Parenting: Developing Self-awareness

The book, The Self-Aware Parent by Dr. Fran Walfish, is intended to give you the tools and courage to examine yourself, so you can help your child. In the heat of the moment, parents say or do things they do not mean. When emotions heat up, we all make parenting mistakes. Understanding yourself gives you choices, and when you choose to respond in a specific way, rather than respond automatically, situations more often than not resolve themselves favorably. The key to successful parenting is to be aware of your feelings from moment to moment; slow down your reactions, check your feelings, and reflect before speaking and taking action. As you reflect, it’s not just your feelings that need to be examined, but your child’s as well. Children find it comforting and reassuring when a parent acknowledges, validates, and talks about feelings. Think about how you can expand the scope of the options for how you can deal with your child. Self- evaluate your words,  actions, thoughts, and feelings frequently so you can make good, educated choices about how to raise happy, emotionally thriving children with good self-esteem. Self-awareness of your parenting style leads to calm parenting. The following are tips to knowing yourself as a parent:

Separate you from your child. Enmeshed parents cannot separate their own feelings from those of their children. Enmeshed parents are typically unable to contain their own anxieties and worries within themselves. A positive goal is a good, healthy disconnect. Remember, continually stepping in to rescue your child is not love; it is fostering dependence; it does not allow the child to solve their own problems and experience consequences for their actions. Giving your child the tools to become self-reliant is the biggest gift we can give them. Start by separating your own feelings from your child; allow her to make her own choices, decisions, even disagreeing with your ideas. As you begin this process, expect your anxiety to rise.

Managing your parental worries. All parents worry about their child but many can go overboard about germs, academics, and sports performance. Worrying, or anxiety, is simply a way to deal with fears. And attempting to control your child is a way of dealing with your fear. Worried parents can unknowingly apply pressure rather than encouragement; when we are in a worried, control mode, we cannot recognize the difference between unreasonable and reasonable expectations. Do worries about your child’s performance creep into your mind during the day or at bedtime? Do you find that you and your child are in conflict with one another over your expectations? The author suggests to begin to see your child as he or she is; create an inner dialogue to calm yourself; deal with your own worries before you deal with your child.

The helicopter parent.  Helicopter parents are partly enmeshed, partly worried, and constantly assisting. These parents attempt to mow down obstacles in fear of  their child’s failure and disappointment; they neglect to let their child fail or succeed on his or her own merits. The following are Dr. Fran’s tips for parents to develop a self-reliant child:

1) Commit to the belief that obstacles and disappointments are opportunities to grow.

2) Do not try to protect your child from wrestling with a challenge on her own.

3) Do not shield your child from hurdles. The best we can do as parents is to provide the child with coping skills

4) Model self-sufficiency

5) Every time you feel the impulse to “do” something that is your child’s responsibility, ask, “By doing this for my child to make her life easier, will it limit her growth now and lead to disappointment later?”

The spaghetti parent. Simply put, spaghetti parents cannot say no to their children. Spaghetti parents have a lot of internal conflict over saying no. Their boundaries are wavering, consequences are not enforced, and the children are given too much slack. These parents cannot grasp the concept of boundaries and discipline and are easily overwhelmed by their child’s behavior. The secret is to make expectations and reasonable consequences crystal clear; the consequence should be immediate and sting for a short period of time. Remember that boundaries feel good to your child. The following are some tips from Dr. Fran:

1) Once you commit to a position do not change your mind.

2) Adopt the belief that your child will not always like you.

3) Get comfortable with your child’s protests.

4)  talk to your child about their feelings

5) Remember that to be a good parent you must be comfortable with two things: loving and nurturing and setting/holding boundaries.

Managing your temper. The worst part of explosive parents is the surprise element. The explosion of anger can have a much deeper impact when the child does not see it coming. In addition to angering suddenly, this parent also angers easily, blurting out rage-filled comments such as, “Why did you do that?” “I told you a thousand times….” “Pay attention, you never listen to me.” When these outbursts happen, children only have two ways to cope. One, the more common, is to become angry. The second way is to become extremely timid and frightened, filled with self-doubt, and afraid to express themselves. Neither scenario is good. Because explosive parents set limits through powerful anger, instead of using calm reason, they often do not set boundaries appropriately and have trouble enforcing them.  Tips from Dr. Fran:

1) Remember you are a model for your child

2) Learn to remove yourself from the situation as soon as you feel your anger building.

3) Develop a clear plan for dealing with your child’s infractions that include non-explosive methods. Set clear boundaries and reasonable consequences.

4) Talk to your child about what they are wanting, feeling, doing.

5) Talk to your child about what caused your anger.

Applying the knowledge. When dealing with your child you need to speed up the thinking process. You must ask yourself first what you are feeling, then what your child is feeling. Your accelerated thinking process slows down your external talk. This puts a fresh spin on the old saying, “Think before you speak.” Without this sense of awareness, most parents react automatically. That is when behaviors often escalate, rather than settle down.

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