The Parenting Dance That We Do

Parents often need help in learning how to communicate with their child. Children with learning disabilities or ADHD can be very frustrating and difficult to manage. Negative and irritable patterns of communication often play out in a habitual manner.

In order to gain a sense of control, parents tend to adopt punishing postures with children who are struggling with school or do not appear to be motivated. From my experience, this punitive approach is a mistake often leading to greater degrees of anger and increased shutting down on the part of the child.

There are other ways to go.

I am not suggesting that limits be removed altogether or that you go soft on the child, but it is the tone of punishment that needs to be addressed. Punishment is reactive and often administered in anger. Too often, the child is struggling with skills that are not well developed and, thus, he is not able to meet the task demands.

Punishment is like blaming someone with a bad foot for not running the race more enthusiastically.

While parents may feel a sense of momentary victory after punishing the child,  this feeling is almost always short-lived, as the desired goal of having the child assume greater degrees of responsibility is rarely achieved following the punishment.

Parents rely on punishment, I believe, because it is an  attempt to gain control. Effectively, they believe it is the only tool that they have in their parental toolbox. They think because they’re not hitting the child, at least they have improved on an older generation that subscribed to such an approach.

Another typical problem that occurs between parents and that is part of the parent dance is the finger-pointing that takes place in the household between parents. As a result of the ongoing frustration and difficulty, parents are frequently polarized in their communication patterns between each other and the child.

Marital communication can be challenging enough without the variable addressing the difficult child. In the dance between the parents and the child of concern, usually one parent feels that he has the right approach and if the other parent would only listen-up and do it his way, all problems would be solved.

Typically the stricter parent believes his way will lead to solving all of the child’s problems. This parent accuses the other parent of feeding into the child’s demands, indulging rather than helping. As there may be a grain of truth in this, the softer (more indulgent) parent usually reacts by countering the stricter parent’s punishing style. The accommodating parent sees the stricter parent as too harsh, irritable and reactive and attempts to buffer the child from the stricter parent.

It's an exhausting dance.


Take-Away Point

Punishments are generally ineffective. There are natural consequences to most choices that are built-in without the added reactive punishment. Try and avoid long harangues, idle threat and excessive use of timeouts. Strive for a middle ground position between parenting styles.

 Adapted from: The Shut-Down Learner:  Helping Your Academically Discouraged Child, (Sentient Publications) Richard Selznick, Ph.D.