PARENTING ARTICLES : Quick Change: Helping Kids Deal Finding Roots In A Constantly Changing World
By Dr.Maryann Rosenthal

Train a child up in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it - Proverbs 22:6

Trouble was in the offing at 12:45 a.m. on a hot July night. I was waiting for my son Win to get home. He’d missed again his midnight curfew, and I knew a confrontation was coming. It went like this: 
Mom: “You’re late again, Win. Want to talk about it?”
Win:     No, not really.”

Mom: “Well, I do. I’m disappointed. Why does this keep happening?”
Win:   “All my friends have later curfews. So I don’t see what the big deal is.”

Mom:  “Their parents have their reasons. I have mine, and I think midnight is appropriate.”
Win: “But, Mom—“

Mom:  “If you break the rules again, here are the consequences: You’re not going anywhere. No mall, no movies, no hanging out with friends for a week. Am I clear?”
Win: “I hate you because you’re so strict.”

His anger knocked me off balance. That’s because I had no one to back me up
and support my decision. I needed the self-confidence to see through such fleeting—maybe even contrived—hostility. And I needed to stick to my rules that I knew to be fair and reasonable.  But that’s especially tough when you’re a single parent.

Marriages sometimes end, but families do not. Although you may cease being a spouse, you’ll be a parent for the rest of your life. And you may end up being a step-parent, too. 

Today’s world is changing more rapidly than ever before. Technological advances speed up the pace of our daily lives and we are bombarded daily with a constant influx of information. In fact, we see more changes in one day than our parents and grandparents saw in their entire lifetimes. 

Single parents have an especially challenging time responding to the demands of the 21st century family and find it difficult to function effectively as parents.  They are often struggling to make ends meet with limited financial resources and trying to raise children without the help of the other biological parent. 

Change and the stress that accompanies it is an inevitable part of our children’s lives. The breakup of a family is the biggest change of all, not only for the parent but for the child.  Some studies indicate that the number of transitions (changes) that children experience while growing up (including death, parental divorces, moving, dating and remarriages) is a good predictor of their behavioral and emotional problems as adolescents and young adults.

Quality of Parenting
Regardless of family structure and the accompanying changes, the quality of parenting is one of the best predictors of your child’s emotional and social well-being. You can’t always prevent the big things that are causing stress in our children’s lives such as moving or parents who have little or no contact.  But you can and do have the power to affect the little things that are happening in your home.

Emma’s mom is caring and wise. She was going through a divorce and moving to a new house which is enough to test anyone’s wisdom and care-giving nature.  Emma had been experiencing severe stomach pain and nausea for more than six months.  She also had been acting out and saying hurtful things. After finding no organic reason for her pain, we came up with a plan to help Emma adjust to the changes in her young life and keep mom on the right path. 

Helping Strategies for Parents
1. Moves that require changing schools can put children out of step with their classmates and behind in their schoolwork. Explain the reason for the move in language appropriate to the child’s age. Although children may not have veto power about the move, allow them some control such as the color of their room or after-school activities.
2. Children of divorce yearn even more than most for structure and consistency. Without a spouse to reinforce you, it is often difficult to teach the rules consistently and equally.  Children will thrive when their parents have a cooperative co-parental relationship. Often, however, cooperative parenting is not the norm. When you are on your own here’s what you’ve got to keep in mind: you know more than your children – and you’re supposed to tell them what to do. Don’t let guilt turn you in to a wimpy parent.  Make good rules and stick to them. Trust your judgment and your experience.
3.  Set clear expectations and hold your kids accountable for their actions. Show respect for the people around you and resolve your differences in peaceful ways that send your kids a positive message about respect. Your children will learn these skills by observing you and have positive relationships with peers and, later, with intimate partners
4.  Time is scarce and you’re fatigued so make the time matter by listening to your kids. You can turn off the cell phone on the drive to school and talk to your kids. Practice listening well and try to see the world through their eyes and give them the wisdom of your years.
5. Help create secure attachments for you and your child by creating a support team that might include relatives, friends, a coach or a teacher. Make a list of these people and remind yourself that you are not alone.
6. Interparental conflict is a direct stressor for children living in a single parent household.  When it is not possible to resolve disputes through negotiation and compromise, focus on ways to help your children deal with anger and frustration. That’s one of the most difficult – and most important – tasks for any parent. If your style is angry or confrontational, your kids are unlikely to learn to resolve their conflicts peacefully. Teaching a child to deal constructively with conflict is one of the greatest gifts you can give them and help foster their resilience.

As our children pitch and roll in the huge waves of change in their lives, they are desperately searching for a lighthouse. And what are lighthouses? Fixed beacons of light that signal where the dangers lie. They’re stable. Strong. Enduring. Illuminating.

Can you be a lighthouse for your child?

1. Paul R. Amato, “Reconciling Divergent Perspectives: Judith Wallerstein, Quantitative Family Research, and Children of Divorce,” Family Relations 52 (2003): 332–39

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Dr. Maryann Rosenthal is a highly respected clinical psychologist on family dynamics and best selling author of Be A Parent, Not A Pushover, recently selected as a book of the year on effective parenting. She is a featured authority on regional and national television and a global keynote speaker. She co-authored with Denis Waitley, the new family leadership program, The Seeds of Greatness System taught worldwide. Maryann lives in southern California with her husband and their blended family of seven children and six grandchildren (and counting).
 
© 2004 by Dr. Maryann Rosenthal.  Permission to reprint if left intact.

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