Where does the problem lie?

It can be a huge relief for parents when they no longer view their child as the problem. As a parent, there may be many voices commenting on the situation – "You need to take control of that child", "If he was mine, I’d soon put an end to that behaviour". The commentators might imply that the parent is the problem – not strict enough, too indulgent, ‘molly-coddling’. Perhaps one parent is very strict and the other less so – both blaming each other. In turn, the parent may view the child as the problem and all attempts are on waiting/hoping for the child to be good or making desperate attempts to control the child. I suggest that you turn down those voices – just as you would a radio - and see them as background noise. If people are willing to help and support, they can certainly be encouraged to do so but we can look at that later.

If you externalise ‘the problem’, you will see that it does not lie in the parent or the child but in the patterns and habits that have developed. This means your current efforts to make your child be good can stop (threatening punishments, pleading, bribing etc.).The chances are these methods are not working anyway and you are probably exhausted. You may have been working incredibly hard, feeling very stressed and getting nowhere. Your child can see that you are no longer ‘in charge’. So, when your child’s behaviour is difficult, your work is not about controlling the child, but tuning in to what is happening with you. It can be helpful to picture yourself as being the safe harbour when the child is kicking off. Or, think of yourself as being strong as an anchor, rather than strong as a fist.

Let’s look at a common scenario. Your child comes home late, is rude and slams doors. You may become frustrated, threaten to withdraw privileges – your voice rising and your tone hardening. However, this is not a good time to address the late home-coming – your temper/worry/anxiety has been building as you waited for your child. Strike when the iron is cold. Tell your child that you are glad he/she is home safely as you were worried. You can say that you can talk about it tomorrow but for now, the aim is for everyone to sleep.

This is a common example of how a situation can escalate. A parent spends hours worrying about a child, the child returns without any remorse, the parent is escalated and the response to the child can be accusatory or threatening. The child responds with aggression or perhaps violence and the parent becomes even more angry/frightened/distressed. Keeping your feet on the ground, focusing on your reaction and keeping calm will help to avoid further escalation and conflict. The late homecoming can be dealt with tomorrow when the situation is calmer. This does not mean the child is getting away with it but that the parent is steadier and calmer with his/her response. Here you are beginning the process of de-escalation. You are starting to feel more in charge because you are more in charge of your reactions. You are starting the process of becoming stronger, calmer and more consistent in your parenting. This will have a significant impact on your child’s behaviour in a short time.