parent. The question has to be, “What is most effective for THIS kid right NOW?” The next question you will probably as is “How do I know what approach is right for THIS kid right NOW? Here are a few ideas to help:

  1. Experiment – if the current approach is already not working, then don’t be afraid to scratch that one off the list and just try something else.
  2. Be developmentally appropriate. For example, it may have been ok to answer all your child’s questions with an answer from the Bible when they were a small child. If your 5 year old asks you what happened to grandma when she died, it’s ok to tell them Grandma is with Jesus. The 5 year old will accept that answer and be at peace. But what if your 15 year old asks what happens to people when they die? If you tell them they go to be with Jesus, that may not settle so well with them as when they were 5. Meet that 15 year old where they are at. They have a developing brain with a developing ability to THINK and REASON. Think and reason with them:  “Well, dear, there’s a lot of things people say and theorize. We don’t really know for sure. The Bible says several things about it that I’ve always found fascinating. What do you think?” This approach invites a 15 year old to THINK for themselves. It also makes you SAFE for them – you’re not threatening to take away their autonomy by thinking FOR them. Also you laid the bait and they might ASK you what the Bible says. Anytime they are asking for that (instead of you “forcing” it) you’re on the right side of that interaction.
  3. Listen to them. A lot of times our teens are telling us what they need, we just need to take time out and get away from our emotional responses and our autopilot and listen to what they are telling us. Are they telling us they need more control? That they just want their voice to be heard? Are they needing us to affirm their autonomy, or acknowledge their successes instead of telling them what they did wrong most of the time?

A couple examples might help:

I was working with one family recently where the 17 year old was constantly bullying his mom to try and get what he wanted. Emotionally abusive, this young man was heading for a hard life of never being able to take a ‘no’ from anyone. Mom listened to him and realized what he was needing was to feel he had some choice, some control. Mom was in the habit of trying to strong-arm the boy in the compliance so she wouldn’t have to give consequences. The more she tried to make him obey the more he would argue and pit his will against her abusively. When she realized he just needed to feel he was given some control, she changed her approach. Instead of trying to make him obey before he got consequences, she took the pressure off by saying, “It’s up to you, bud. Your curfew is 10pm. You can stay out later if you choose, but you’ll have consequences.” By stating it that way the boy felt empowered to make a choice and he was home at 10pm.

Another example would be the mom of an autistic boy who would get very wound up when he asked for something and mom wouldn’t cave in. He would argue and legitimize why he should get what he wanted. She would engage him in these arguments and try to reason with him. The young man would spiral the more mom tried to explain her decisions and her point of view. Sometimes he would spiral to the point of self-mutilation. When mom tried a new approach and stayed quiet when he tried to argue for the thing he wanted, he never escalated. He got to say all he wanted to say. Mom listened. Mom validated (“I hear you say______ and you have a point, but this is still my decision because there are other good points that I am also considering.”) The young man didn’t like it, but he didn’t spiral and hurt himself.


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