Parenting a teenager is no easy feat. It can feel like an uphill battle full of moments that test your patience and make you question if you're making the right decisions. It's during your child's teenage years that you are truly exposed to situations that showcase their ability to make responsible choices, resolve conflicts, and move towards eventual independence. It's important to remember that how you communicate and interact with your child matters. How we interact with our children throughout their lives, and the messages that we send them, continue to influence them well past their teen years.
A 2014 study out of the University of Virginia reports that one reason why some teens struggle with autonomy and giving in to peer pressure stems from the degree of psychological control that their parents have exerted over them. Finding a balance between healthy and unhealthy communication styles can be tricky and many parents may be making some of these common mistakes by exerting some level of psychological control over their children without even realizing it. A recent article, written by Daniel Flint M.A., outlined several tactics that manipulative parents may use to regain control over their child. In order to foster a healthy and open line of communication with your teen, it may be important to remember these three common mistakes that parents make.
All too often I hear parents using the "You make me so scared and angry. How could you act like this?" conversation style. This kind of rhetoric can stem from the fear that any parent experiences with continued loss of control over what their child is doing--which is particularly common during the teenage years. It's important to realize that while this is a healthy and normal feeling to have, blaming your feelings on your child--even if the feeling is fear, is an attempt to regain control over the child's behavior. If the expression of these feelings happen in an honest and calm conversation and include "I statements" focused on your feelings, the tone of the conversation may go differently. It's important to understand the difference between "I am feeling scared right now because I don't want anything to happen to you" versus "How could you do this to me? You know how much I worry about you!"
2. INVALIDATING FEELINGS
This mistake is not unique to parent/teen relationships and can often begin as early as the toddler years. In this manipulation style, parents may have difficulty differentiating themselves from their child (i.e. seeing them as one-in-the-same or "knowing their child better than they know themselves"). It can manifest in completing your child's sentences, talking over them, or correcting their feelings. Not only does this tactic minimize the importance of the child's feelings, it also places a hierarchy on the feelings--implying that the parent's feelings are more important or more "correct". It's important to provide an environment where your child feels comfortable expressing their feelings--even if they are different from your own.
3. WITHDRAWAL OF SUPPORT
Beginning in infancy, the attachment and bond that we create with our children is stressed as one of the central components to effective parenting. The importance of this attachment does not diminish as our children grow and is often a central component to the third instance of psychological control that parents exert over their children. This is often a last resort for parents--as they may have exhausted other options and are trying to emphasize a point or catch their child's attention. But using the attachment that you worked so hard to build in those beginning years, against your child, will not yield positive outcomes. This type of control is exerted by not talking to your child, using previous instances of support against them, or even avoiding eye contact.
No child or parent is perfect, and it's essential to remember that parenting is a learning experience for everyone. It is, however, important to note that these common mistakes can have lasting impressions on our children as they develop and navigate their own relationships. The previously mentioned study out of The University of Virginia notes that these control tactics may create havoc for teens, as they may may have increased difficulty expressing their autonomy in friendships and romantic relationships later in life. What we say to our children and how we treat them matters, no matter their age.
Flint, D. (2019, December 2). Three Tactics of The Manipulative Parent. Psychology Today.
Society for Research in Child Development. (2014, October 23). Teens whose parents exert more psychological control have trouble with closeness, independence. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 23, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141023091944.htm
It’s important that we listen to our children, because fairly often they will let us know when they’re ready to “do it themselves”. It’s difficult as a parent to watch your child struggle or even fail—but it’s important that parents realize that this struggle is often harder on them than it is the child. Each opportunity to zip their own jacket, put on their own pants, or pour their own drink, provides an opportunity for growth, practice, and ultimately success. If parents allow their children to fail, they are teaching them that things will not always come easily the first time that they try something, and that persistence and practice are key life principles.
2) Implement a routine
3) Get on their level
It’s pretty difficult for a child to be independent if their environment was created solely for their adult-counterparts. You may want to consider placing their cups on a small table within their reach, lowering their clothing racks, putting books on the bottom shelf, or leaving their favorite toys in an easily accessible space. Montessori-style furniture can be a great resource when making these changes to your home. Not only will this alleviate the need for mom/dad to grab what the child needs, every time they need it, but it also allows the child to pick and choose what they want to do throughout the day with little assistance.
4) Accept Help
Nothing teaches your child how to navigate life’s problems like allowing them to resolve their own conflicts. This can often be the most difficult for parents, as they so often want to come to their child’s rescue in social situations, or even scold them into sharing with their friends. But trusting in the social skills of young children can do wonders for a child’s ability to resolve conflicts and engage in positive social interactions on their own. Children will inevitably argue and have conflict, but if they’re taught that they are capable of solving it without adult intervention, they will ultimately be more successful in these skills as an adult.
