In the previous article titled ‘Mindless parenting : Nurturing a generation of unhappy adults’ the Mirror Health Capsule shed light on acceptance, strengthening the parent-child bond and allowing them to chase their dreams. While some children grow-up in the presence of both parents, others are taken care of by a single parent. Single parenting is one of the challenging aspects in parenting.
In this article Consultant Psychiatrist Dr. Venura Palihawadana talks about single parenting, the dos and don’ts of positive reinforcement and why parenting is a transformative process.
Single parents should use less power
“Even a single meaningful relationship can have a significant positive impact on a child’s life. Therefore, undoubtedly, there is no major obstacle for a single parent to raise a healthy and well adjusted child. However, single parents are more vulnerable for exhaustion, both physically and mentally. They should learn means of delegating duties, taking breaks from routines and finding time to recharge themselves.” Unfortunately, single parents often become the dominating type, but according to Dr. Palihawadana it’s a wrong approach.“The less powerful you are, you should use less power on your children. Because using power to control them is actually the last trump card you have. So, if at all you have to use it, use it carefully. If using your power is the only way you know how to control a child, what are you going to do when one day tables turn and you are in a less powerful position than your child? The chances are that you might get a chance to taste your own medicine. Similarly, some single parents make it a habit to lament and complain about their suffering thinking that it will motivate the child to behave well or achieve more. It’s OK to show them once in a while, the struggle you go through, but if you make it a habit, then it becomes an emotional blackmail. In other words, here you are forcing the child to become a parent for you since you are the helpless victim. Forcing them prematurely to bear such responsibility can impact the personality development of the child in a serious way”.
“It’s the bond that matters and in the case of a single parent building up a stronger bond is more important. Never make it a power struggle between you and your child. And don’t get scared that things will go out of hand if you don’t have an upper hand in the relationship. You can still set boundaries, discipline and give directions to them. For that you must start asking questions like: what does my child need? Why doesn’t he feel like not complying with me? Have we lost connection? How can I make him open up more? You must try to develop an attitude of curiosity. This approach is particularly important for a single parent who is raising a rebellious adolescent. Let’s say the child is shouting at you ; in that case don’t feel upset and try to silence him. If he has the courage to shout at you that means the relationship is healthy and he feels secure to express emotions with you. Because most of the children cope bywithdrawing and isolating themselves from parents”
“On the other hand, we see so many couples deciding to tolerate their relationship and stay together for the sake of children. But there is nothing more detrimental for growth of a child than living with two adults who are stuck somewhere that they don’t want to be. The child will absorb all the negativity and resentment in the relationship and the child can become an easy outlet of their frustration. Even more dangerously, they are modelling an unhealthy relationship dynamic which can affect the way the child relates to his loved ones in the future. So, I believe its best to work on the interpersonal issues and emotional wounds and come to a firm decision first. Parents who have done this work provide a greater stability for children.”
Positive reinforcement: The Dos and Don’ts
By using positive reinforcement parents try to get children to do things. Dr. Palihawadana further said that there’ssuspiciousness about the long-term effectiveness of these star charts. ‘They are effective in gettinga child to initiate a task but in long-term, they get in way with internal motivation. It robs the child from his internal desire. The moment you attach a reward to a task you are telling a person that they are doing something inherently unpleasant and must tolerate it in order to be rewarded.However in the short term it’s good, for example in introducing children to a habit. Because they need to be exposed to something to like it. For example if you have never exercised, it’s not because you don’t like what exercise is but it’s because you don’t like what you think exercise is. Because you actually can’t dislike something that you haven’t done. The more someone is exposed to something, the more they have the opportunity to decide whether they like it or not. In that regard, reinforcement is important.”
Working with teenagers
“Parents find it particularly hard to work with their adolescent children. They find it hard to understand their certain behaviours and struggle to gain control over their children. Sometimes out of frustration they try to use more power to gain control which can have counterproductive effects. I can think of few tips about working with teenage child
- Know that their brain is not fully developed, especially the area related to rational decision making. So be patient when they make mistakes. Certain things they do, might appear irrational to you, but let them learn from mistakes.
- Don’t always try to give advice and directions especially when you feel that they are not ready to listen. There is ample evidence to say that praising and approval of their good behaviour is much more important than correcting them their weaknesses.
- Try to understand their rebellious behaviour using an empathetic perspective. Do not take it personally. This is an age where they seek some independence in their lives. But setting boundaries and limitations and establishing routines are important. Adolescents need them. Do it with a kind heart and be flexible enough to change your rules and regulations when needed. Give them the opportunity to negotiate boundaries.
- Validation of their emotional state is very important when they are upset or angry. Do not attempt to calm them or silence them without first validating their emotions. Validation is not synonymous with approval. You don’t have to approve or agree with their behaviour to validate. Validation is simply showing them that you understand their struggle. It will help them to calm down and sooth themselves. Then you can suggest strategies to change”.
“Parents find it hard to tolerate certain behaviours of older children for so many reasons. Sometimes their behaviours remind them their own weaknesses that they fought a life time to gradually overcome. Sometimes they are so invested in the script they have in their hands to raise a perfect child that they can’t tolerate even a minor flaw in their child. Whatever the reason, core issue is that they are not mindful of their own parenting style”
In his concluding remarks he said that parenting is a lot about self inquiry. “You need to ask yourself about how mindful you are. By being mindful you will have yourself even if everything goes wrong. This is the upper hand you need to have. Not the power. Being mindful is a constant process. It’s a learning process for the parent. Don’t get too carried away by societal pressure. Your aim should be to raise a confident and independent adult,” he concluded.