I remember when every minute of parenting my child left me feeling like a total failure. I felt like I’d never have the relationship with my child I always dreamed of having when:
- I couldn’t figure out what was making my child so uncomfortable ALL OF THE TIME
- I had read ALL of the parenting books, followed ALL the experts, did the things – and still couldn’t get my kid to go to bed
- I woke up everyday feeling exhausted and dreading the day to come
Things started to shift when I admitted that both my child and I were struggling and that we needed help. Here are the steps I took, and that I’m certain will help you figure out your next positive parenting solutions.
#1: Decide Which Solution Your Child Needs FIRST
The first place to start with most kids is to rule-out any medical, developmental, cognitive, or emotional needs. These needs are very rarely met through parenting strategies alone.
For example, my child would not sleep. For the first 5 YEARS of her life I bent over backwards to ensure just a few hours of sleep every day. Needless to say, we were both miserable and exhausted.
At her pre-kindergarten check-up we discovered that she needed glasses. Once her vision was corrected she was sleeping within a week.
There was no parenting solution in the world that could compensate for the fact that my child needed corrective lenses in order to experience safety, and therefore a sense of calm.
Start with a visit to your pediatrician and outline your concerns.
Your pediatrician should be able to help you identify any developmental or medical issues as well as provide you with an action plan for how to address these needs.
Contact school if…
…you’re worried about a behavior that seems to be getting in the way of learning, connect with your school district. Even if your child isn’t old enough to go to school, districts in the US are mandated to find and evaluate children who have developmental, cognitive, or medical needs that would limit their access to learning at the same rate as their peers.
The best place to start is on your school district’s website, search for “Child Find.” There you’ll find the specific process for how to proceed with evaluation.
If your child is already attending school, work with your school counselor or social worker to start the evaluation process. ALL parents have a legal right to request evaluation.
Seek the support of other helpers.
If your child only seems to struggle in one setting (for example, he’s perfect at school but lets loose at home) then consider making an appointment with a licensed mental health professional. Other signs that your family might benefit from working with a therapist is that your kid seems to uncomfortable, inflexible, and/or difficult to soothe, at a frequency/duration/intensity that is affecting your family life.
#2 Ditch Consequences and Rewards (and Embrace Positive Connections)
One of the biggest complaints parents come to me with is the struggle caused by knowing that consequences, rewards, and/or punishments don’t really work with their kid, but also having no idea what to do instead. I mean, kids can’t choose to do whatever they feel like, right?
Take the example of over-usage of electronics. Just like many of the parents I work with, I too struggle with finding a positive parenting solution to setting boundaries with my pre-teen and electronics. My gut reaction is almost always to enforce a consequence for over-usage or refusal to stop. And you know what?
It never works.
Instead my kiddo and I both end up feeling overwhelmed and dysregulated. These feelings often linger and affect our interactions for several hours. It stinks and definitely doesn’t align with my vision for my family.
Consider this alternative scenario… I take a few extra moments to sit next to my child while she’s using her electronics. I might make a non-verbal acknowledgement or place a hand on her back. I start to ask questions or engage with the content with her. I slowly move her attention away from the screen to our conversation, helping her close down the activity. I move with her to our next activity, often something that is at first glance, anyway, a lot less exciting than the game she was playing.
It takes a couple extra minutes but staying in connection feels significantly better than enforcing a consequence for “non-compliance.”
The power of positive connection
When a kid is engaged in a preferred activity, such as playing or using electronics, their brains are a bit offline in terms of logical thinking and verbal communication. It’s also VERY hard to stop an enjoyable activity immediately. This results in what looks like refusal. Even if your kid gives you verbal acknowledgement of your request their bodies haven’t always gotten the message.
When your kid isn’t responding to a transition or request to do something different, consider this – could your kiddo benefit from connected support to make that move? This looks like YOU slowing down a bit and making contact with your child’s nervous system, helping it move away from the task at hand and forward to the next.
Of course, for some kids, this process can be complicated by other factors. This is where the professionals in the first step can really come in hand. But it doesn’t hurt to start with this foundational step and to build in other strategies from there.
#3: Here’s Your Permission Slip to Take Care of YOU
Almost every parent I see is dealing with some level of overwhelm and confusion, which is EXHAUSTING. Can you relate?
The only way you’ll be able to take action that is focused and practical is by taking care of yourself first. You know the old airplane analogy, put YOUR oxygen mask on first.
Think about a time when you were able to redirect your child’s behavior, or felt like you managed an outburst like a rockstar. I suspect these successes were related to how present and energized YOU were feeling in the moments before you had to support your child.
Acknowledging how hard things have been and showing yourself some basic kindness is a good place to start.
- Drink a glass of water
- Take a deep breath
- Place your hand on your heart and name how you are feeling
- Remember a funny or joyful moment you had recently with your child
As you feel more resourced, you might want to build some calm routines into your schedule, as I way to nourish your nervous system and keep you out of overwhelm.
If your own feelings seem too big to manage, or you’re having trouble finding calm (most of the time) when your kid is in need, please consider getting support for yourself FIRST.
This might look like:
- working with a parent coach
- learning a few self-regulation strategies
- engaging in your own therapy
Finding positive parenting solutions for your struggling kiddo is a process that requires both action and a clear-head. You can start this process by:
- seeking assessment and/or professional support as needed
- prioritizing connection over consequences, and
- practicing self-compassion for your own experience.
Ready to go deeper on these ideas while getting the support you need to parent your amazing but overwhelmed kiddo? Check out Break Free from Power Struggles, an art-based online coaching program that helps you ditch the perfect parent fantasy, understand your child’s behaviors, and nurture more joyful connections with your child.