BeWell recently spoke with Janada Clark, MA, who teaches Love and Logic through the Stanford WorkLife program and throughout the community, in hopes of getting an answer to the age-old question: "Can I become a better parent?"
What issues do parents bring up most in your class?
The three most common issues I hear from parents of children of all ages are:
- How to stop the arguing and back talk (or temper tantrums with younger children)
- How to get more cooperation (do homework, finish chores, get out the door on time)
- How to come up with effective consequences when children misbehave
How would you describe the most common parenting styles?
Most parents use one of the following parenting styles in dealing with their children:
- Hovers so they can protect the child from possible negative feelings or outcomes to the extent that they ignore their own needs. Example: Child doesn’t like the meal, so parent becomes a “short order” cook making multiple options until child is happy.
- Rescues from situations where the child is uncomfortable because parent can’t stand to see child sad or make mistakes. Example: Child forgets homework and calls parent at work to bring it to school, so parent leaves work and delivers homework to the school.
- Sends the message, “You are helpless and you need me to protect you and do things for you.”
Drill Sergeant Parent:
- Speaks primarily in command language. Example: “Do it now.” “What I say goes.” “Stop the arguing.” “Eat your dinner. I don’t care whether you like it or not.”
- Commonly uses lectures and threats. Example: “Didn’t I warn you about that? If you had listened to me, you wouldn’t have this problem.” “If you don’t clean up your toys there will be no bed time story tonight.” “If homework isn’t finished before dinner, you will lose your time for video games.”
- Sends the message, “I am more powerful than you. You aren’t capable of thinking for yourself so I need to tell you how to think and what to do.”
- Speaks primarily in cooperative language. They make suggestions that include a deadline. This allows a child to think about when and if they are going to comply. Example: “Kids who finish their chores by dinner will get an extra 15 minutes on the computer.” They describe conditions under which they will do or allow something to happen. Example: “I’ll be happy to listen when your voice is as calm as mine.”
- Offers to guide in problem solving by helping child explore options and alternatives. “This sounds tough. Let me know if you would like some suggestions.” Then they allow child to make their own decision. “I know you can figure this out. Can’t wait to see what you decide.”
- Always uses a heavy dose of empathy when the child expresses a problem or makes a mistake. “What a bummer! This is so sad.”
- Sends the message, “You are capable of making a good decision.”
An essential goal in parenting is to prepare children for the real world, which translates into equipping children with tools and the confidence to make good decisions on their own. Both Helicopter and Drill Sergeant parenting styles are ineffective and fall short of this goal. A Helicopter parent takes over the responsibility of decision making and problem solving and promotes a message of weakness. Instead of teaching how to work out a problem, the parent owns the problem, takes care of it and robs the child of experiencing the natural consequences of a poor decision. A Drill Sergeant Parent directs the life of their child expecting compliance through the use of intimidation. The message to the child is they need to listen to others (not their own voice) when making decisions and solving problems. Training a child to listen to an outside authority can create havoc in the teenage years, when adolescents look to peers to make decisions instead of trusting their own judgment.
What do you find compelling about the "consultant" style of parenting?
The consultant style of parenting is by far the most effective in raising children who make responsible decisions independently. Being raised in an atmosphere of empathy promotes self-worth and builds confidence. Using a strong dose of empathy, “Oh that is so sad,” a parent demonstrates they are on the child’s side and love their child unconditionally. Empathy also helps the child from getting angry and believing the parent is the cause of the problem.
The consultant parent is very similar to consultants hired to help with decision making and problem solving. They listen, suggest and help explore alternatives when making decisions. A consultant parent encourages cooperation by offering numerous age-appropriate choices, giving the child many opportunities to practice making decisions. Time frames are offered for the child to complete responsibilities rather than ultimatums. A consultant parent is okay with a child making mistakes and allows them to experience life’s natural consequences from a poor decision.
Is it important for children to make mistakes?
Children need to make mistakes because this is how they learn to make better decisions the next time around. Mistakes turn on an internal voice: “Wow, that didn’t turn out so good for me; I wonder what I can do differently the next time?”
The child raised by a helicopter or drill sergeant parent will likely be angry with their parent and blame them as the source of the problem. They develop an internal voice that most likely says: “Wow, that didn’t turn out so good for me. I wonder what I can do the next time so I won’t get caught?”
What advice would you give a parent trying to help their child to solve a problem?
Give a child the tools to solve problems and you’ve given them an essential life skill. These simple steps will help you guide your child to figure out solutions.
- Express empathy: “How sad. Bet it hurts your friend didn’t play with you today.”
- Hand the problem back: “What do you think you’re going to do?”
- Offer suggestions: “Would you like some ideas?” Hint: Don’t say, “This is what I would do” as this can be off-putting. Instead, the magic phrase is, “This is what some kids have tried.”
- If they say no, make yourself available in the future. Chances are they will return for ideas.
- Make the first suggestion meager as most children automatically like to reject a first suggestion.
- Ask: “How would that work for you?”
- Allow the child to solve or not solve the problem.
- Express faith in their ability: “I’m cheering for you. I know you can figure this out.”
Interview conducted by Julie Croteau and edited by Dorothy Ryan