While I was heading towards the balcony holding a watering can to water my plants that were dying due to extreme weather conditions, I saw my 9 years son Ali sitting on the grass plucking dead grass leaves and suddenly I saw a tiny smoke cloud coming from around him. That one scene shook me to the core; I dropped the watering can on my foot and almost forgot how to breathe. I rushed down the stairs and kept telling myself that it could be a mirage. By the time I got there, I saw a dozen of matchsticks on the ground plus the one that he was trying to smoke. Life really gives us lemons when we’re least expecting. Upon seeing me, Ali dropped if off and started apologizing. I asked him, “Why?” He stood there quiet with his head down. I asked again, “What were you trying to do?” To which he replied, “Nothing Maa, I was just playing with the matchsticks”. I held him from his arm and dragged him home. I could tell that he was ashamed and scared at the same time, and he went to his room.
As soon as my client ended her story, she had eyes full of tears and gave me an unsure glance and shot her first question, “I thought we are giving him everything that he ever asked for and still he is indulging into such destructive behaviors, tell me where did we go wrong? I feel as if we have failed as parents.”She seemed so worried about her son and who isn’t if they discover their 9 years old smoking matchsticks. She further told me, “when I shared this incident, with one of my friends, she held me accountable for this and suggested that we should pay more attention to our child, and give him more time. I feel guilty for what my child is going through.”
At times you are searching answers to the problems that have persisted for so long and are constantly poking you and making it hard for you to focus. I told her that as parents you are not accountable for what your child is doing and going through.As they say, it takes a village to raise a child, every person around him including friends, teachers, cousins, relatives and social media influences his behavior and emotional development as he grows over time and that is how a personality is built.
In our eastern culture, majority of parents have little or no knowledge about conscious parenting and ways on how to deal with child’s aggressiveness, anger issues, tantrums, and self-destructive behaviors. They may use threat, punishment or accept his demands to bring the desired change in a child’s behavior. So, first of all, parents should not go for an advice from random people as it most likely makes parents feel responsible for their child’s behavior. Secondly, they themselves learn parenting through trial and error method and are unaware about how to approach a particular situation.
If parents want to make any positive change in their child’s behavior, they need to accept that blaming does not solve the problem. Moreover, parents have great influence on their child that can help him manage his destructive behaviors. However, parents can only be helpful when they know exactly how to intervene in these crucial moments when their child is at his worst.
Parenting is not an innate ability like breastfeeding and nurturing a child but if they want to help their child to be the best possible person he can be, they must need to learn this skill from professionals.There are certain strategies that professionals have explored through researches and developed many interventions that could help parents to make this process called parenting a conscious one. Professionals have explained a few important strategies needed to get desired behavior change as well as strengthen a parent-child bond.
1. Quantity vs. Quality Time
Spend “quality” time with your child, rather “quantity” time. Ali indulged into destructive behaviors because of the environmental factors and possibly due to peer pressure. If only Ali’s parents spent “quality” time with their child, he would know the difference between constructive and destructive habits. His parents were not aware of the fact that it’s not okay to bound him with zero interaction, but by making the most out of it, even for a couple of minutes by engaging in some healthy conversation which fulfills his emotional needs.
Mostly parents confuse quality time with quantity time. Quality time is when you and your child engage in a meaningful and constructive conversation, which lasts for at least 30 minutes or 1 hour on regular basis. Parents should use this time to learn about their child’s interests, thoughts, problems, friends, school and after school activities. Moreover, they can ask about his day, how is he doing in class? What he likes and dislikes about his school, friends and teachers. They can also use this time to play some fun activities of their child’s interest such as board games, book reading, indoor and outdoor sports, gardening etc. While doing so, parents should give him a pat, hold his hand, or maybe just laugh along as physical touch gives him assurance that they have his back. Parents should attend their child without any distraction during this time like using phone, watching TV, cooking food, reading newspaper etc. All this will help parents build a stronger connection and emotional bond with the child.
2. Parents Acting as Friends
It is often told that parents should be like a friend to their children so, they do not hesitate sharing anything with them. Whereas, professionals say that parents should be friendly to their children but not literally “friends” because you cannot discipline your child while you are acting as their friends too.Parenthood is a huge responsibility given by our creator so we are the mentors, facilitators, and guidance provider of our children. Parents are an authority to their children so they have to understand that a parent’s first duty is to be a guide, and not a companion to balance the relationship.
3. Needs vs. Wants
Professionals say, parents are responsible to provide basic physical needs to children according to their financial resources until the age of 18. Moreover, they should not lie to their children about the financial situation. If they cannot afford something, they should tell them the truth so that children learn to manage and stay within their boundaries. However, parents should keep a balance between their physical and emotional needs and should not comply to their every demand. Parents must need to learn to say “No” to children so that they learn to accept a “No” gracefully. This also helps children learn that the world does not comply with every demand they have. This way they learn to become resilient, and emotionally strong. Parents should also learn to keep a balance between over-indulgence and strictness. Almost every individual seeks love, care and attention. One feels insecure when their emotional needs are not met. Parents have to make sure that their emotional connection stays intact. They need to appreciate, hug, laugh together, and touch when they make small positive gestures.
4. Respecting Each Other’s Boundaries
Parents often demand their child to give them respect but this is something that they don’t offer. Every child isa complete human in a tiny body. Therefore, parents need to give them respect, by calling them with respectful names without using any lame words. Parents should not yell at their child or slap them. This will show that you respect their physical and emotional boundaries.
Making things right might be the hardest thing to do, but certainly not impossible. Listening and talking to your child can make the conditions favorable between you and him. Adding these strategies to your daily life will help improve your relationship with your child. You both owe each other a lot to make things okay. It’s never too late to fix things.
Author: Arooba Laraib
Clinical & Counseling Psychologist,
Family First Institute