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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Paint by Numbers, useful in therapy, but a poor way to parent.

(In honor of Father's Day which is upon us tomorrow, I am re-posting and editing this blog at it still applies today as it did when it was originally written...) It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.   Those true words were spoken in "A Tale of Two Cities", but in a way that applies all the resources we have for parenting today.  We have so many 'experts' giving us advice on how to parent.  They tell us:
  • What set of steps we should take when our kids won't listen.
  • What illness or issue our kid may or may not have, the precise symptoms to look for and how to treat them.
  • How to be reach out to your child and/or meet him or her on their level.
  • What activities they should participate in to become an 'adjusted adult'.
  • What 'decisions' or 'choices' we should allow them to have.
  • What they should eat, what they shouldn't eat.
  • What is a good structure for their day, week, month, year and life.
  • Etc.
In other words, when in doubt, find the resource which tell us what to do and follow the script.   If suggested plan A doesn't work, try plan B.  If suggested plan B, doesn't work, try plan C.  You almost wonder how the hell previous generations survived into adulthood given what few resources they had relatively speaking.

No don't get me wrong, clearly having more resources and better resources is a good thing.  However, we should be careful not to replace 'real parenting' with a series of steps or Dr. Phil's daily wisdom.   We should not 'pray' to the gods of children's self-help books and take their wisdom as gospel.  Nor should we substitute verbatim a therapist or counselor's words for our own intuition.  In other words, you just can't apply "paint by numbers" technique to raising a child.  That is to say, mindlessly apply techniques based on an expected result and then be surprised or dismayed when your children don't do well with them.

There is absolutely no substitute for spending time with your child and getting to know him or her.  
See 2D vs. 3D relationships.  That was meant more so for romantic relationships, but much of the same concepts still apply.

While I understand and accept the notions of structure, discipline and consistency.  I believe that many people overlook or underutilize what I call "Intuitive parenting".   So, what does that look like?  Intuitive parenting to me includes some of the following:

  • Paying attention or 'listening' to our kids.  We may perceive that they aren't doing what we want or need them to do because they just want to do what they want.  We also might perceive that they just don't want to listen us.  But often, there is a reason why they aren't 'listening', even if it is misguided.  Sometimes the key is asking the right question to them.  For example, if he/she is difficult about brushing their teeth, don't automatically assume it is because they are lazy or whatever.  It could be that the toothpaste they are using 'burns' their mouth.  Seek what is block, don't assume your kid is 
  • Showing flexibility at obvious points.   
    • When a child is throwing a fit or being difficult, it is easy to get into a shouting match, to give in or too play Freud with him or her.   Sometimes, you just need to go outside the usual techniques to disrupt the pattern.  For example, appeal to his or her funny bone.  If you can get them laughing, you may very well throw them off their 'tantrum' pattern.
    • Too much rigidity in their schedule, can actually be a detriment.  
      • For example, if he or she is having a horrible day, your child might just need you to waive the normal bedtime to give him or her a chance to talk about it with you without worrying about exact number of sleep hours.
      • Sometimes you just have to alter the 'plan' for the day to take into account issues your child is having that day.  You could try to press on with the script for the day and scold your child when he or she interrupts or disrupts the script or you could change up the script a little avoid a blowup.
  • Keeping track of what's important to him or her and without announcement showing that, especially at a point they could use it.  Sometimes, they just need a reminder that you love them and that what is important to them is important to you also.
  • Completely mixing it up with him or her.  Being serious when it is appropriate to, but showing a lighter, even playful side.  Express that side when you see they could use it.
In short, not always sticking to a script or agenda and not following a set of "talking points", but being open enough to read your child their needs.  Not forgetting about his or her long terms needs, but not letting the push to fill those get in the way of meeting their immediate or short term emotional, mental and spiritual needs.

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