From Our Blog: Parenting Styles: Your Questions Answered

Parenting Style|Parenting Style Expert

Today's guest blogger is Claire Lerner,  L.C.S.W.-C and Senior Parenting Advisor at ZERO TO THREE.

Claire was our special guest on our most recent parenting webinar Getting to Know Your Parenting Style. Whether your style is to be The Boss, The Friend, The Minimalist or The Teacher—or a combination, Claire shared strategies that can help you can leverage your approach to parenting so it benefits you and your child.

As part of the webinar, we also invited you to submit the questions you had about parenting styles. In today's post, Claire answers three of those questions:

Your Parenting Questions Answered:

I feel like I'm a "no" parent, and I don't know how to adjust when my patience is tested!

Our reactivity as parents is indeed a major obstacle to being as patient and effective as we’d like to be. To be more responsive versus reactive in these situations, first remind yourself that persisting to get what they want is totally normal and expectable behavior—children are strategic and will push for things they want until a clear boundary is drawn and they have to adapt. They will use any strategy that is successful, meaning it results in their getting what they want (i.e., more iPad time), or in more attention (as in getting you to react in a big way). When you approach these moments with empathy versus anger or annoyance, you are able to be most effective and less regretful about having lost your cool.

I find that the most effective way to respond is to be clear about the limit/expectation, focus on what your child can do, and then move on. Take a situation in which your child is working your last nerve—for example, hounding you to let her have just one more game on the iPad, which usually leads to a myriad of “no’s.” Instead, consider responding: “IPad time is over. I know that you are mad that you couldn’t finish your game, but time is up. You can choose books or trains now.”

If your child keeps persisting, don’t engage in that dynamic (it takes two), just keep moving on: “I am going to read this awesome book we love and when you are ready, I’d love you to join me.” This way you show her that you aren’t ignoring her, you are just ignoring what I call “bait”—all the behaviors designed to engage you in the power struggle to get you to change your mind. Once parents stop reacting, the child sees that the limit is firm—that’s when they adapt. Being clear about expectations while remaining loving can be very powerful. And when you avoid a negative response, it is contagious: children become less negative too.

Another helpful strategy when you are getting revved up is to take your own time-out, as long as your child isn’t doing something dangerous that has to be stopped immediately: “I can see you are having a hard time. I need a minute to think about how I can help you cope.” This in and of itself can throw a monkey wrench into the interaction—your child is so surprised at your calm response and that you are taking your own time out to think things through that she’s stopped in her tracks. Plus, you aren’t escalating the situation with a revved-up, negative response, and it buys you some time to think through how you want to respond, avoiding reactivity. It also provides a powerful role model for your child about how to manage one’s emotions, to boot.

With single parenting, there seems to be even less room to have a style because it's just me and I need them to listen. Any tips for single parents?

No doubt single-parenting can be very challenging. But what’s most important to keep in mind is that research shows that what children need to thrive is one person who is a constant in their life—who provides safety and security and adores them. And the good news is that you can be a super loving parent while also being a good limit-setter, because limits are loving. Implementing age-appropriate rules and expectations is a critical part of being a great mom or dad, because teaching your children to cooperate and follow the myriad of rules they will encounter throughout life is one of the greatest gifts you give them; it helps them get along with others and thrive in school and in friendships.

The key is to enforce the limits with love. Just because your child is losing it doesn’t mean you have to get all revved up too (even though that’s the default for many of us!) In fact, you will be much more effective if you can stay calm and be a rock for your child as he weathers his emotional storm. Validate his feelings (feelings are never the problem, it’s what we do with them that can become problematic), but be calm and clear about the limit: “I know you don’t want to stop playing and get in your car seat, but it’s time to go to school. You’ve got two great choices: you can climb in yourself or I will put you in. Which would you like?” This lets your child know that you are sensitive to his feelings but you are in control and that some things aren’t choices. If you can remain loving and calm during these challenging moments, avoiding lots of emotion, negotiation and threats, your child is likely to calm down more quickly, accept the limits you’ve established, and most importantly feel safe within the boundaries you set.

How can I encourage my children to take risks and become self-confident without overindulging them?

Good news—you actually build your child’s self-confidence by not overindulging them, meaning not doing for them what they can do for themselves. Here’s a vivid, recent example: I had a mom and a 16-month-old who we’ll call Casey, in my office the other day. Casey was trying so hard to propel herself onto the chair with such persistence. Each time she turned back to us we encouraged her to keep trying (although honestly, every bone in my body was aching to just give her bottom a little push…I am a born rescuer). She was almost there but couldn’t get quite enough leverage, so we placed a block on the floor by her feet which she immediately used to heft herself successfully onto the chair. She sat herself down and beamed the most joyful smile and started to clap, so clearly proud of having mastered this challenge—priceless.

We call this kind of experience a “just right challenge”—meaning the task at hand requires some recruitment of new skills but is within a child’s reach with some effort. And we provided just enough support—also known as scaffolding—to help her master a new skill without doing it for her. For a preschooler, this might mean offering a puzzle that a child hasn’t already mastered. If he gets frustrated when he can’t find the correct spaces for the pieces, rather than show him where they fit, you would help him think through a strategy—like turning the pieces—to help him solve the problem. This approach builds persistence and grit; it instills in young children the belief that when they confront a challenge, they have the ability to overcome it, which is the foundation of self-confidence.

Editor's Note: If you missed it live, a full recording of the What's My Parenting Style? webinar featuring Claire is available now.

About Claire: Today's guest blogger, Claire Lerner, is a licensed clinical social worker and child development specialist. She served as the Director of Parenting Resources at ZERO TO THREE for over 18 years. Recently she has taken on the role of Senior Parenting Advisor at the organization. Claire is also the parent of two spirited children, Sam (25) and Jess (22).

What to Read Next:

  • Parenting Wisdom: The Most Important Thing I've Taught My Child
  • Alternatives to Time Out – Positive Guidance Tips for Better Discipline
  • Understanding Toddlers: Keeping Your Patience with Toddlers
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Parenting Style|Parenting Style Expert