Changing Our Parenting, Not Our Children

When most parents start recognizing unwanted behavior in their children, they tend to focus on what they can do to help their child change. From behavior modification and consequences, to reverse psychology and good old-fashioned worrying, parents will go to great lengths to help their child “transform” into that “better” child they’ve envisioned. Unfortunately, these good intentions usually only lead to more conflict and, sadly, more dead-ends.

Rather than trying to change your children, the real focus should be on changing how you parent and your own behavior.

More than anything, your child needs you to be there to support them, especially when they’re acting out or misbehaving. By turning your attention to how you respond and how you communicate during times of conflict, you can dramatically start to improve your family dynamic — and your child’s behavior. One of the best places to begin is recognizing how you feel towards your child. If you’ve been struggling with unwanted behavior for some time, it’s likely that you have some negative emotions arise, which only makes you want to change your child even more. Instead, begin to recalibrate how you feel when it comes to parenting. Even when things get difficult, there’s still so much to enjoy every day.

How you parent impacts your child directly. There’s no way to effectively help your child improve their behavior or attitude without addressing who you are as a parent and how your behavior is toward your child or how you act when they’re around you. The more you’re able to start really listening to your child, instead of focusing on telling them what to do, the more you’ll be able to start to mend your relationship and, therefore, their behavior, too. It’s also important to remember that your child is an independent person. So as much as you want them to meet your expectations, you need to trust that they know who they are and what makes them happy. Recognizing the difference between family rules and individual expectations can help your child find themselves outside of your shadow.

As you work on how you parent and your own behavior, you will undoubtedly still have conflicts with your child — that’s part of being in a relationship! But, as you gain your child’s respect, you’ll start to see these conflicts lessen, both in intensity and frequency. You are the best and most important example for your child, so make sure you’re showing up in all of your interactions the same way you hope they show up, too.

Teenagers especially want to be independent and free to make their own choices. Highly intelligent, your teen often “rebels” simply because they want to prove that they can make decisions on their own, not because they necessarily want to make bad decisions. Of course, teens absolutely still need your guidance and support, which is why having a healthy relationship based on trust and communication is vital during these formative years. As their parent, you are their compass. Even if they argue with you during a conversation, they are hearing you — and they’re listening, too. Oftentimes parents feel like their teens aren’t listening, even though they are. And because these conversations are happening, teenagers will make better decisions when push comes to shove in the real world.

In order to help your child move away from unwanted behavior, no matter their age, parents need to recognize their own habits. If the same behavior keeps showing up in your child, it’s likely that something in your parenting style is playing a role. The more you can start to observe how you react and respond, the better you’ll be able to pick up on these patterns, which are so often learned from your own parents.

There is no such thing as a perfect parent. But, the more you’re able to work on who you are as a parent, the better your relationship with your child will become. And, naturally, as your relationship improves, so does your child’s behavior — and your own.

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