As a professional who has worked with a wide range of children and parents helping to smooth over countless childhood concerns, I’m repeatedly asked the same question with a variation on a theme. The question begins with, ‘How do I get my child to…’ and finishes with a pressing childhood malady. How do I get my child to sleep, eat, pee in the potty, stop tantruming, not be a bully, be kind, do well in school, be happy, not talk back, be nice to their sibling, go to bed at a reasonable hour, not be addicted to electronics, and the list goes on.
In response to these pressing questions, I always give the same answer, and spoiler alert – it is not the answer that parents are looking for. I generally tell them, “It depends.” And it does depend. Any type of child behavior never happens in a vacuum. It is an active, reactive, dynamic phenomenon that interacts with all the different facets of the child’s environment.
Adopting the right treatment strategy
As parents, we want our children to be individuals, not robots who imitate their peers. That would be boring. We want them to have unique personalities that reflect the essence of who they are. So, if each child is like a snowflake, unique, genuine, and one-of-a-kind, why do we expect there to be one singular approach for all?
Now, there are absolutely strategies and methods that have a higher chance of helping address problematic behaviors. I am all for evidence-based interventions and use them all the time. But each of these strategies needs to be adapted to the child and to you, the parents.
Trust yourself as a parent
It needs to reflect the culture of your home. That’s why I hear so many parents who buy the most popular parenting book of the week and say to me, ‘yeah, but that doesn’t work for my child.’ The best advice for most parents is to trust in your own ability to parent your child.
When do parents need support?
I know that this is much harder than it actually sounds. It takes self-reflection to think about your natural parenting tendencies and baggage that you bring to the (changing) table. It then takes deep exploration of your child and his needs. If there is a match between the two, then go for it. You don’t need advice. The problem arises when there is a mismatch between how you naturally respond to your child and what your child needs. The hard part is that children are different (remember the snowflake analogy?) and require varied types of parenting. So if you established an amazing groove with one child, you may need to modulate your parenting for the next. This is when parents may need more support.
There are no shortcuts
Yes, this parenting thing is hard! So the next time you are looking for a quick parenting fix, I will be the bearer of bad news to tell you that one does not exist. This is not to say that your child’s behavior can’t change. It’s just a reminder to know that behavior change is usually not quick and not easy. But first make sure you know yourself and make sure you take the time to know your child. Then follow your instincts. If that still doesn’t work, there are lots of people who will be more than happy to offer their opinion on how to help (look no further than a family member). Just make sure you find the type of support that will keep in mind not just who your child is, but who you are as a parent.
Dr. Roseanne Lesack is a licensed psychologist, parenting expert, and director of the Unicorn Children’s Foundation Clinic at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. She is passionate about supporting parents on their journey through parenthood and has a husband and three children of her own.