Archive of ‘Positive Discipline’ category

Parenting the Preteen

Preteens are among one of the most difficult age groups to parent. I say this with grace and understanding to all parents because parenting is already a tough job to manage. However, the unique needs of a child in this growing stage of life are often misunderstood or neglected. Through the ages of 8-12 years old, a child’s physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development shift tremendously; that is why I love working with preteens so much as a therapist: I get to see them grow in every sense right before my eyes. Parents must adapt their ways of thinking in order to best support this stage of life. A preteen requires respect, understanding, and open communication with their parents. I believe parents will experience positive effects from maintaining clear, reasonable boundaries, fostering their child’s independence, and respecting their identity exploration. Also don’t forget: it’s not personal!

Create a Balanced Relationship

Parenting, much like life itself, is about balance. Therefore, it is imperative when parenting preteens to create a balanced dynamic between parent and child. The common battle of this stage is control vs. freedom; the preteen wants to achieve freedom from all perceived restraints, but parents seek to control their child’s behavior. The middle ground to rest upon is a relationship where parents set clear expectations and boundaries. Preteens feel their need for autonomy is respected, but parents still hold the power to make rules and keep the child safe. Too much control will cause the child to feel like their parent holds all the power, and thus creates the dreaded power struggle. The flip side of being too relaxed in boundaries can decrease the preteen’s sense of safety, support, and understanding of expectations in the home. If a parent tries to be more of a friend than a parental figure, how can we expect the child to listen to anything they have to say? The key to limiting relationship issues with a preteen is to build a healthy balance of limits and freedom. 

Step Back to Watch

One of the hardest tasks of parenting is loosening the reins to watch your child grow. This is necessary, but of course it is also frightening! You will see a preteen pull away from family members, change their friends constantly, and ignore responsibilities that used to matter to them- but this is totally normal in the grand scheme of development. Identifying outside the home is a positive because that means the child is increasing their self-confidence and becoming more independent. Parents, please encourage this independence to show your preteen that you are happy they can create social connections and develop new interests. Emphasize that you are always there for them and that you still value times of connection and love, but that it is important for a preteen to grow outside of what they have always known. Another hugely important lesson is that failure is not unacceptable, it’s inevitable; so a parent must prepare to see their child fail on their own. Parents should try to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on achieving perfect grades, high accolades in sports, etc. unless the child asks for this additional support. Strive for greatness, not perfection, and teach that there is more to life than being the best. 

Respect is the Bottom Line

In every stage of parenting from a positive parenting lens, respect is communicated and shown at all times. Especially in the preteen stage, the child requires unconditional respect because they generally feel misunderstood by adults. When handling tasks in the home, it is important to be calm and reasonable in your requests: for example, asking a child to clean their room after first insulting how messy it looks will foster a negative dynamic with the child. I like to call upon a parenting Golden Rule: Reflect before reacting, then respond with respect. If you model to your child that yelling, name-calling, and poor listening is acceptable when you do it, then how can you expect the child to behave any differently? Show preteens respect by listening without judgment when they tell you about their day, or remaining calm and supportive when learning about a bad grade. When a child feels that their parents respect their changing identity and will still be there for them no matter what, then the relationship can hopefully remain strong.

It’s Never Personal

My final wisdom to impart on all parents of preteen children: please try to remember that the way your children treat you is not personal. Due to changing bodies and brains and responsibilities in the world, preteens experience intense challenges! So if heightened emotional expressions and increased incidents of crying, stomping, or eye-rolling start to pop up it is likely a reaction to what they are experiencing OUTSIDE the home. While that might seem confusing, it is helpful to remember that parents are easy targets because a child consciously/subconsciously knows as an eternal truth that their parent will never abandon them. Thus, they feel comfortable pushing boundaries and buttons to the extreme because they can act out these feelings without suffering a consequence of social rejection, school punishment, or public shame. It is necessary to expect resistance from a preteen and accept the forthcoming challenges as they come, like riding a wave. In addition, please allow yourself to grieve their childhood while also holding space for pride that they are growing closer to adulthood. Parenting is a wonderful, scary, messy, often thankless, but always rewarding job that never ends. Be kind to yourself, be kind to your preteen, and be okay with not having it all figured out because they will learn from your vulnerability and resilience.

I learned a lot of helpful tips and encourage following up by reading these articles!

Ways to Increase Connection with your Child When School Starts

Notice the Good and Encourage 

As you know, the weeks leading up to school and even after school starts can be a rough transition for both you and your kiddo. One way to increase connection with your child is to not only pay attention to the positive things that your child does, but also verbalize them. Yes, the small things too! When people do better they feel better, which is exactly how children feel when their parents notice and affirm their positive actions. 

Examples of Encouragement: 

“I appreciate how you put your backpack up when you walked into the house.”

You are such a kind friend for holding the door for your classmate.” 

“Thank you for helping me set the table.” 

“You must be so proud of yourself for figuring out your math homework.”

Make Agreements 

A common struggle I hear when working with parents is “how do I get my child to do what I want.” A parent that decides for their child what they want their child to do directly reduces the opportunity for collaboration or discussion, which can create more distance between them. With this authoritarian approach, the child may feel discouraged that they cannot express their feelings leaving the parent defeated as to how to fix the issue.  

