How to solve every parenting dilemma, according to a psychotherapist

Showing empathy is key

Olivia Petter
Monday 02 July 2018 17:23
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Parenting is no mean feat, particularly when it comes to disciplining your children.

One wrong turn-of-phrase can catalyse the most apocalyptic of tantrums, placing a lot of importance on the words and tactics you use to manage their behaviour.

Now, two psychotherapists have set out to help struggling parents everywhere to find the right strategies in a new book called Now Say This, which features a three-step disciplinary process that they say can be used to deal with almost any parenting dilemma.

Speaking to The Independent, Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright explained that good disciplinary tactics can be best explained via their ALP model: attune, limit set and problem solve.

“Practising ALP in difficult moments gives parents a way to lead with understanding and kindness, consistently hold clear limits and teach rules and help their child make a better choice or solve their dilemma,” they said.

“Our experience and decades of research tells us that when parents are both empathic and consistent, children are more likely to tap into and grow their innate, sense of right and wrong, rather than only do the right thing out of fear or when someone is watching.

The ALP model can be used to help parents with a whole host of issues, the authors claim, from meltdowns, to non-cooperation, to bedtime resistance, to sibling conflict to arguments over screen time.

One example of a situation in which it could be used is if your child is crying and resisting leaving a fun place, like a toy shop.

Here’s how ALP could be applied in this instance:

Attune: Crouching down at your child’s level, make eye contact with them. With a kind tone, tell them you understand why they’re upset e.g. “Mum gets it, leaving this fun store is really hard!”

Limit set: Calmly explain the situation e.g. “We do have to leave now. It’s time to go pick up your sister.”

Problem solve: Try to mediate the situation by adding in some sort of compromise that will motivate your child to behave e.g. “You can hold my hand and walk out with me while we sing a silly song or I will pick you up gently and carry you to the car.”

The most important thing is to show your child that you’re trying to understand what’s wrong, even if their behaviour seems entirely irrational, the authors add.

“Often these reasons seem silly to us but to them, in that moment, they are everything.

“Other times, we’re not sure why he suddenly fell apart or exactly what is underneath her distress or resistance.”

It’s important to lead with empathy, they explain, as this shows you are there to help them rather than to judge and reprimand them, which will only make things worse.

In light of this, there are a number of phrases that many parents resort to in disciplinary scenarios that the authors strongly advise against using.

These include:

“Shake it off. You’re ok.”

“How many times have I told you not to do that?”

“I’ve had it with you!”

“Why don’t you listen?”

“If you don’t turn that off now, no dessert tonight!”

“Stop crying, you’re acting like a baby!”

“Because I said so!”

All of these are likely to exacerbate your child’s behaviour and should be avoided at all costs because they suggest you aren’t taking their distress seriously, which could pose severe communication problems down the line.

“Communication is how we form a secure attachment with our child and how we grow to know and connect with each other,” the authors said.

“Our long term goal for our kids is that they can eventually tell us with their words, how they’re feeling and what they’re struggling with. The more difficult the feeling, the more important that they feel safe talking to us about it.”

If parents communicate with their children in a serious and thoughtful manner when they’re young, they’re more likely to have an open and honest dialogue with them when they’re older, they added.

“In difficult moments, it’s critical to resist our knee jerk instincts to reprimand, speak sternly, isolate or in any way, shut down communication.

“If you’re struggling, it can help to ask yourself what you want most from the person closest to you in your distressed moments and what you sometimes get from that person that you don’t like.”

Showing your child that they have been heard, listened to and understood is at the core of the author’s approach to discipline:

“Empathy is contagious and our human desire for it goes in all directions."

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