R. Brooks: The Power of Parenting
3. Changing Negative Scripts. Well-meaning parents have been known to apply the same approach with their children for weeks, months, or years even when the approach has proven ineffective. For instance, a set of parents reminded (nagged) their children for years to clean their rooms, but the children failed to comply. When I asked why they used the same unsuccessful message for years, they responded, “We thought they would finally learn if we told them often enough.”
Similar to the reasoning offered by these parents, many parents believe that children should be the ones to change, not them. Others believe if they change their approach, it is like “giving in to a child” and they are concerned that their children will take advantage of them. One mother said, “My son forgets to do his chores and I keep reminding him and we keep getting into battles. But I can’t back off. If I do my son will never learn to be responsible. He will become a spoiled brat like too many other kids are these days.” Without realizing it, the mother’s constant reminders backfired. They not only contributed to tension in the household, but in addition, they reinforced a lack of responsibility in her son by always being there to remind him of what he was expected to do rather than having him learn to remember his responsibilities on his own.
Parents with a resilient mindset of their own recognize that if something they have said or done for a reasonable amount of time does not work, then they must change their “script” if their children are to change theirs. This position does not mean giving in to the child or failing to hold the child accountable. It suggests that we must have the insight and courage to consider what we can do differently, lest we become entangled in useless, counterproductive power struggles. It also serves to teach children that there are alternatives ways of solving problems. If anything, it helps children learn to be more flexible and accountable in handling difficult situations.
Mr. Lowell was imprisoned by a negative script, especially towards his 12-year-old son Jimmy. The moment Mr. Lowell arrived home, the first question he asked Jimmy each and every day was, “Did you do your homework? Did you do your chores?”
In counseling sessions, Mr. Lowell became aware of how his words echoed those of his father when Mr. Lowell was Jimmy’s age. With impressive insight he said, “Jimmy must see me just like I saw my father, an overbearing man who rarely complimented me but was quick to tell me what I did wrong.”
Mr. Lowell ruefully asked, “Why do we do the same things toward our kids that we didn’t like our parents doing to us?”
It is a question frequently raised. While the answer may differ to some extent from one person to the next, the basic issue is how easily we become creatures of habit, incorporating the script of our own parents even if we were not happy with that script. We practice what we have learned.
Yet, parents are not destined to follow these ineffective, counterproductive scripts. Once they are aware of their existence they can consider other scripts to follow. Mr. Lowell, equipped with new insight, no longer greeted Jimmy with questions about his homework or chores, but instead showed interest in his son’s various activities, including drawing and basketball. He and Jimmy signed up for an art class together offered by a local museum and they “practiced hoops” on a regular basis. Similar to the Kahn’s approach with John and the Carter’s with Sally, Mr. Lowell recognized that if Jimmy were to change, he, as the adult, would have to make the initial changes.
4. Loving Our Children in Ways that Help Them to Feel Special and Appreciated. It is well established that a basic foundation of resilience is the presence of at least one adult (hopefully several) who believes in the worth and goodness of the