However, involving your child in the process of creating agreements can increase direct involvement from them, which can lead them to keep their agreements. Children feel respected when they are given an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings on an issue. 

Follow these 5 Steps for how to create Agreements: 

  1. Sit down together when everyone is calm and have a respectful discussion about an issue that requires an agreement 
  2. Brainstorm Solutions. Let everyone share their thoughts and feelings about the issue.
  3. Choose a solution that everyone can agree on and agree on a specific time deadline 
  4. If agreement is not followed, refrain from using judgment or criticism. Instead say, “What was our agreement?” 
  5. If agreement is still not followed, start again with Step 1.

Validate Feelings 

The first few weeks of school can elicit a range of emotions from your child. Some children might be excited about making new friends or entering a new grade, while others may feel nervous and retreat from these new experiences. Whatever your child may be feeling during these first few weeks of school, you will be a source of grounding for them. They will come to you seeking guidance or support and the most important way you can help them is to validate their feelings. 

Validation is all about providing children the space to simply feel without you trying to rescue, fix, or deny their feelings. When you directly acknowledge your child’s feelings through a question or statement, it models to them: I am significant and it is okay to feel what I feel. Through validation, you show them that their feelings provide crucial information about themselves in that very moment. And when children experience their feelings and are actively able to work through them, it can lead to self-regulation, and then later to appropriate problem solving. 

Examples of Validation: 

“You sound angry.” 

“I can see that makes you very frustrated.” 

“Can you tell me more about what you are feeling?”

“Do you need a hug?” 

Transitioning out of summer and into the school year can be hectic and overwhelming as the entire household juggles waking up on time, carpools, bus rides, packing lunches, after school activities, completing homework, and the list goes on. And as a parent, the responsibility falls on you to manage, problem solve, and fix things along the way. However, I would like to remind you that you deserve to give yourself compassion and patience during this time because you may not meet every expectation you have for yourself as a parent. And that is okay. 

The creator of Positive Discipline, Jane Nelson says, “the first step in learning to be the best (but not perfect) parent you can be is to create a roadmap to guide you to your destination.” My hope is that by implementing and practicing these three techniques it will serve as a path to more meaningful moments with your child. 

Written By: Geetha Pokala, M.S., LPC

Saying “no” Is Incredibly Difficult

For some of you, saying “no” may be easy. In which case I hope you’re enjoying your beautifully boundaried life! (Maybe there’s some jealousy there…) For the rest of us, even when we know it’s in our best interest to say “no,” we don’t. 

Recently I was invited to brunch with some colleagues, and it would have been the EASIEST thing to say “no” to. I’ve been working my butt off and I’m currently over-committed to extra-curricular activities. I didn’t say “no.” In fact, as soon as I got the confirmation, I immediately replied “YEP! I’ll be there!” And here are all the reasons why I did that: 

  1. I love this group of friends. 
  2. It’s been a hot minute since I’ve seen them, and I missed them.
  3. When we first had the idea to plan a brunch, I helped spearhead the scheduling, so I felt I had a responsibility to attend. 
  4. I thought brunch doesn’t require energy. All I have to do is eat, drink, laugh, right? And just for an hour or two. 
  5. I forgot that I’m not superhuman and that I actually have limited energy resources.

But Here’s The Kicker

I said “yes” because I was stressed. How does that make sense? We’re less boundaried in our lives when we’re stressed. It takes energy to set boundaries, to say “no” to things, and I was all out of energy. 

In my stressed state, I wasn’t thinking about the energy it takes to be social (I’m a bit of an introvert). I didn’t think about the fact that it’d take 30 minutes for me to get to the restaurant we agreed to meet. And then 30 minutes back. Not to mention that I had an other event to attend immediately afterward that would be taking more of my energy. 

The point here is that it’s a cycle. When we commit to too much, it drains us, which leaves us much less likely to to have the energy needed to draw boundaries. We have to break the cycle somewhere. 

For me, I have the opportunity to break the cycle with my therapist. 50 minutes, just for me, to talk to someone who also wants to help me set some boundaries so that I don’t end up completely exhausted. I, of course, WANT to do everything. To go to all the brunches and the trainings and the creative activities and the weekend events and and and. Unfortunately, I’m a finite human, and I have to prioritize the things that are most important. 

We Can’t Do It All.

There’s some grief to process there too. Sadness about all the things I don’t have the energy to do, even though I want to. Maybe I’ll get to get to do them at a later point in time, or maybe it was a missed opportunity. But then I think of all the things I would have to miss when I burn out (which is inevitable with this lifestyle). When I “have to” miss things, they’re usually things I wish I had prioritized. When I choose to miss things, they’re usually things that are lower on my priority list, and thus I feel less regret. 

I’ll leave you with this: Consciously saying “no” to less important things is another way of saying “yes” to more important things. 

Written By: Mike Rothschild, M.A., LPC-Associate, NCC, Supervised by M. Michelle Hawn, LPC-S

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