What’s the Goal?

I spend much of my time as a Parent Coach encouraging parents that they can find ways to manage their children’s behavior.  I can understand why they have a hard time believing me.  After all, parents don’t come to a child psychologist before they have exhausted all their own and their extended family’s and their friends’ ideas.  So, they end up talking to me, hoping that I have some strategies for them, but feeling very discouraged and powerless.  Their darling 3 year old or 9 year old has them totally bamboozled.

I listen and I empathize.  I have seen a lot in my years of work and as a parent.  Nothing humbles a child psychologist like parenthood!  I remember years ago when I told a pediatrician who referred to me that I was pregnant, he said, “You’re good at what you do now, but you’re going to be better.”  I imagine that he spoke from his own experience.  When professionals can offer strategies in a spirit of camaraderie in addition to specific training, it all goes more easily.

Often parents get discouraged because they get stuck in all or nothing thinking.  Consider this situation.  A 10 year old girl is being insolent when she and her father are discussing whether she can go to a movie with a friend’s family.  The father tells her that he won’t talk to her until she can talk respectfully and that she should go to her room until she can do so.  Child goes to next room and continues to say rude things for a bit, but then becomes quiet when the parent does not respond.  The child never goes to her room.  In a few minutes she returns and asks, “Can I talk to you now?”   Was the parent successful?  Hmmm.  It depends on what you see as the goal.  Was the goal to get the child to talk in a respectful way?  If so, (and I think this is the goal), then bravo!  Success!  Start the negotiation again. On the other hand, if the goal is to have the child comply in every way, then this was not a success.  It isn’t all or nothing.  The goal was achieved, but not quite the way the parent wanted.  Life is like that.

If this parent wanted total success, he could insist that the child go to her room.  The child would like then become enraged and be very disrespectful.  After all, she’s being respectful now.  Why should she be punished? Children have a sense of justice, and this would smack of a power struggle more than justice.  Nothing encourages rage (in parent and child) like a power struggle.

Did the child win?  She didn’t go to her room.  However, she became respectful.  There is more work to be done on the “go to your room end.”  But if I were talking to this parent, I would suggest that he doesn’t need to send her to her room to get a result, at least not in this case.

So consider what your goal is.  You and your child might achieve it, but not in the way you intended.  But it is likely that you still achieved your goal.

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