Anatomy of a Parenting Problem

May 12, 2011 at 1:04 pm Leave a comment

Every parenting problem is an interaction between the child, the environment, and you, which I call THE 3 PROBLEM PRODUCERS. This gives you (at least)  3 possible solutions to your problem.  In the next post, we’ll talk about how to troubleshoot these problems, but first, let’s define the 3 Problem Producers:
Your child:  Your child came pre-packaged with”The Personality Program.”  This is like a computer program that tells your child how to act and react.  At first, as babies, kids share most of the same code:  if hungry, cry.  If tired, cry.  (Even though you can see differences in temperament even among newborns!) As they get older, their own unique code starts to shine through.  Some children have the code: hear loud noise, cry; while others aren’t bothered at all.  As they grow, the program evolves–your shy newborn might be an outgoing child one day, even if you do nothing.
Can you, the parent, rewrite the code?

 Sometimes, but the things you can change will probably be the least important ones.  And you never know which bugs will turn out to be features–your bossy child turns into a leader, your emotional child is an empathetic adult.  Some kids are just more challenging, so it might take more work on your part to keep things running smoothly.
So the best advice is, for the most part, leave your kid alone, and enjoy watching the program as it plays out.
The environment:  This should be the first thing you try to change whenever you have a problem with your child.  Environment is a big category, and I’m including not only the physical space around your child, but the people it’s filled with (including siblings) and your routines of how you do things.
If diaper changes have turned into a nightmare, try changing where or how you do them.   If your child is getting into your Precious Moments collection, it’s time to pack those little doe-eyed figurines away (preferably for a long, long time….I’m sorry, but they kind of freak me out.)  If your newly-mobile tyke is ripping your books, put them on a higher shelf.
These changes are not forever!  When it’s developmentally appropriate, you can help your children face the challenges in the environment–whether it’s climbing stairs, getting over a fear of dogs, using kitchen knives. . . the trick is giving them challenges that they are ready for.
People talk about “Baby Proofing” a house, but I’m more into “Baby PLUSsing.”  Make your environment as baby-friendly and inviting as you can so that you don’t have to constantly run after your kid saying no the whole time.  As your children get older, think about how you can change the environment to suit their needs.  For example, if you want to place limits on TV watching, don’t put a TV in your kid’s room and just expect him to have the self-control not to put it on!  That’s like putting out a plate of freshly baked cookies and saying “don’t eat these while I’m gone.  It’s cruel!
Now, some of you might be thinking, “but how will I teach my child self-control and to delay gratification?  Those are important traits.”  I agree, those are great traits to have, but I’m not convinced they can be taught.  Did you ever see the marshmallow experiment?
You:  When you examine your parenting problems, if you’re really honest, you might find that the problem is almost totally your construction.  Maybe you have unrealistic expectations, like dragging your preschooler on a whole day’s worth of errands and expecting perfect behavior.  Maybe your personality is different that your child’s–you find it so easy to talk to strangers, so why is he so shy?  Maybe you just don’t know what to expect from a child of a certain age.  Is it normal for a 10-year-old to lie or for a 14-year-old to turn everything into an argument?
How do you know if you’re the problem?  One clue is you’re always saying “Because I said so.”  This might indicate you don’t really have good justification for what you’re asking of your child.  On the other hand, maybe you do have really good reasons for what you’re doing.  You need to be true to yourself, as well.  If it gives you an anxiety attack when your kid flips off the swings, you’re justified in asking your child not to do that.
Now that we know The 3 Problem Producers, let’s talk about how to solve them
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If ya can’t change ’em . . . 3-step solution for solving parenting problems

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