Have you ever had difficulty determining when “enough is enough” with your child? Or questioned when you should draw the line, rather than be flexible and give in to his requests? Have you ever experienced the pain and confusion of knowing your child wants softness from you, but feared that this softness will somehow be “bad” for him/her in some way?

These are issues that all parents face regarding discipline and how best to provide the guidance and support your child needs along with the love, nurture, and empathy they most long for. In working with coaching and therapy clients, and as a parent myself, I’ve come to understand the deep complexities involved in serving as a loving, empathic parent while at the same time providing effective guidance and authority.

These are not simple, easy, or comfortable issues. But asking yourself the following questions can be very beneficial and productive in the process of empathic and effective parenting.

When my child is acting up, what is he longing for on a deeper level?

Often, a child acts up or misbehaves for purposes that are not readily apparent on the surface. Misbehaving can in fact be a child’s way of gaining your attention and direct engagement with him. He may be craving your attention and love, and unable to achieve these in a productive manner. Sometimes, acting out is a way to distract parents from their own conflicts so that the attention is again refocused on the child. It can be a form of “homeostasis,” keeping the family intact and functioning. So, the key question here is: What may my child’s misbehavior be saying that I haven’t yet fully understood?

Who is in control here? Do I need to set clearer, more consistent boundaries?

Often as parents, our own insecurities about our parenting skills lead us to doubt our ability to control and question whether we rightfully deserve a place in this “executive” role. When this occurs, we typically lose our ability to be effective and authoritative. In essence, we have allowed our children to climb up into the “executive” position and make decisions for us. If you experience a sense of being out of control with your children and feel as if they are “running the show,” it is helpful to stop and examine your beliefs and attitudes around setting and enforcing guidelines. Are you consistent, and firm? Do you provide natural consequences when your children do not behave as you need them to? When we make this careful examination of our difficulties in acting authoritatively in our own lives, we often find beliefs and fears carried over from our childhood about ourselves, our parents, the nature of love, support, and self-assertion, that need to be re-examined.

Am I showing empathy and care in my reactions even though I need to be firm?

There are times, of course, that children need from parents firmness and resoluteness, so that they may learn new ways to achieve what is considered acceptable and beneficial behavior in the family, and later, with their peers, in society, and their world at large. This firmness may be required in many different areas including respect, rules, rituals, communication, and in enforcing appropriate boundaries. But when we are firm and unmovable, can we at the same time be loving and empathic? As parents, it is important to examine our ways of enforcing rules to ensure they leave room for demonstrating our genuine empathy and care for the child’s inner experience and his/her unique individuality.

Do I validate my child? Do I let her know that, while I may not agree with her position, it is a valid one to her?

What we humans seem to crave deeply and consistently is validation—experiencing others’ support that our personal beliefs and actions make sense. Yet often, when we struggle with our children, we invalidate them as we attempt to provide guidance about ways we need them to change. We can discredit or undermine their behavior or thoughts, telling them they are “wrong,” “silly,” “immature,” or crazy.” A different approach that builds self-esteem is to support the idea that, while we need some change in their behavior, we still understand and can relate to their position, and consider it valid.

When I need to reprimand and give a consequence, how can I execute it so that my child can save face with dignity, while learning and growing from the experience?

It is very difficult for children (and adults) in a power struggle to admit defeat and lose face. Yet this is often what we exact from our children when we demand that they change, or that we are “right.” We become much more effective when we allow our children to remove themselves from the conflict with their dignity and self-esteem intact. There are many ways to do this, all of which require keeping in mind the goal of fostering our children’s life energy rather than vanquishing their spirit as we attempt to bring about positive changes in behavior.

Am I on the same page with my spouse so that the “parental unit” is strong and cohesive?

In my work with families and children, one of the most common patterns to emerge involves one spouse unwittingly using a child as a tool against the other spouse. Why does this occur? When we feel in some way powerless to affect a desired change in our marriage, we can find ourselves using a child to side with us and serve as our ally against our spouse. In this way, we feel more powerful and less alone. Further, when a child is acting out and disregarding one parent, often there are ways in which the child is gaining support in his struggle from the other spouse. The key question at the heart of this dynamic is: Am I on the same page with my spouse about parenting and about our own relationship? If not, am I involving my child, though conflict or through direct collusion, to get back at my spouse?

Can my power struggles with my children teach me anything about my own fears and insecurities that need to be addressed?

When we struggle with our children, there are often underlying themes and patterns that are being playing out. It is important to look at the struggle from a distance, as a “metaphor,” to gain clarity on the key issue. As an example, we often fight with our teenage children over their breaking curfew or disregarding other rules. A deeper look can reveal key developmental challenges occurring such as the teenager’s natural process of striving to achieve autonomy vs. dependence. Looking beneath the surface of our struggles, we often see our own fears are being tapped…perhaps a fear of losing our children as they grow up, fear of being alone, or fear of losing meaning in our lives as our children leave home to pursue their own lives.

Am I fostering my child’s own unique individual path or am I trying to make it in the image of someone else’s?

Finally, a significant key to effective, empathic parenting is to ask ourselves the question: What is my key goal in parenting? What am I hoping to achieve overall as a good parent? To provide love and support, offer guidelines for development, to foster the growth of a happy, healthy, productive individual? Or perhaps, I wish to create a loving, safe, supportive environment for my child to become all he is meant to be in this world, based on his or her own dreams, passions, energies, and goals?

Whatever your answer to this pivotal question, its exploration will be extremely helpful in setting your own parenting course. Increasing your awareness of your actions as a loving, effective parent will ultimately help you expand your choices as to how to react, communicate, and behave. In the end, modeling empathic parenting will benefit not only your children, but future generations as well.

Author's Bio: 

Kathy Caprino is a personal and professional coach, psychotherapist, author and speaker focused on helping individuals navigate through major professional and personal transition to reclaim the direction of their lives for greater purpose, fulfillment, and joy. She has co-founded Living in Harmony—The Center for Emotional Heath in Westport, CT, and also specializes Empathic parenting coaching that fosters empowerment and self-reliance in children and families. Ms. Caprino is conducting a national in-depth research study on Women Overcoming Professional Crisis—Finding New Meaning in Life and Work, co-sponsored by The Esteemed Woman Foundation. For more information about personal, professional or relationship coaching, or programs for Professional Women in Transition, please contact Kathy at:
Email: Kathy@kathycaprino.com
Web: http://kathycaprino.com
Phone: (203) 226-6210, ext. 3