Every parent wants one thing: to be a better parent. As I’ve previously mentioned, there are many parenting books on the market. Some offer genuine help. Others at least offer a fresh perspective. In any case, never substitute the one thing you already have for some else’s insight. What do you already have? Knowledge of your child. Each child, even in the same household, has individual feelings, personalities, and behaviors. Deciphering which methods of action should be individual to the child. No one knows this child’s behavior better than you. We discussed process of elimination. Now we discuss knowing when to listen, and knowing when to act.

Understanding why your child does what they do is essential to knowing when to listen and when to act. There are also certain behaviors that warrant one or the other.

When to Listen

When a child is angry – but not lashing out – maybe it’s time to listen. Finding the correct way to approach the child is dependent on several factors, including age. Using the correct method of addressing the issue is the hard part. During these times, experimentation is key. First, maybe you could try an empathetic approach. Appear to already know what is troubling them, even if you don’t. Just explain that you understand they are upset and ask if there is anything you can do to help them feel better. This may lead to the child revealing to you what the problem is inadvertently. Listen to what your child has to say, and try to remain empathetic to their feelings. Make them feel validated in their feelings. Once they understand that they have a right to feel the way they do, they may be more open to your help in the matter.

Sometimes just being there to listen to their problems can assist them in unloading some of the anger or resentment they are feeling. Just knowing they have someone to talk to can make all the difference.

When to Act

It may be more difficult in deciphering when to act. If a child is angry – AND lashing out – it is definitely time to act. A child should never be allowed to hurt themselves or others, or act in a way that is verbally or emotionally abusive to themselves or others. Destructive behavior should always be addressed immediately. There are many ways a parent can address this form of behavior. One thing to keep in mind: disciplining a child by doing the same thing they are being disciplined for is counterproductive. For example; teaching a child not to bite by biting them is a self-defeating practice. You wouldn’t teach them not to put their hands by a fire by burning their hands in a fire, would you? The act of disciplining a child is to teach them that their actions are unacceptable. Demonstrating the same action only teaches them that there are exceptions to the rule. Never fight fire with fire. Fight fire with water.

Actions should be passive-aggressive. In other words, make your stance firm while demonstrating your form of action with peaceful motivation. If they are hitting, you can easily hold them in your lap facing away from you while saying, “I love you and I won’t let you hurt yourself or others. I’ll protect you until you can calm down.” This form of action demonstrates the fact that your child can trust you to make the best decisions for them, especially when they are unable to do it for themselves.

Establishing that bond of trust between you and your child is a crucial aspect of being a parent. Communication is better established from a very young age, even when words are not used. They will grow up with a strong sense of self, and trust for you as a parent, when they know you will do anything it takes to protect them – even from themselves.

Trisha Festerling, J.D.

Family Law Attorney

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