If-then your parenting

One of the things that I love about this country is our ability to dream big. It is deeply embedded in our culture, just ask a kid what they want to be when they grow up. The follow through on achieving big dreams however, doesn’t always occur. There are a multitude of reasons for the gap between idea and execution, and there are many strategies that can assist. I want to tell you about my experience with one strategy in particular, because it changed my parenting.

Long before my son was born I came across the work of Peter Gollwitzer, professor of psychology at NYU, and his research on implementation intentions, or if-then plans. Basically you determine an action that can be linked to a situation, either an opportunity or an obstacle. Here are some personal examples: If I wake up before my alarm, then I will practice mindfulness. If it is raining outside, then I will work out with my Jillian Michaels video. You get the picture.

I really loved practicing if-then plans because they directed me to what I needed to be doing right now. I always felt that piece was missing from big dreams, we often lose sight of what we need to do right now. So whenever I have some big dreams, or I am working with others with big dreams, we use if-then plans to get there. After having my son one of my big dreams was to be the best parent that I could be.

As anyone who is a parent knows, the job is hard. Meeting that big dream of what a good parent is takes a lot of work. One of the toughest things I have had to manage is how I respond to my son, especially when he is screaming. I am a first time parent, and I was unprepared for the frustration that I would feel whenever my son would scream over something that I perceived as trivial, like denying him a lollipop. I had this instinct to respond with spanking. It took everything in my power not to spank him, because it is something that I have decided not to do. But it was so hard to fight that instinct. I am not sure where the urge to spank came from. Maybe every human has it, maybe it is just an urge that I have. Where it came from doesn’t really matter though, what matters is how I felt in those moments. I didn’t like it, and I wanted to change it.

One day after painstakingly fighting that urge to spank in the moment, I thought about if-then plans. What if I tried them for these moments that were so tough? The idea was that they make the behavior that you want a little easier, and I had been successfully using them and teaching them to others. So I tried it. If my son is screaming, then I will hold him.

I wrote that statement down on a notecard and put it on my desk. The next time my son screamed over something that I perceived as trivial, that if-then statement popped in my head. If my son is screaming, then I will hold him. It was easier to hold him after that. I no longer had this overwhelming urge anymore. It was still faintly there, I still thought about it, but it wasn’t overwhelming. It wasn’t winning.

So, if you are struggling with something in particular about your parenting try writing down an if-then plan. It gave me a win, so I hope that it does the same for you.