Are you a secretly guilty parent?

Guilty Dad

Are you a secretly guilty parent?

Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse? Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better?

Dr Jane Nelson, US child development expert and positive discipline advocate

There’s a direct link between how children feel and how they behave: when children feel good, they behave well; when children feel bad, they behave badly. So to help children behave better you need to help them to feel better.

The really interesting thing is that this connection between our behaviour and our emotions DOESN’T STOP when we become adults. The connection between how we feel and what we do is the same for us parents as it is for our children.

This is why it is imperative that we ditch the guilt about ourselves as parents that often lurks unspoken – but keenly and painfully felt – in the recesses of our minds: Are we doing enough for our children? Are we doing too much for them? Do they do too much? Or not enough? Do they eat the right stuff? Do they watch too much TV? Have they enough friends? The right friends? It’s exhausting. And it’s pointless.

In fact, this guilt is not just pointless, it’s counter-productive.Guilty Mum

Feeling bad about myself as a parent won’t help me to be a better one. It’ll just make me feel bad. Then most likely all that bad feeling will come out sideways: I’ll be cross with my kids, I’ll be snippy with my partner, I’ll moan about the state of the nation and the outcome of the election and why the weather sucks at half term!

You are NOT a bad parent **. You are doing your best with the information and awareness you have at this moment. It’s a FACT – every single one of us is doing the very best we can at all times. So put down the big stick and give yourself a break. It’s exhausting beating yourself up all the time. Get in the bath. Sit down and just take a rest. Light a candle and read a book. Forget the ironing. Snuggle up with your kids on the sofa and watch a movie you’ll all enjoy. And when the nasty little Guilt Gremlin comes up and starts telling you that you don’t have time for this, well invite the Gremlin to sit down with you.

Give the Guilt Gremlin the night off. You’ll feel better for it. And then you’ll DO better too.

Now speaking of doing better because you’re feeling better, here’s a suggestion for how to do better next time your child starts wailing “It’s not FAIR!”

Every parent needs to be able to handle the consequences of setting boundaries with their child. Sometimes children will behave really badly (shouting, yelling, stamping, slamming, pleading, whining…) when we don’t give in to their desires.

We all know we’re not meant to give in because if we do we’ll reinforce the bad behaviour. Or in plain English, giving in means we’ll make it more likely that our child will repeat the bad behaviour at some future point. So how can you hold your ground in the face of a behavioural or emotional onslaught brought on by saying no to a request?

Cirlce_smallOf course you can try positive discipline techniques such as empathy / reflective listening:

Try saying something like “I hear you, you’re really mad that you can’t have an icecream” rather than “Stop that wailing, you got an icecream yesterday so you can’t have one today”).

Another handy tool is saying “Yes” instead of “No”:

Try saying “Oh yes, you can do that as soon as your piano practice is finished” rather than “No way, you can’t do that today”.

But no matter how good you get with positive parenting tools you might still occasionally end up with an irate child who is loudly and insistently trying to get you to change your mind with some immature behaviour (i.e. a tantrum or whiny power struggle).

When this happens I like to use a tool that’s based on empathy and harnesses the power of language to keep a parent’s brain in neutral and stop them from feeling so anxious about the unfolding power struggle. I call it “Don’t disagree, agree”.

Next time your child starts to pester you with a wail of “It’s not FAIR!” or similar, summon up a list of simple catchphrases that express AGREEMENT not DISAGREEMENT with your child’s assessment of the unfairness of the situation:

…Maybe so…

…Could be…

…Uh huh…

…That’s right…

…So you say…

…So it seems…

…I agree…

…Yes indeed…

…You may be right…

Repeat to fade……Blog dir.pic

This works for a number of reasons, not least because as the parent you’ll feel better when you’re not wondering what to do or say or whether you made the wrong call or if you should relent.

Try this. It can even be fun. The pestering mightn’t stop first time you try it. But it might. Or it might even get worse temporarily (psychologists call this response burst – it’s a normal phenomenon and means that your efforts are WORKING, not the opposite). Whatever way your child responds, if it stops you wavering, or arguing or getting anxious, it counts as progress.

** Disclaimer – if you are a bad parent make an appointment to come see me immediately. If you are a good parent who would nevertheless like to be a better one then appointments are also available for you!

Dr Samantha O'Reilly

Dr Samantha O’Reilly is a trained psychologist and holds a PhD in clinical psychology from the University of St Andrews. She also has a diploma in counselling and psychotherapy and is a qualified Family Links Parent Group Leader. As a mother of two children, she blends her academic knowledge with practical experience.

Samantha is committed to helping parents create the kind of family they really want, where children and parents are nurtured and cherished. She enjoys sharing ways in which parents can tweak their communication so that family members are speaking in ways that reflect their deep love for one another. She has an engaging, informal and empathic style which is reflected throughout her parenting website and her CDs / downloads on some common parenting dilemmas: How to Stop Tantrums, How to Stop Power Struggles, and How to Give Praise That Works (available to buy through her website).

She runs private classes and workshops for parents as well as offering coaching and counselling sessions which can all be booked by contacting her directly:

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