One of the things I get asked about is whether there is a “right” way to do things when talking to parents about how to raise their children. My response? No, there is no “right” way, but there are likely other ways–especially when something a parent is doing in the moment is not working. Some times it takes another person who can be objective to think through a situation and come up with a different approach.
This is because how one takes on the parenting role is often a reflection of one’s personal beliefs, values, culture and past experiences. Plus there are other factors to consider: the child’s temperament (or their usual way they respond to a situation), the presence of multiple kids in the house, and other issues within the parent (such as maternal depression or anxiety) or outside of the parent’s control (violence in the home, life stress) that often affects how well a parent can attend to their parenting role.
There are countless books on just about every parenting topic you can imagine. I certainly have not read them all, but I do try to keep up with as many of the most popular titles available because I am often asked for my opinion. Take sleep for example. If you go to the bookstore or library and look at all the parenting books on getting your child to sleep, it really is amazing at how many titles there are and the different view points on this topic. It is mind boggling. If you read more than one book on any topic, advice can be conflicting. But which one is right?
I have learned through my own parenting journey and those I have observed that parenting takes perseverance and an ability to look inward at one’s actions and emotions. The key is to be consistent and to give yourself a break because there is no such thing as the “perfect parent.” No matter which parenting approach to sleep you identify with, you are likely to succeed if you give which ever techniques you choose a solid go and that your partner is in sync with your approach. It also means re-evaluating when things don’t go the way you expect and being open to other ways it can be done.
This is what makes counseling parents on this topic so challenging because in the end, we ask parents to take the first step to try something new or different and giving it a good go. Sometimes it takes a lot of trial and error. This can be hard especially if a parent is stressed and feels that they have no time to keep trying behavioral strategies. Unlike other issues parents come to see pediatricians for, behavioral issues are not treated with medicines. At least not at first and especially not for young children without first understanding how to optimize the environment and parent-child interactions. I often tell parents that there is no magic wand or potion I have that can make the challenging behaviors go away overnight or that will erase the stress. The best we can do is to ensure all parties agree on the alternate approach, try it, and then report back. There is not a “one size fits all” approach to parenting…but there is a team approach.
I find the best place to start is to remind parents of the small successes they have achieved in the past (potty training is one the hardest tasks to accomplish and yes, eventually all children are potty trained!), to ask them what worries them most about the behavior in question, what they are hoping to achieve and what they have tried. Together, we brainstorm other ways of handling the situation. When needed I often seek input from teachers and other family members who interact with the child to see if the challenge is only with one parent or in one context. Sometimes we need to bring on board behavioral therapists who often do the hard work of providing weekly support and guidance to families, especially if families need more one-on-one time to begin to change parent-child interactions. I am reminded of the quote, “It takes a village to raise a child” and this is indeed true.
Parenting is hard, but it is also a very rewarding life experience. We can continue to strive to do the best we can and to be role models to our children when we have those “mommy or daddy fail” moments. We must embrace those moments and learn from them and keep moving forward.