Change Takes Time
This comes up often in my private practice. A family is working on totally shifting their approach with their child, often moving from a shut-down-the-behavior, send away, and punish approach to a limit the behavior and connect to what’s underneath approach. We talk about a framework for what’s happening in the family home, the parents reflect on some new ideas, and we discuss a concrete plan of action for change.
I always say this to parents when we are making this plan: “For a while, it’s going to feel like nothing is working. You’re going to have this thought this week, ‘What does that Dr Becky know anyways? Everything made sense in her office and I am doing all the stuff we talked about… but look at my child! He’s doing the same thing he always does! What the heck!'”
We cannot judge the impact of our parenting interactions by our child’s immediate reactions or behavior.
We have to be able to hold something more complex: change takes time. Our children are smart and crafty. They don’t trust sudden change – and this is a good thing! You wouldn’t want them to suddenly trust someone who changed course one day or one week; appreciate the fact that your child is holding onto some of his problematic behaviors as a sign of his healthy skepticism.
We have to work on changing *ourselves* for much longer than is comfortable before our children change. It’s an inconvenient truth around parenting.
You will doubt yourself, you will hear that voice that says, “Maybe my child actually needs more intense discipline and punishment and time outs!” Greet that voice with friendliness – “Hi self-doubt, there you are!” and remind yourself of your internal fortitude, that you are able to hold onto something that feels right inside even if the external “evidence” does not yet support your beliefs.
Yes, of course we also need to consider questions like, “What might I be missing?” and “Are there other things my kids need to help with what they’re struggling with?” And also just remember, sometimes the answer is, “More of the same. Keep going. I know what I’m doing. My child’s behavior is not a barometer of my parenting.”