Have you found any successful strategies to help foster independence in your child? Have you come across any barriers to the aforementioned strategies? Let me know!
No one hands you a "how-to" manual when you leave the hospital as a new parent and the fact that you're responsible to nurturing and caring for this child can be exciting, daunting, terrifying, and exhilarating all at the same time. After a few days, in a sleepless stupor, you trek to the first of many pediatrician's appointments with your tiny newborn in tow. Questions are asked regarding sleep and eating and then you're sent on your way. As the child approaches two months, the questions start to evolve and the subject of developmental milestones is eventually discussed. Sometimes this conversation may be concrete and well-explained, and other times parents are left to wonder what is expected of their child at each age marker. It's important to understand that there ARE certain time-frames that milestones are meant to be met within. The purpose of this post is to explain the importance of these time frames while enabling the caregiver to be able to identify clear markers that a child may not be meeting their milestones within the expected limits.
First and foremost it's important to identify the developmental milestones that are expected within the first few years of a child's life. It's essential to not only identify what these milestones are, but the importance that they have in a child's life, and what to do if you suspect your child is not meeting them within appropriate limits. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention provides a wonderful resource (linked below) to reference for a comprehensive list of social-emotional, gross motor, fine-motor, cognitive, and language developmental markers that parents should be on the look out for.
THE IMPORTANCE OF MILESTONES AND TRACKING DEVELOPMENT:
Before diving into the particular milestones and when they should be met, it's appropriate to discuss the reasoning and importance behind tracking a child's developmental progress. According to data provided by the National Health Interview Survey (Zablotsky et al., 2017) the prevalence of developmental disabilities among US children ages 3 to 17 has increased between the years of 2009 and 2017. The data suggests that approximately 17% of children within the aforementioned age ranges have been diagnosed with a developmental disability. Significant increases in ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Intellectual Disability were noted. What role do these statistics play in developmental milestones? Many of these disorders included in the National Survey are not detected at birth, but instead are most identifiable between the ages of 2 and 6 years of age (Kientz, 2005). In order to provide the most accurate diagnoses at that time, it's imperative to gather a complete and comprehensive developmental history up to that point in a child's life. This developmental history is largely made up of the milestones mentioned above. Knowing what to look for, what to be concerned about, and who to discuss those concerns with, is imperative to early detection of possible developmental delays and therefore the initiation of early intervention services. Research on early intervention indicates that development, the ability to learn, and the ability to regulate emotion is largely-impacted by early intervention, but the timing of the intervention is crucial to progress (Shore, 1997). Because the efficacy of early intervention services has been proven to be so strong, the CDC has launched an initiative to encourage parents to become informed of the developmental milestones called "Learn the Signs: Act Early". Through this initiative, the CDC has outlined nearly 250 milestones that parents can reference to track their child's progress and can help guide discussions with their child's healthcare providers.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
The CDC website can be found here (Milestone Tracker App Apple / Android) for caregivers to reference a comprehensive list of milestones that are divided into each age group and then further divided into milestone categories (cognitive, language, motor, socio/emotional). It is imperative that caregivers know and understand there can be a certain flexibility associated with each milestone. A child may not sit unassisted at exactly six months of age or they may not mutter the beginnings of "mama" at nine months. It's important to remember that each child is shaped by their experiences and their biological makeup, and each child is different. This is not to say that these timelines are not important--because they are. But each child should be treated as an individual, taking into account all of the effects of the systems that have created them up to this point in their lives. Because of the variance of some of these timelines, it's even more important that conversations are started with the child's medical providers to insure that each person is on the same page and is informed of achievements as well as any concerns. Ultimately, as a caregiver of a child, you are the expert on your child. Knowing the ins and outs of how your particular child behaves, interacts, moves, and communicates is essential to insuring they are given every opportunity to succeed. If you are concerned about how your child is developing and meeting milestones consult with a psychologist or pediatrician to discuss the possibility of a full developmental evaluation.
Kientz, J. A., Arriaga, R. I., Chetty, M., Hayes, G. R., Richardson, J., Patel, S. N., & Abowd, G. D. (2007, April). Grow and know: understanding record-keeping needs for tracking the development of young children. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 1351-1360). ACM.
Shore, R., Rethinking the Brain: New Insights Into Early Development. Families and Work Institute, 1997.
Zablotsky, B., Black, L. I., Maenner, M. J., Schieve, L. A., & Blumberg, S. J. (2017). Estimated prevalence of autism and other developmental disabilities following questionnaire changes in the 2017 National Health Interview Survey.