In my practice, I am often presented with families who have sought out help for their children because these parents feel that their children are not listening to instruction or following the rules. These parents come to me because they want me to provide counseling to their children alone, and in some way, ‘fix’ their children.
A problem within the family unit is just that, a family problem.
These parents are quickly given a wake up call. If a client is presented to me for such a reason, I quickly inform the family that a problem within the family unit is just that, a ‘family problem’. And if members are not communicating properly, it is every member’s responsibility to learn how to improve matters. It is a lot easier for parents to cast blame on one of their children if they feel that there is not sufficient harmony within the household.
The truth is, we all respond to our environment differently, and the likelihood is very high that their child is responding in a certain way because of the atmosphere in the home, the style of parenting being imposed, feeling misunderstood, etc. Every member of a family contributes to the successes and failures of the ways family members communicate with one another.
As a therapist and as a parent, it is my job to help families, including my own, identify where communication is breaking down, and what sort of strategies would work to increase peace within the home. My husband and I both have struggled to identify and accept that our children are all different from one another. They respond differently to the same types of discipline. They have different temperaments. What triggers a reaction in one might not even faze the other. They also need or demand different qualities from their parents. Love and support expressed in varying ways. Space or extra hugs. Whatever the case may be.
Parents need to figure out what works for each child, and which types of behaviors are virtually ineffective. This is often a daunting task and vey difficult for parents to achieve successfully. Let’s not deny that it is also completely frustrating and extremely time consuming. Time that most parents do not have to give on an ongoing basis to assess and figure out which ways to help their children.
Once you think you have mastered something with one child, it all means nothing if one of the other children does not respond to it. We apply the ‘wrong’ type of parenting, and end up unintentionally hurting our children along the way. The truth is, we do not always know which path to take. And along the way we make mistakes. Many, many mistakes.
So what are parents to do?
First off, parents need to recognize the unique qualities in their children and understand how each of their children self regulates. One might be very non-reactive about most things, and take more risks. This child might be able to handle criticism in a constructive way without taking too much to heart. A sibling, on the other hand, could respond in the opposite way. Everything needs to get thought through. Every behaviour is well planned. When mistakes are made, this type of child handles it with difficulty. She might take it as a personal slate against her.
The point is, every child is unique. And parents are fooling themselves if they think that one type of discipline or one type of comfort or one type of parenting style will suffice. If parents do not recognize that their children self regulate differently, they are doing a huge disservice to their children whereby they are not identifying their child’s exceptional characteristics and are subsequently undermining them as people. Children need acceptance for who they are, especially from their parents.
This is one of the greatest parenting challenges for many, and mastering it is certainly on ongoing process.
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