By Rachel Sklar
Have you ever heard yourself say, “I’m not sure if this is right, but I usually… (fill in the blank)”.
In my role as a parent coach, educator, speaker and friend, parents constantly ask me if they are ‘parenting right’.
“I’m not sure if this is right, but I put my child in time-out when he hits his brother.”
“I don’t know if it’s right, but when my baby throws her ‘lovey’ out of the crib, I don’t give it back.”
“I’m not sure if I should do this, but my kids can’t have dessert unless they finish their entire dinner.”
Do you hear a little voice in your head saying, “Yep that’s right” or “Nope, that’s wrong”? Look again at the list. Do you hear yourself saying, “I’m not sure either, but I hope this article has an answer!”
We’ve been trained to look to experts for answers because we’re constantly doubting ourselves and our decisions. Experts can help, but what’s more helpful is figuring out a strategy for making confident decisions on our own.
When we’re full of doubt, we fail to see the bigger picture, one in which it’s unfair to judge ourselves and our kids based on an elusive notion that there’s a correct and incorrect way to parent — and that others know what’s right.
Good news though! We can eliminate our dependence on experts and boost our confidence by converting our “Am I doing it right?” questions to “Does this work for me?”
When we focus on what works, and not on judging and assessing ourselves based on some unattainable notion of right and wrong, we begin to see reality. We begin to align our parenting approach with both our short-term and our long-term goals for our children.
But don’t stop at “Does this work right now?” For something to work, it has to work now and later!
So while a time-out may stop a child from hitting his brother (short term goal of obedience), does it stop him from doing it next time? Does it teach him to be the kind of adult you’re aiming to raise?
You’ll want to check if your approach is aligned with your long-term goals. For example, if you want to raise a child who feels unconditional love when he makes a mistake, does time-out work? Or, does time-out work to help your child feel worthy and understood when he has an unmet need? Maybe if he needs boundaries, it works. Maybe not.
Some kids need the sensory break a time-out affords, while others may feel ashamed, lonely or misunderstood. Although there’s no right answer, most of my clients discover that time-outs don’t align with their long-term goals, but there are a few who think time-outs are a blessing and I support them. Every child is different.
Jane Nelson, who brought positive discipline to the forefront of modern parent education, says, “We are often fooled by immediate results. Sometimes we must beware of what works when the long-term results are negative.”
So what is the little voice in your head saying now? Something like, “Easier said than done?” or “What about this situation?” or “What about that situation?”
First, give yourself the gift of NOT knowing or needing all the answers. Take time to reflect on your short term goals (e.g., getting your kids to finish their dinner) and how those goals might conflict with your long-term goals (e.g., raising kids who have a healthy, self-directed relationship with food).
There’s no right or wrong answer about incentivizing children with dessert, but if you’re going to do it, make sure it benefits your child in both the short-term and the long-term.
We walk this fine line carefully in the ParentSpark chatbot I’m developing with a partner. Heather is a bot posing as a parent coach, a mom of 3, and a non-judgmental 24/7 resource that helps parents of 2 to 6 year olds figure out what to do when their kids aren’t listening.
Heather shares her personal struggles with parenting, her successes, and a variety of tips that may or may not work. And while parents are probably looking to her as an expert who has all the answers, she’s actually better at helping parents come up with their own conclusions.
Take the Up Close tip, for example. Heather can tell you all about the theory behind this 3-step tip for helping kids cooperate. But she can’t guarantee it will work for you. Instead, she helps you reflect on its value, practice it, and think about how it could work better given a few tweaks. She’ll show you the short-term and the long-term benefits of the tip. At the end of the day, Up Close may not be the right approach for everyone, but (as is the case for so many other parents) it might be one that works for you.
So the next time you hear yourself asking if you’re disciplining her right, or motivating him right, or even loving them right, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “Is it working?” And if not, keep searching for something that works now…and later.
Rachel Sklar is a CoFounder and CCO at LifeSpark, where she’s building the ParentSpark Chatbot, which teaches parenting skills and helps users turn those skills into action. Rachel’s business mission is born from her experience as a parent coach, speaker, educator, social worker and lucky mother to 3 of life’s best teachers (all boys). Through her private coaching practice, speaking engagements and app development, she aims to provide every parent access to the education and support they need to make life with kids a little bit easier. You can also stay updated on what’s happening at Parent Spark on Facebook and Instagram.
Originally published at blog.mothersquad.com on July 24, 2018.