Transform Your Parenting From Doubtful to Confident & Effective
Some parents of anxious children have become anxious about disciplining their child because they have been told being ‘harsh’ induces anxiety in children. Here you’ll gather a few simple keys to help you as a parent address this sensitive matter.
One Parent’s Story: Can You Relate?
Tamika (alias), a mother of 2 children, 7 year old and 13 year old, came to see me for help supporting her 7 year old son who had “become clingy”, and “demanding of reassurance” and she was second guessing her every decision she made with them. Her older child was assertive, socially engaging, and tended towards being risky. She was torn in how to support her son. She wanted to protect him and build his confidence, she spoke words of encouragement but she constantly, silently questioned if she was “babying him”. She was also feeling restricted by his need to be with her, but, of course, she couldn’t withdraw herself. When he didn’t do his chores, for example, he would complain it was too much, too hard, and she was “being too bossy”. She hesitated with being firm about him completing them independently. It was easier to help him. Tamika learnt the seven keys to #discipline and, not over-night, but within 6 months had learnt how to say no with love and without guilt, how to parent to the different needs of her two different children, and how to support her son’s confidence in her love and presence.
So here are some of the tools that Tamika learnt in parent coaching sessions. (There was more but I can only give a limit in a blog-post, but this is enough to make a significant step in changing your parent-child relationship). Take and implement one key at a time; be kind to yourself and allow yourself room to master (which includes making mistakes) your own transformation.
- Set clear rules and expectations. Give your child a vivid description and experience of what your expectations and standards are. You may role-play out your rules and procedures. When communicating your rules talk about the underpinning values so that they understand why the rule exists and the importance of respecting it. For example, we don’t have cell-phones at the dinner table because spending time focusing on family relationships is important. And, discuss the process of communications – how warnings and consequences will be given and implemented. Knowledge is security for your anxious child.
2. Consistency is key. Inconsistency is anxiety provoking for any young child. Set up regular routines – a predictable pattern of when, where, and how things are done. Predictability increases their sense of safety.
3. Be a good role model of stress & emotional management. This is self-explanatory but worth mentioning. If you remain calm and are disciplined in your approach to life and problems your child will model your behaviour in his life. The best way for your child to learn discipline is by experiencing at home.
4. Communicate unconditional love. “Make sure he knows that although you want and expect him to do better next time, you love him no matter what” (Foxman, p.99). This is significant for your child as they are prone to having perfectionistic standards and judging themselves worthy based on their ability to please others. They are likely to view a single incident of displeasure from you as a global rejection of themselves. Your anxious child often needs frequent assurance of your unconditional love and acceptance of them. One suggestion to support this is the occasional offering of grace. That is, every once in a while, surprise them by pardoning their act of indiscretion – no preaching, no consequences, just forgive and forget it. When they receive grace they learn to be gracious to themselves.
5. Ensure your expectations are developmentally “reasonable”. Statistically speaking, parents of anxious children are likely to either underestimate or over-estimate their child’s abilities, coping skills, and stress tolerance. Your child may already have unreasonably high expectations of themselves (which they worry about meeting), ensure you are not compounding this by having unreasonable standards too. Consult with teachers or parent educators or research about what behaviours and discipline procedures are appropriate for your child’s age. For example, the homework of a 16 year old should require less monitoring than an 8 year old. By over-monitoring a 16 year old, one may be communicating a lack of confidence in her and denying her the opportunity to develop the self-discipline skills she needs to independently succeed in life.
6. Discuss or offer a positive alternative the next time a similar situation occurs. Children do not always know the right thing to do in a problematic situation. When correcting them include a statement of instruction on appropriate ways to behave. For example, “we do not run away from the classroom when we do not want to read in class, instead we can… (a), ..(b), or …(c).” With older children you can guide them through the problem solving process by asking them to tell you a number of possible solutions and selecting the most appealing.
7. Establish your authority as a safety net. Because of their need for personal safety many anxious children become the little directors and authorities in their families. Their controlling behaviours, which may include some non-compliance, are often problematic for parents who do not understand the security need behind it. The misconception most parents develop is that children need to be in control to feel safe. However, what your anxious child needs is for you to affirm yourself as the competent authority figure in their lives; they need to know you are capable and trustworthy of being in control in their lives. This doesn’t mean becoming dominant or controlling but it does mean having clear limits, and standing confident in your enforcement of these limits. Based on their own personalities and personal issues, some parents need support as they begin to assert themselves, either from a counsellor or partner.
The task of discipline is primary in the role of being a parent but though it has it’s challenges (learning by trial and error and retrial) you can be successful in helping your anxious child develop the self-discipline he or she needs to be independently successful in life.
Additional Anxiety Resources For Parents
Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada -Find your local province chapter for more resources.
Mistake Monday– A Challenge to reduce perfectionism in families. This is an illustration of the types of playful approaches that I use in family play therapy to help support the family system.
Help for Families Canada offers play therapy (counselling) for children in South Edmonton who suffer from excessive worries, difficulty separating from parents, appear socially withdrawn (shy), or is driven for perfection. We also coach parents in how to manage these behaviours at home and in the community (parent skills training).
Invitation to Help Other Families & Parents
YOU are also an Expert. I would love to hear your thoughts about these 7 keys.
- Which keys do you agree with?
- Is there a key point that you’ve tried but found unfruitful?
- Which key would you be the most challenging for you to implement now?
- What other keys would you add to the list?