May 29, 2024
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Becoming a “Self-Aware” Parent

Self-awareness refers to the idea of being aware of one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Self-awareness can be a difficult concept to quantify and explain to parents. When parents request assistance for their child, I will often receive requests for self-help books, websites, and other practical tips that can help them with their child. While these can often be very helpful and practical, it often won’t provide adequate solutions to parents looking for guidance and support.

Developing increased self-awareness can help you toward accepting and understanding that child/family dynamics can often be very complex.

Let’s take the example of 10-year-old Jonathan, who is confrontational and argumentative toward his parents. Jonathan’s parents resolve to implement a few techniques that they heard from their friends. After trying them for a few days, they realize that these techniques are not working well. The mother immediately calls her pediatrician for a book recommendation. After reading the first two chapters, she tries to use some of the techniques mentioned. Jonathan’s mother becomes very frustrated when she does not see any change in her son. Self-awareness will allow the mother to begin to reflect on why the techniques are not working. Is there something more in the relationship or the “dynamic” that also requires intervention?

Self-awareness can also lead to an understanding that effective communication with your child is centered around tuning in to your child’s needs. Let’s take the example of 13-year-old Megan, who is very stressed out in school and one day she comes home and really needs a break before beginning her homework. However, her mother is convinced that a long break now will make things more stressful later and tries her best to have Megan start her homework immediately. A fight begins, which adds to the number of fights that have occurred this week.

Doesn’t the mother understand the stressful life of a 13-year-old girl? Can’t she be more flexible with her child even though she usually likes to run a structured and orderly home? Let’s also add to the equation how Megan’s mother is unhappy at work and has lost patience at home with her children.

Becoming more self-aware helps parents to understand and appreciate their own parenting style. Parents will often parent their children based on how they were parented as children. Additional dynamics such as present work and life circumstances, specific temperament, and personality are also important parts of parenting style. It is important to recognize your particular style and shift when necessary to meet the needs of your child.

Increased self-awareness also can help parents take time to stop and think, something not “usually permitted” by our hectic schedules. Communication and discussions with our children require a real investment of time and energy. Stopping and thinking about how we want to say something, how we could respond if our child says something, are all important preparatory acts. This is especially true during times of conflict and stress where calming down and preparing our thoughts can serve as a great model to our children as to how they should act.

So increased self-awareness will come by

1. remaining calm and focused,

2. tuning in to your feelings and your child’s feelings,

3. self-management and self-care,

4. taking timeouts when needed,

5. communicating with your spouse,

6. being aware of your parenting goals,

7. asking for help when necessary, and

8. assessing your own level of happiness in life.

We will elaborate on the relationship between parenting and personal happiness in the next article.

Mark Staum, LCSW, is the school therapist for the PTACH program@MTA. He maintains a local private practice in Teaneck, NJ, where he works with children, adolescents, and families. To contact Mark please feel free to email him, [email protected]. I am always interested to hear from you, the reading audience!

By Mark Staum, LCSW

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