Below is a summary of the main concepts from How to Be the Parent You Always Wanted to Be by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Like the authors' other books, this one is straightforward, helpful and engaging – all qualities that I aspire to bring into the therapy room.
Too often, I read something useful but don't do anything with it after I put the book down. To integrate information that we read, we need to actively do something with it. Otherwise, it isn't transferred to long-term memory and we don't have access to it when we want it in the future. Writing a summary, telling a friend about it, putting the strategies into use, or taking notes when reading can help us to solidify new knowledge. I want to make sure I can access this next time I am sitting in a room with a stressed out parent who asks me, What can I do? Nothing seems to be working. Hopefully, this will be helpful for you, the reader as well. If you don't have kids or work with them, consider how you might apply the strategies to any relationship. My guess is that you will notice a positive shift in your conversations and disagreements by doing so.
As a side note, the following summarizes some of the key points from Adele and Elaine's book. However, I have also taken the liberty to incorporate my own examples and knowledge within it. By no means is this summary a replacement for reading this handy book. If the ideas resonate with you and you want to delve further into this work, I would highly suggest getting your hands on a copy.
People have a natural tendency to dismiss others' feelings and try to appeal to them rationally instead. For instance, say your child is sad about not being invited to a friend's birthday party. It is tempting to try to make them feel better by telling them that it doesn't matter and not to worry about it. This often backfires and makes the child feel invalidated on top of already feeling sad. This makes them even more upset (Mom doesn't understand me. No one does!). Instead of denying or dismissing unpleasant feelings, children want their parents to acknowledge them. The authors suggest using the following:
-Just listen to what the child has to say
-Respond with the use of minimal cues like "oh" or "mmm" to show that you are hearing them
-Name the emotion that they are feeling ("Sounds like you are feeling sad"). My Ph.D. thesis was on emotional awareness. So I know that understand and labeling emotions is so important. Children need help to learn how to understand and put words to what they are experiencing.
-Give them what they want in a fantasy rather than in reality ("I bet you wish you were invited to that party")
Engaging their Cooperation
Kids are no different to you and me. I do not respond well to orders, lectures, threats or blame. Do you? We all have an innate sense of autonomy. These tactics usually lead to resistance and a desire to do the opposite of what is being asked. When we are called a mean name or criticized, we often become defensive in an attempt to protect ourselves. People - kids included - respond much better to kindness, choice, humour, play, and respect.
The following are some helpful strategies to increase cooperation:
-Say it with a word. Bring their awareness to what you want (e.g., if the television is on too loud, you might say, "the volume")
-Describe what you can see or hear ("The volume is too loud")
-Describe how you feel ("It stresses me out and hurts my ears when the volume is too loud")
-Give information ("If we watch the television with the volume too loud we will damage our hearing and not be able to hear things when we need to in the future")
-Give them a choice ("Would you prefer to turn the volume down or shall I?")
-Write it in a note. It can be a playful reminder to leave a note, poem or drawing indicating what you would like cooperation with.
Also, it is really important to remember to focus on the behaviour that we are not happy with or want cooperation with. It is critical that we don't attack the child himself. Focusing on the behaviour that you want to change gives the child the opportunity to make the change. Conversely, telling someone that they are lazy for not doing something reinforces negative self-beliefs ("I am lazy) and they likely won't even do what you want.
Collaborative Problem Solving Instead of Punishment
Often when parents come to see a psychologist, they are at their wit's end. They want to focus on finding strategies to punish or control their kid's behaviour. Luckily there are proactive strategies, like problem solving, that are much more helpful.
Punishment can backfire. Children can become more secretive and better at hiding their 'bad' behaviour. They may find ways to get back at you for the punishment. Often they internalize the criticism and believe that they are bad or not good enough. And punishment doesn't even make it more likely that the child will behave the way you want them to.
Collaborative problem solving is a good alternative to punishment. The following are the five steps that the authors' outline:
It is more difficult to use the solutions than to generate them and sometimes the solutions don't work. Make sure to come together to review strategies. Talk about obstacles that are getting in the way. If the solutions aren't working go through the steps again.
There are ways to praise that will increase the behaviour that you want while at the same time increase the qualities that you want to see in your children. This type of praise is specific and focuses on purposely praising behaviour.
The following are the basic steps to effective praise:
There are other forms of praise that are not so helpful. These may even reduce the behaviour that you want. Unhelpful praise is too general and focuses on the child's identity ("You are so smart," "You are so talented," or "You are the best soccer player"). This global form of praise can remind the child about the times when they weren't smart, talented or good at soccer and thus disregard the praise. This general praise also discourages further efforts for fear of not living up to being the best or so smart. It can also reduce their effort in future situations since they may not think they have to put in the effort required to perform well.
Sometimes parents have difficulty finding something to praise their kids about. Our human brains are hardwired to notice the negative much more than the positive. This is useful for survival but not so helpful in being the parent you want to be. It takes practice. Even if it seems that your child is doing everything wrong, find that one teeny-weeny thing that they are doing right. Praise them for it. Resist the urge to criticize the other thousand things that they are doing that you don't like. Be patient. And notice what happens over time. The behaviour we give attention increases and the behaviour we ignore declines.
Note: Some parenting orientations do not advocate praise at all. The concern is that the child may believe that their self-worth is linked to specific behaviour and that their parents' love is conditional on how they behave. It is important for parents to show and express love for their kids whether they behave how the parent wants them to or not. However, most people use praise whether they are aware of it or not. Therefore, I think it is best to ensure praise is focused on behaviour rather than on the child himself. Also ensure that your expression of love for your child is unconditional.
Dealing with Anger
By using the above strategies, you will have better communication and less frustration. But let's be realistic. There will still be times when you feel angry. The following are some strategies to manage your anger without making the situation worse or being hurtful:
-Say it with a word rather than a whole angry rant ("The Volume!")
-Tell them what you don't like and what you would prefer or expect ("I don't like the television volume so loud. I expect it to be turned down")
-Use words to describe how you are feeling. This will also increase their emotional vocabulary ("I am feeling infuriated")
-Sometimes we are unable to be calm so describe what the problem is and roar if you have to ("The volume is too loud!")
-State what the rules are and give a choice. If needed, take action afterward ("The volume is to be no louder than 25. Either you can turn it down or I can. Which would you prefer?" If no action or response is taken, you may need to turn it down yourself)
-Use "I" statements instead of "you" statements ("I need the peace and quiet" versus "You are so rude"). I statements take the sting out of what you are saying and express your feelings or needs. So your statement isn't hurtful and gives the child some information about why you need them to do as you ask
How To Be The Parent You Always Wanted To Be gives us strategies for dealing with challenging behaviours and ways to communicate more effectively with our kids or anyone really, including labeling emotions, engaging cooperation, collaborative problem solving, praise and communicating effectively while angry. Pick one of the strategies to practice this week. How can you practice using this? It doesn't have to be a massive task. It can be a really, really small action step that you set for yourself. But you have to do something active with the material if you expect to remember it and use the strategies when needed. Tell a friend. Take some notes. Practice problem solving with your kid. Praise your partner…
Grab the book here.
Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links. This means that I may earn a small commission if you purchase through the link at no additional cost to you. I do not endorse books lightly and only recommend those that I personally value highly.
Personal letters from Dr Hilary Claire delivered right to your inbox to help you do the best for your little ones’ health without burning out.
For a regular dose of useful resources and articles from Dr Hilary Claire delivered straight to your inbox pop your details below.