By: Dr. Nicole Westwood-Robinette
Being a parent is difficult work. There is no owner’s manual explaining how to parent a child. More often than not a person parents based on prior experiences, word of mouth from family and friends, and pure blind luck. What makes an already difficult job exponentially more taxing is when that child might be experiencing difficulties with behaviors, emotions, or academic work. As a professional educator and children’s counselor I often hear that “my child behaves badly (insert reason here).” Well, first things first- your child isn’t “bad.” Unfortunately there are times in our lives, as parents, where we often compare our children and parenting styles to those around us. These comparisons, while natural to do, do nothing but make people doubt their instincts, become conflicted with what avenues to intelligently explore, and question whether or not our children will ever behave appropriately. If you are one of the hundreds of parents I have had the pleasure of getting to know and assist, you are not alone in this way of thinking. We, as a collective group of parents fumbling our way through this journey of raising our children, can become so overwhelmed with why our children don’t act a certain way, why we get phone calls home from school daily or weekly, or why in the diming twilight of the evenings we question our ability to do right by our offspring. If you are a parent who has experienced these difficulties or are currently experiencing these issues, rest assured- there are things you can do right now to help squelch the fire and misguided notion that your child is bad. First, know your instincts and trust them. If you are noticing that your child handles things differently than your friends or peers- and this is a concern to you, talk to your pediatrician or family doctor. It is important to become informed, and what better way to become informed than by going to a professional who helps children daily. Express your concerns to your doctor. Try writing down anecdotal notes on your child’s behaviors or emotional handling of situations. When you speak to your pediatrician or family doctor have these notes handy, so that the doctor can hear these first-hand accounts. Be open to information or suggestions from this professional, actively listen to the information or guidance he/she is telling you. I guarantee that you are not the only parent, in this entire vast universe, to have discussed these issues with this particular doctor. If the issues you have shared with your doctor warrant further professional help, your doctor will guide you on who to call for further assistance. If the doctor has suggested further help from other professionals become informed of the other avenues that are out there. Call the agencies or individuals who are there to help, and use those instincts that every parent has, to decide which professional would be the right fit for your child. Next, be honest and open with the agency or individual that you have chosen. These professionals, if doing their jobs correctly, will not pass judgment on you or your child. It is the job of the professional to create a warm and caring environment to assist your child in opening up, to help parents (like yourselves) to feel comfortable expressing their concerns, and to guide you and your family towards the right treatment method. It is a collaborative effort, and without honesty and open communication of the needs of your child or family- it will be difficult to see change. Lastly, change your vocabulary. Your child isn’t bad, they aren’t behaving badly out of spite, and they are not trying to ruin plans or make a mockery of you as a parent. Just like there is no owner’s manual on the proper way to parent a child, there is no standard operating procedural paperwork a child walks around with; they too are trying to understand why they may behave a certain way or why they don’t always handle things accordingly.