Managing Parental Stress
I am a single mother and I am trying hard to make the program work, but sometimes I just get fed up and yell at the children when they get too wild. Then I feel like I’ve blown it. How can I overcome this problem?
As you know better than I, many aspects of family life are more burdensome to a single parent than to couples who can share the many tasks involved. It is not surprising that you should occasionally become overwhelmed and find it difficult to maintain your composure in the face of challenging children and with too much to do. I have stressed the importance of consistency and follow-through in dealing with children, and while those are solid guides, they can appear inflexible enough that a two-part restatement may be needed:
To the extent that you consistently avoid responding to inappropriate behavior and consistently provide benefit for appropriate behavior, to that extent your child will demonstrate increasingly responsible behavior.
While this is straightforward and accurate, since none of us is at our best all the time, it requires a more moderate corollary:
When you have gotten off track, to the extent that you get back on track, to that extent the program will be resumed and the benefits restored.
This guideline allows parents what we must allow our children: to be human and therefore sometimes to fall below our best.
It is usually appropriate to express your honest feelings to your children, but be sure your comments are about the behavior and not hurtful comments about the children themselves.
The most constructive way of dealing with the children is to catch them before their behavior escalates to a “too wild” stage. When you notice the process starting or when you recognize signs that things will get out of hand, clearly and firmly tell the children what changes you expect them to make (don’t ask, tell). If they modify their behavior as you instruct them to, a few minutes later go to them and comment on their appropriate behavior (without lecturing about how bad they were before). If they do not change, use time-out.
You are to be commended for trying to make things better for your children and for you in the face of difficult circumstances.
Managing Sibling Conflict
We haven’t started a chart, but we are trying hard to do what you said and give attention when our child is cooperative. The problem is that he always seems to be hassling his little brother and sister, and we have to do something! What can we do about that?
Because your efforts to make things better are showing little success, you end up reacting to your son’s hassling of his siblings. Each time this occurs you unintentionally provide attention – and possibly a sense of control – to the very behavior you would like to stop. As a result, your son can meet his needs for attention and control without complying with your rules. It would be very difficult for you to reward him enough in your informal approach to demonstrate to him that he can better meet his needs by cooperation.
It is difficult for any parent consistently to ignore inappropriate behavior and to reward appropriate behavior. That is why the structured approach was developed, and I suggest that you take the time to institute such a program, focused on your specific concerns. While it will take you an hour or two to get a program laid out, once it is operational you likely will find that you spend a good deal less time and effort on maintaining it than you do now on dealing with misbehavior – and certainly with a good deal more success.
Finally, once you begin, your program will be much more effective if you use the time-out procedure to deal with any “hassling” that occurs.