I was asked a few weeks ago by an overwhelmed mother if it was too late to repair the relationship with her elementary aged son. I said "It's never too late!" I truly do believe that you know, but I understand her anxiety. I have often wondered this myself as it relates to my own children. I went through it with my son when he was much younger. Things on that front are MUCH improved and I feel confident that our relationship will continue improve and grow stronger. I also feel that there isn't much he can do that I can't handle (let's hope he doesn't prove me wrong!).
My daughter, on the otherhand, continues to shake my confidence in my parenting abilities. The roller coaster of emotions from sweet child to demanding and screaming kid continue from time to time. Every time it does, I wonder what have I done wrong? Is she going to grow up to hate me? Will we ever enjoy each other's company?
I've tried looking at it analytically, e.g., what is that I am doing that continues to reward this behavior? I've realized that I really have to work on responding without any emotion to the outbursts (as angry and hurt as I might be inside). It has helped in that she has been recovering more quickly, but it is still frustrating that the outbursts continue to happen. Let me be clear, I do not expect a perfectly behaved child, but one that is pleasant to be around at least 50-75% of the time would be great.
It is clear that the parenting tools that worked with my son are not nearly as effective with my daughter. This still surprises me especially since up until the last year and a half, she had been the easier of the two. Is it too late? I refuse to believe so. My goal is to have a positive relationship with her. But, how to do this? Here is my plan:
- Identify the trigger to most of the battles - We seem to get into it about the same things, room cleanliness, snacks, etc. Knowing when it the battles will happen can help us as parents be proactive rather than reactive.
- Hone my technique - In my case, this means keeping my cool and being less reactive. If you have parenting tools that have worked in the past, take another look at them to see are you doing anything differently? Again, for me, I see that I have been much more emotionally reactive with her than I was with my son. Remember, behaviors only occur as long as they are being rewarded (i.e, they elicit a response). Thing two clearly knows she is getting a rise out of me. Gotta put that in check.
- Know that I can, must and will do this. Enough said about that one.
I think that the last step is the hardest. Kids are like dogs in that they smell fear, or in this case, lack of confidence. I love my daughter WAY too much not to continue to find ways to improve things.
I know that there are many parents out there who struggle with this, myself included. The overall point is that you MUST believe in yourself. With determination, the right tools and mind set, even the most troubled parent-child relationships can be turned around!