Behaviour & Emotions Health & Well-being

Parenting the child in front of you

Child in front of you

Hey fellow parents, I’m just going to put it out there - sometimes we can be a wee bit intense! Our child displays a behaviour we’re not that keen on and we FREAK OUT. The behaviour in question might actually be quite normal for a two-year-old, a six-year-old or a 14-year old, but we forget all about that in the heat of the moment because of a very common parental tendency…

We mentally time travel.

We fast forward in our minds and imagine that our child will still be doing this behaviour in several years’ time. She is already so stroppy at age three, so imagine what she is going to be like as a teenager! This can cause us to react with real anxiety or even anger. (Interestingly, the underlying emotion beneath an angry reaction is often fear.)

A giant leap

  • Our five-year-old is still going to be chewing the neckline of all his T-shirts when he is 17!
  • Our six-year-old is obviously going to progress from pinching tempting stationery off the teacher’s desk to serial shoplifting at Countdown… And then on to scamming old people when she’s 21 (because, clearly, she’s already a thief!)
  • Our explosive nine-year-old, has NO self-control when he is angry, and we can just imagine how scary the violence is going to be at age 15!
  • And our quiet 14-year-old will be a total recluse with no social graces when he’s 29 – and his poor partner will have to put up with a monosyllabic grunter of a husband, who always forgets his deodorant.

That escalated quickly

Am I the only one who takes these little panic trips into the future? I think it’s a pretty common thing for parents to do. The big problem here, aside from causing loads of unnecessary anguish, is that all this escalated fear of the future makes us way too intense with how we respond to our kids here and now.

Perhaps we have been told by older generations that we must “Nip that in the bud” – the implication being that a noxious weed has taken root and we must crush the first sign of its growth. Or maybe you feel compelled to “Stamp it out”, as if the behaviour is a metaphorical forest fire - easily put out when it is a small flickering flame, but raging, destructive and out of control if left to grow. Voices in our head may be saying things like “Kids these days… the problem is they were never taught any respect….” These comments can cause us to worry, and to react with more intensity.

All this escalated fear of the future makes us way too intense with how we respond to our kids here and now.

One confident step at a time

It all begs the question - how do kids learn?

Actually, kids learn slowly. They learn from us modelling behaviour - over and over again, lots and lots of it. They observe how other kids who are behaving in a certain way are getting along, and they then choose to copy (or not). They learn from stories, from characters in movies, from siblings, classmates, peers, coaches, extended family and whānau, neighbours.

They learn gradually from the skill building and the supporting of emotions that we do, in the intervening years, with our great parenting skills. They learn from absorbing our values. Remember kids absorb our values much better if they feel connected to us and liked! And they naturally mature. So much growth and maturity happens for our kids given time, even regardless of our parenting skills!

So, let’s try a reframe…

  • T-shirt chewing at 17 is unlikely, but your son may still occasionally nibble on his neckline when he’s 9. Settle in for the long haul parents! And brace yourself for lots of little teeth holes in cotton…
  • Your lovely six-year-old girl is finding pretty stationery items tempting. She does need guidance about taking something that is not hers, and to be supported to confess and make reparations. But she is not a ‘thief’ and this language will not help you to choose a helpful response.
  • There will be soooo much maturation that takes place with your explosive little nine-year-old. He is not a bad kid! Come along to a few Parent Coaching sessions and learn how to support your son when he is really dysregulated.
  • It is a totally normal developmental stage! Your monosyllabic 14-year-old is a lovely boy, and you can keep using the ‘lend some words’ strategy until his own words return. And plenty of patient reminders about putting on deodorant after his shower won’t go amiss either!

So much growth and maturity happens for our kids given time, even regardless of our parenting skills!

We can find ourselves embarking on this type of mental time travel at any age and stage of our kids’ development. The key is to notice ourselves doing it, (Pause, Reflect, Engage is a helpful tool that supports response rather than reaction), and ‘unhook’ ourselves from the unhelpful train of thought as quickly as possible – before the ‘train of fear’ hurtles over a cliff!


Kristin Ward

Kristin Ward manages the Family Coaching team and enjoys working with tricky dynamics in families. She loves supporting parents to see how they can be on the same team as their kids, no matter what challenging behaviour they are facing. A mum-of-three, Kristin is passionate about seeing whānau thrive and strongly believes there is lots parents can do to build close and warm relationships with their children.

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