Because I am Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, owner of Messy Parenting: Progress Not Perfection ®, many of my clients are parents who want to gain better social emotional skills. Their motivation is to use those skills to improve their parenting. Here are a few tips which I teach parents to start on this process.
Build Empathy and Be Positive
Few people seek counseling because they have difficulty managing positive feelings. It is a humbling insight for parents to acknowledge when they need help to control negative feelings. Some parents feel shame, embarrassment or guilt when anger or frustration are not in check. Awareness of those experiences are a first step in learning to relate to their children. Building empathy for a child requires building empathy for one's own challenges. To build empathy and positive perspective back into the parenting relationship, a parent can focus on pointing out everything your kid does right, for at least two weeks. Build your own positive behavior habit; you will feel better when you practice your own positive behavior. That’s right, ignore the negatives with your kid, unless it is unsafe. This is a hard challenge, but you will see outcomes if you commit to it as best you can, then move on to the next step of learning to teach positive behavior habits.
Use a Mind Trick Reframe
To help parents gain perspective, and manage their own negative reaction when teaching positive behavior changes, I ask them to change the narrative. Frame the situation as a mind trick reframe; to slow down personal reaction time. This is best used when you are upset with a kid. Instant reframe works like this: when triggered, pretend that the kid is not
your own; it's your best friend's kid. What would you say then? All parents respond the same way when asked this questions: "Well, I wouldn't yell." Instead of verbalizing immediately, parents often respond that they would take a step back to think, "What can I say to this kid that would help them understand what is going on?" In this mindset, parents are able to stay connected in order to correct a behavior or address a situation.
Learn to Talk In Start Behaviors
If parents can stay connected, they can up the odds of working through a problem. If parents want to control their emotions, they need to be like detectives and observe. Think: What is actually going on? What needs to change? What needs to stop? What needs to start? The goal is to reshape a kid's challenging behavior. If you point out what "not to do," you will likely get a negative reaction. However, if you stop to think about what you want that kid to start doing, and say that specifically as a direction, you will help that child start doing the behavior needed.
What does that look like? Let's say a kid is running in the house and you yell, "Stop running!" Most kids ignore the command because they are used to yelling and are not listening to the instruction. However, if you lower your voice and use a serious tone such as, "Please start walking," there is a good chance that you will see the behavior change.
Think in two types of behavior: stop and start. When you focus on stop behaviors, you tend to be annoyed and frustrated, and so does your kid. When you focus on start behaviors, you tend to have to stop, think about the action that should be happening and give a direction, rather than a reprimand. Both kids and parents feel better when start behaviors are the focus of the instruction or conversation, it's a positive parenting move that can foster better connection and outcomes.
Maryellen P. Mullin, is an LMFT in California, and founder of San Francisco Family Therapy and Messy Parenting: Progress Not Perfection ®, working with families, couples and individuals.