Rethinking the "one size fits all" approach
By Jeffrey Grimes, PhD
Thoughtful parenting requires self-reflection. When should we be a coach, a disciplinarian, a nurturer? How much of each? And what is the correct timing of each of these roles? These are only some of the daily questions parents should work on asking themselves when they are negotiating the long and winding road of childrearing.
The easy answer, unfortunately, will not likely come from this article or any other printed word. Instead, the answer will be unique to each parent, child, and situation.
In general, the role of the coach is needed when the parent assesses that the child's challenge is the result of a lagging skill rather than simple misbehavior. The disciplinarian role should be reserved only for those experiences where the behavior is judged to be a product of testing limits. And the nurturer role is there when we comfort our child during a period of emotional turmoil or when the child experiences failure. Let me illustrate this with a few examples.
The Interrupting Child
John is an elementary-age child who sometimes has trouble recognizing others' boundaries. He can be intrusive, loud, and demanding. He is the child who does not recognize when someone is busy with something else. Is the correct parental stance to discipline and punish the child for their rudeness? Or is the correct stance to stop what you are doing so you may meet the child's needs? Considering John's age, here, the child truly needs a coach - someone who can teach him a skill he has a tough time in recognizing on his own for some reason. For example, maybe the parent could get down on one knee and let the child know how his behavior is coming across to others. Here the parent is teaching a skill, and with learning any new skill, repetition is the primary method in which it will be taught.
The Limit Testing Child
Mary is an older adolescent girl who appears to be more interested in her social relationships rather than academics or home life. She continually pushes the limits of her parents' tolerance.
Recently she complained to her parents about how her curfew is much earlier than that of her friends. The parents listened to her concerns and decided to extend the weekend curfew 30 minutes longer. All agreed on this new curfew. The very next weekend, Mary was nowhere to be found at the agreed upon time and strolled in 20 minutes late.
Should we, as parents, sit down and discuss the importance of time management? Should we give her a break, as it was only 20 minutes and she promised it will not happen again? Or, should we simply enact a punishment - perhaps decrease her curfew by an hour for her next outing?
Given that Mary appears to be testing limits and the authority of her parents, here, the role of the disciplinarian seems most appropriate in getting across the ideas of rules and consequences of behavior.
The "It's My Fault" Child
Hanna is a younger adolescent girl who plays softball for a fairly competitive league. She is a very good player, but tends to get down on herself frequently after a sub-par performance. She will cry and talk badly about herself. These crying jags, followed by a negative mood state, last for much of the day.
Should parents help her recognize her faulty play? Should we punish her for her "dramatic" shenanigans? Or should we instead play the role of the nurturer.
For some reason, Hanna is struggling with being able to self-soothe, and as result, it clouds her view of the world and herself. Simply sitting with her emotion and comforting her with a hug may begin to help her understand what it feels like to be soothed and how she can begin replicating this herself.
Taking a Flexible Parenting Approach
In the above examples, I have provided common childhood struggles that many parents will confront while raising their children. Different situations may require using a combination of approaches: nurture first, then discipline, or discipline first then coach. All parent-child situations are unique and parenting in a "one size fit all" manner typically leads to unproductive parent-child conflict when the "size" does not fit.
We should constantly be pushing ourselves to understand both our children's struggles and how our behavior impacts them. We will chalk up a great number of parental mistakes such as yelling when we should listen or ignoring when we should comfort.
However, the beauty of us making mistakes as parents is that we then have the opportunity to demonstrate to our children how we survive these failures, learn from them and emerge stronger than before. These parental demonstrations are typically the most important learning experiences we can give to our children. It will breed patience and wisdom in us, as well as them.
Originally featured in NFamily Magazine.