In my time in private practice, I have worked with many, many families. They come in to meet with me because they don’t know what to do. They may have a child who is acting out – meaning they don’t comply with requests. The kids have intense and loud meltdowns when they hear ‘no,’ and they don’t like to engage in tasks that are not ‘fun.’
These parents often feel confused and don’t understand how their parents were able to look at them, without uttering a word, and gain compliance.
Is this an exaggeration, or has parenting changed? If you ask me, parenting has changed.
Discomfort in Parenting
Sadly, over time we have become more uncomfortable with setting limits and being consistent with our daily routines or general rules. Instead, we compromise and negotiate constantly, which gives our children the understanding that when we ask them to do something (e.g., work on your homework or brush your teeth), it is not really a directive. Rather, that follow-through is not needed, as there is wiggle room to change the demands. Our children also know that if enough time passes or if they resist hard enough, we will back down.
Somewhere along the line, we became uncomfortable with being the parent and felt more comfortable with being our children’s ‘friend.’ I would like to clearly state that our children don’t need us as their fellow peers. They have those already. They need us to be their parents and to set parameters in what can be a boundary-less world.
Our children need our guidance in understanding right from wrong, kind from unkind, honest from dishonest, and so on. They need us to be in charge so they can feel safe and know that there are consequences when we don’t follow through on something that we committed to or something that we should have done.
It actually creates safety and a sense of trust that we’re guiding our children to eventually be well-adjusted adults who can hold a job and maintain relationships and friendships.
Our children are quite scheduled – in fact, over-scheduled. Our children don’t know how to entertain themselves; thus, “I’m bored” and reaching for the phone, iPad, or computer becomes all too common. In essence, we have turned our children into mini-adults with full adult size schedules.
“Back in the day” we ran outside in the morning and played. All. Day. Long. There were no planned social interactions (e.g., playdates) or organized activities. We just played. We played with dirt on the playground or at the park. We created games, we played board games, and we played card games.
Our children cannot tolerate unstructured time, which is necessary for their mental health and development. This is when creativity, imagination, problem solving and processing happens. This is when they can let their body and mind unwind and self-soothe. Many of our children struggle to fall asleep because they are constantly running, and sleep is just another thing on the checklist – rather than having downtime that allows our children to self-regulate without the use of electronics.
I’ll reiterate my general rule for organized sports and activities: one activity per child per season. And even more importantly, set a consistent bedtime and stick with it. Our children need their sleep, which will come more easily if they have had time in their day to quiet down all their systems.
Family time. It doesn’t happen all that naturally because we are all over-scheduled and running, running, running – and I don’t mean for track! How often are you able to go out for a bike ride, play a board game, or a game in your yard? Not too often, I venture to say. Why? Because there’s no room for that.
Family time is pressured and probably consists of passing on food in the back of the car on your way to or from an activity. Our children need time with their family – impromptu time to connect, share a story, a joke, or a laugh. As families, we are often pressured for time to rush to or from the next place to be.
But, what if we didn’t have to do so much running around? What if you were able to get through your evening routine without rushing and instead, use it as a time to bond, even if you’re not doing something collectively?
Time with the family doesn’t have to be a vacation or an expensive night out. It can be as simple as making dinner together, watching a show together, or just being with each other without doing anything at all!
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A Few Parenting Strategies
- Use a firm voice and set the expectations for your child or children
- Be consistent in those expectations
- Enact consequences that are established in advance
- One activity per child per season
- Screen-free car rides and meals
- Family dinner at least three times per week
- Build in 30-60 mins per night of ‘quiet time’ where family members can do something together or separately that does not involve screens or electronics
Parenting is a difficult job – the most difficult and demanding job I have ever had. Our children need us to be the parent, even when it’s uncomfortable and ugly.
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Dr. Liz Matheis is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist who specializes in assisting children and their families with Autism, ADHD, Anxiety and learning/behavioral disorders in Parsippany NJ. Dr. Liz was trained at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison and Teaneck, where she earned her BA in Psychology, MA and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.
In her private practice, she has 4 therapists who provide after school and evening hours. Stephanie Fredericka, LCSW, Nicole Filiberti, LSW, Michelle Molle-Krowiak, Ed.S., LCSW & Chrissy Sunberg, M.Ed., AAC are a welcomed addition and provide specialization in CBT, Art & Play Therapy, Grieving, Trauma, In Home ADHD Coaching, and use of the Sand Tray Therapeutic Technique.
Dr. Liz focuses on well-aligned parenting styles via parent coaching, helping parents who are divorcing or divorced to maintain a co-parenting relationship, creating a consistent home environment, and the establishment of boundaries and behavioral expectations in helping children and families to realize their fullest potential. She also serves as an Educational Consultant to parents who are seeking to optimize their child’s IEP, and need support and advocacy to maximize their child’s special education program and related services. As a former School Psychologist on the Child Study Team, Dr. Liz also provides psycho-educational evaluations that are Child Study Team friendly.
At present, she is a contributor to a number of popular press magazines, radio and blogs, where she is able to provide real-world, pragmatic solutions to complex problems. To learn more, visit www.psychedconsult.com or email at [email protected].