James Kelly, MYPAS Therapeutic Manager (East Lothian) and former Family Counsellor shares his thoughts on parenting during a difficult time.
The COVID-19 pandemic has tested all of us and no one has been un-impacted by the implications of our current global health crisis. While we have all learned to cope and deal with the lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, mask mandates, travel restrictions, workplace changes, and new responsibilities, it has, to put it lightly, not been easy. Under normal circumstances parenting is difficult enough. Combined with the unpredictability of the pandemic many parents have felt overwhelmed, overworked and overtired.
As a therapist, specialising in both young person and family counselling, I often come across parents who are finding it hard to know what to do. We’d like to share some tried and true strategies when things are stressful at home. The key is sticking with it. It takes at least seventeen tries at something new before it sticks, so even if you feel that nothing is different, they key word is “yet”. Be consistent and things should turn the corner. It’s often scary doing something in a new way and we can worry about all sorts of things, but this is something we’ve seen work time and time again.
These strategies offer guidance rather than control which children, and particularly teenagers, are more likely to respond to. These strategies can help improve your relationship with your children the aim is to have more time together without conflict.
- Supportive feedback rather than criticism
When any of us are stressed and lacking time, it’s easy to move towards criticism rather than acknowledging feelings and encouraging others to be more expressive. Remember that acknowledging feelings does not mean that you agree with them, but you are validating what other people’s experiences are and it’s okay that others have different thoughts and feelings from you. This lets other people know that you are really hearing them, and not passing judgement. They will then feel that they have been heard and more likely to compromise with you. Children in particular need this so they can learn how to put words to what they are experiencing, which helps reduce confusion and frustration.
- Firm limit setting that needs to be consistent, combined with warmth and affection
Be consistent when setting boundaries and have an end date if you are imposing sanctions e.g. grounding or limiting technology.
If you say that it needs to be one way, stick to that. Be really clear about what the conditions are and make sure that your young person has understood them. For all of us at any age sanctions that have no end date or are too long result in most people just giving up. Making the sanction clear and short means that the young person has a sense of being able to stick with the sanctions. When we are clear, fair and consistent young people know that we mean what we say.
It’s important to always explain why you are imposing these sanctions. Tell them that you need to keep them safe and this is your responsibility. Try and make the consequence fit what happened, so no X-box if gaming has persistently been getting in the way of household chores, grounding if a young person has significantly broken their curfew but not the other way around. It seems obvious when it’s written down but when tensions are high sometimes we all fail to be rational!
You do not have to ‘fall out’ with your child, when they have misbehaved. Impose the boundaries and move on. If we can communicate that the things that happened was not okay, but they as a human are really important to us, it’s better for our relationships. Also it is important that you don’t seek an answer to why they have done something. It’s very unlikely that they will be able to explain the ‘why’ to us because that bit of adolescent brains hasn’t developed yet.
It’s really important to make the discussion and the consequences about the behaviour not about the person. Make it clear that they are important to you, but you don’t like their actions.
- Calmly standing your ground in the face of escalating anger from a young person
This is important and often quite hard. Try not to give into their unreasonable demands because if you give in once (and they get lucky), then they think they will get lucky again. This will make it more difficult to impose restrictions in the future. Try not to get angry as this will only lead to conflict and defensiveness. If you stay calm, then your child will be less likely to stay angry as they will realise that their anger will not be achieving the results they hoped. Remember to acknowledge the feeling, “I know you are angry that I have said you can’t have any x-box time till Friday, but the rules are that chores come first. You are important to me but it’s not okay to skip helping out”
- Building in ‘quality time’ with your child amidst the busyness of the day
We all need to experience being important to those around us, frequently and regularly! Our children really appreciate that you have time for them, even though this can be difficult with the other things that we all have to do. Arrange regular time with the child and let them know that this is their time with you. This can be as short or as long as you like. It could be a trip to the supermarket, a movie night or a game. Even if they don’t take you up on this offer, just knowing that you are available will make them feel wanted and that you care enough to spend time with them.
- Engaging your child in active problem-solving, and offering real choices rather than telling the child what to do
None of us enjoy being bossed about and young people are the same. Much more importantly young people need support in learning to solve problems. For example say something like: ‘these are the options, what would you like to do?’ Open ended questions can be overwhelming, giving them some guidance and ideas will keep their options achievable. If they request something that is too time-consuming amidst your day or out of your budget, ask them what they think if you are looking for a solution to a problem, often it is the teenager who offers the best solution.
- Ensure that parents (whether living together or apart) take a common line on key issues
This is a very important aspect when parenting, because if parents take a different stance on how to parent then this will result in confusion for the young person and result in additional stress for the adults and confusion for the young person. It is always best to discuss key issues and agree them with each other before talking to the children in a household. This way you are both taking a united front and they will not go to the other parent to get the answer they want. If it’s difficult to communicate with a parent who lives elsewhere it might be that you have someone else that can act as an intermediary to ensure that there is consistency between different households.
- Stay consistent!
It’s normal for kids to push boundaries, and it’s a sign of healthy development. If we can keep all these things going, even when we start to doubt ourselves (or this blog!) we can help our kids feel safe and secure and show them that we do care, despite all the protests to the contrary!
I hope you have found this useful and I know this is hard work. Have belief in yourself that you can do this.
James Kelly, Service Manager (former Family Counsellor)