Hello, Conscious Parent! Welcome to “Dear Katherine,” a monthly Q&A with real-life parents/caregivers. If you’d like to submit a question of your own, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My wife and I have been applying the Guidance Approach to Parenting discipline method to activate “self-started behavioral change” from within our 10-year-old daughter, which means we don’t reward or punish her for good or bad behavior.
Ever since, we’ve noticed our daughter becoming more aggressive—probably because she thinks she can get away with anything. She has always been prone to “flying off the handle” at the slightest provocation, but her reactions are getting so much worse. She’ll tell us to, “shut up,” or—even worse—lash out at us physically.
What should we do? I know we’re making parenting progress, but this behavior feels very much like a setback.
Dear Gutted Dad:
My heart goes out to you and your wife. It’s difficult to see our children struggle, and more so when we feel we aren’t making enough progress no matter how hard we try.
But I want to offer you encouragement and reassurance: you are on the right track.
The core principle behind self-started behavioral change is authenticity. Trying to change a child’s behavior through rewards or punishment is a form of subtle manipulation. “If you do your homework, you’ll be rewarded with ice cream. If you don’t don’t do your homework, you won’t be allowed to watch TV.”
This type of messaging tells kids that they should only be “good” to achieve an external reward. It encourages them to hide the “bad” and only show you the “good” to gain your love and affection. It can also activate the three Rs of retaliation, rebellion, and resistance.
The truth about behavior is actually quite scientific: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. When your daughter refuses to do her homework and throws a fit about it, that’s a consequence within itself.
The key here is to allow your kid to continue experiencing these natural “punishments.” Eventually she’ll realize that she’s only hurting herself when she exhibits certain negative behaviors.
Gutted Dad, these things take time. A Guidance Approach to Parenting won’t create ‘self-started behavioral change’ within your child overnight. But when it comes to aggressive language and behavior, I have one piece of advice to give: no one starts swinging from a chandelier!
Be sensitive to your daughter’s trigger points. Observe how and why she escalates from refusing to do her homework to yelling, “Shut up, Dad!” or hitting you. Ask yourself these questions:
- Am I communicating effectively? Use the tools of empathetic listening and compassionate dialogue.
- Is there an underlying unmet need I’m not addressing? Your daughter may be terrified of failing a class, worried she may disappoint you, in overwhelm. Maybe that’s why she’s not doing her homework.
- Am I taking her feelings seriously? If she’s truly flying off the handle without provocation, it could be a symptom of an irritated nervous system. Kids that go from 0-100 at the drop of a hat never started at zero to begin with, they started at 90! It’s best to consult with a medical professional.
Gutted Dad, I know you feel like you’re experiencing a setback. But it’s all part of the journey you’re on. I encourage you to keep practicing the methods of conscious parenting. I promise you it’ll result in a better relationship with your child.
Love and Blessings,
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