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Parenting with Love and Limits
It’s the time of the year when the days are getting longer, and summer is around the corner. We’ve made it through long winter nights and the short days, and we look forward to feeling the sun on our shoulders, and the freedom that summer offers us. This is also the time of year when things can get especially hard for some of our young people for whom school is always a struggle… for some, what seems an uphill walk to a faraway goal.
Max’s mom Jenny often jokes that keeping Max motivated in school is her second full time job. Meet “Max” a sweet grade 7 teen who loves his parents, teases his sister, and only remembers to clean his room when he’s on the last reminder before consequences. However, Max never ever forgets to engage in his electronic games the very second he gets home.
All he wants to do is talk with his friends online or relax with his games. He feels like he’s done his work all day, and when he gets home from school he certainly does not want to know from any school work, or studying for exams. When it’s time for Max to do anything other than fun and games - whether its homework, coming to the dinner table, or going to bed - the battle begins. Even the family dog cringes.
Parents frequently come to my office to find ways to help their children stay motivated during the final push from here till the end of the school year: From getting up in the morning to doing homework and going to bed at a reasonable time without a fight on school nights. These young people have a lot of company; research shows that all typically developing children do not follow the rules approximately one third of the time.
So, that can leave us parents feeling helpless and frustrated. For many parents nagging, hovering, pushing, cajoling, or becoming over-involved in the homework may seem to be the only way to get the “not fun” things done. But begging, nagging or threatening consequences impacts our relationship in other ways: It’s frustrating for us (who wants to feel powerless?) and our children often experience nagging as us being “on their back”. If we’re not careful, our relationships can become defined by the push and pull of daily power struggles.
It would be wonderful to be able to recommend the perfect “reinforce” which will miraculously motivate the unmotivated child to be a responsible one. If only there was an app for that! The key to changing unhelpful patterns and habits in our children lie within an understanding of our child’s temperament, interests, and the approaches we use in parenting our children.
Parenting with love and limits is about keeping things balanced in our children’s lives, between work and play, from homework to fun time, and holding them accountable for the things they find hard to do. Holding our youth accountable involves setting limits. The need for limit setting is essential in matters related to our children at school (homework, behaviour etc), relationships at home, peers, and in the community. And of course, there is little point in setting limits unless we intend to monitor their progress and enforce rules and consistency, regardless of the time of year.
Sometimes there is confusion that giving consequences for not doing homework will motivate a child to care more about their role as a student. In fact, setting a limit (by using consequences) as a response to irresponsible student behavior will not likely increase or diminish the child’s actual motivation towards school. That is because it’s very difficult to make a child who does not care about school suddenly learn to care - the long term benefits of education are just too far away and out of their reach. Instead, clear structure and limits that are consistently enforced develop habits of excellence in our children over time that will eventually lead to their success.
Since children’s brains are not completely developed until they are in their twenties, they do not learn how to adopt structure and limits like miniature adults – they learn more concretely, like little explorers. This necessarily involves testing of rules. With their behavior, our children tend to ask us 4 main questions: what behavior is ok? What behavior is not ok? What will happen if I do this behavior and what will happen if I don’t do it? Children learn slowly over time with repeated learning trials, and it is when our words and our actions match they learn to trust our words and recognize the rules behind them. Part of the process that children go through is asking these questions over and over again (through their behaviors) as they go through different developmental stages. When they are mature enough to care, they will be glad that you inspired and influenced them to behave in ways that lead to success.
To be able to influences our children and their choices means having a strong close connection so that they will care what we think! An important part of positive discipline is keeping the connection with our children strong so that they want to be good for us in the more challenging times. In today’s high technology world, it’s so easy for everyone to go off to their own corners on various “screens”, with little family time spent together, even when we live in the same house together. Yet family time – fun times spent together – is what builds up the goodwill bank and is the foundation of any relationship. And it is this very same goodwill bank that we as parents lean on when we need to discipline them – the good - will bank is the positive memories that is drawn on and keeps the relationship together during the more difficult times.
For some parents it is very difficult to hear about the nurturing side when their children are being difficult and not following rules. If we get to that place where most of our conversations are negative, then our children turn us off like the “mute” button – and then we lose that connection. If that happens, they turn to their friends for advice, guidance and support, and we lose the opportunity and ability to guide them in the right direction and pass on our morals and values. Turning this situation around can take some work, and happens sometimes with teenagers. The best time to plan for the teenage years is before they become teenagers. This gives us lots of time to build up the goodwill bank for those more challenging moments.
Some tips for setting limits are having a United parenting front; Freedom within limits; Choosing your battles; Clear rules and enforceable consequences; Structured choices; Teaching your child how to negotiate when appropriate, as well as teaching how to take care of themselves when it’s not possible to negotiate; Leading by example; Modeling apologies, and Quality time and building up the good will bank for the more challenging moments.
Whether the discussion is about a young person who is sending explicit pictures, or a young person who is not wanting to do their homework, Parenting with Love and Limits still comes down to parenting with both the soft and hard side - in good balance. Because love without limits does not provide enough structure and safety for youth to thrive, and without limits they cannot feel where the boundaries are. Conversely, limits without enough of the loving part ends up with a focus on the negative relationship only, and leads to protest and loss of relationship. Striking the right balance can be tricky, and there is no magic recipe. At our offices, DM Family and School Services support parents through offering family therapy to find the right balance, couple therapy to develop united parenting fronts, and Parent Training Programs.
Parenting today’s youth is about living day by day, living in moment, and being present with our children in their lives. It’s about being the person they can come to when they’re really upset, and knowing that no matter what we will help them work it through. Every parent I have ever talked with has the same wish and hope for their child. We all want our children to be happy, and to grow up to become happy, healthy adults who contribute to the world. We also want to maintain a good relationship with our children so they will return home to visit and invite us to visit them as well.
DM Family & School Services www.dmfamilyschool.com
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