Am I doing the right thing?

Coral Gables Counseling Center - Wednesday, July 24, 2019
By Cristina Anderson, PSY.D.

That’s a question I often hear from the parents that I work with. When it comes to parenting and discipline, it is typically one interesting ride. Even with all the new information out there: books, podcasts, blogs on raising children, it often is trial-and-error and subjective to your relationship with your child.

When you have an infant, you do your best to meet his every cry with food, cuddles and snuggles. You take in your role as a new (or 2+) parent. As they grow older, they definitely try to challenge you and throw every curveball known and not known to man. It can make it more difficult to cater to their every need and to even understand what might be going on in the first place. You can thank their brain development and emotions.

So as your little ones grow older, that “Am I doing it right?” question can become confusing and challenging. As a parent, you bring in your aspects of your own childhood when you were parented. How did your parents respond to you when you felt happy, sad, angry or frustrated? Did you feel supportive, dismissed, encouraged? These feelings we felt when we were young often become challenged when facing our own children’s needs.

We tend to get challenged as well because of our expectations. We expect that our children will like what we like, respond immediately when we make a request, know what to do with their emotions, etc. But as you’ve likely learned, this does not always happen. What we view as ‘challenging’ behavior is that children are actually showing you their own emotions, ability to think, and make choices. At times, though, children may assert their views in a way that’s rather triggering to you as a parent. These might be the moments where you feel your child is out of control and you feel like you are at wits end and respond in the only way you can (i.e., yelling, punishing, shutting down…). These moments, as challenging as they are, are crucial moments for learning for not only your little one but for yourself.

challenge you to expand from that “Am I doing it right?” question to think about WHY you think those behaviors are so triggering for you. By understanding your own feelings and talking them over with your partner or a trusted person, it can better direct your actions and the messages you want to send to your little one. It could also help during the actual moments to know where its coming from for you so that you are able to slow down and address the emotions of your child. I will also ask you to consider what your child might be going through during those moments. Are they tired? Did their exciting playtime get interrupted? Are they worried that you’ll leave or be disappointed in them if they make a mistake?

Think about if you were watching the season finale of Game of Thrones, World Cup or playing an intense game of candy crush on your phone and the power suddenly goes out or someone changes the channel. I could hear the screams. Your little one experiences things with all that emotion too. Use this information to validate and verbalize what your little one might be feeling to help connect them with you… and then you can discuss a plan of action with them (briefly why you had to say no or provide an alternative/choice).

Remember that children need to go to school to learn their ABC’s and how to spell, even though some start saying their first words by year one. Similarly, children need to learn how to navigate their emotions, even though they show you crying and fussing since they are born. Parenting is the hardest job out there… So keep on trucking along. Be open to finding what works best for you and your family and remember there is no ‘perfection’ when it comes to parenting.

What childhood emotions are triggers for you?
Are they showing up in the way you parent your kids?
Understanding this, is there anything you can do better as a parent for both you and your child?