The Balancing Act: A Helpful Parenting Strategy

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of parenting information presented from so many different sources these days. This enormous amount of information can have the opposite effect on parents and make them feel inadequate instead of empowered. Parents often tell me they feel like they are not doing the “right” thing when they are dealing with their child. It seems that there is a myth circulating amongst parents: “The Myth of the Perfect Parent!”

Something I frequently tell parents when they are feeling this way is that there is no such thing as one “perfect” way to parent a child. Children and parents and the relationships between them are extremely complex and cannot be boiled down to following a particular set of rules. Parenting works best if you can keep “ideas” or “strategies” in mind as you interact with your child. Sometimes you will feel like these strategies are worthless, but if you keep persisting with them, they do eventually work and they will help you feel better about you and your child.

One helpful strategy you can keep in mind is one I like to call “The Balancing Act.” It involves, first, dividing your parenting interactions with your child into two categories, one called “Connecting” and the other called “Controlling.” After this is clear in your mind, you can then strive to balance these two categories in terms of how you interact with your child. In healthy parenting, we need to provide both connecting and controlling interactions to our children, so the idea of balancing these two concepts provides parents with a strategy to make sure they are not engaging in too little or too much of one or the other. Let’s have a look in more detail at each of these two very important categories.

Controlling

Controlling means just what it says: providing your child with control and structure to his or her daily life. It means setting up daily routines, especially around mornings, evenings, and mealtimes. It means setting limits for inappropriate behaviors and making demands for completing tasks such as homework and chores. It can also mean teaching your child various skills necessary for living, educating your child about things you value in life, assisting with homework, scheduling extra-curricular activities, and monitoring and supervising your child’s activities.

When you use the Controlling category you are sending the message to your child that: “I will keep you safe; I am concerned for your well-being; I will help you learn how to take care of yourself; I will help you learn the rules of society; I will help you learn to manage your emotions.”

Controlling skills will make your child feel safe and secure knowing his or her parents are attentive to these issues. Controlling skills will also teach your child directly about the world and how to behave appropriately.

Here are some things you could say if you were using this category:

Stating Rules, Making Demands, and Setting Limits

“The rule is no hitting.”

“In our family, the kids do homework after dinner and before watching TV.”

“No jumping on the couch. The couch is for sitting on.”

“Everyone needs to put their dirty dishes on the counter.”

“The wall is not for painting on.”

“Dirty laundry goes in the laundry basket.”

“On Saturday, we pick up all the toys off the floor in our bedrooms and vacuum.”

“Sit still, please.”

“No, you may not have a cookie now.”

“Take your hair out of your face.”

“Please put on your jacket, we are going in 5 minutes.”

“No, you may not sleep over at Jesse’s house tonight.”

“It’s time to sit down at the table for lunch.”

“Take your hands out of your pockets.”

“Please brush your teeth and put your pajamas on now.”

“You may not throw the car at the window; if you want to throw something, throw this nerf ball.”

“No pinching me. That hurts.”

“You need to do your homework now, and then you can play on the computer.”

“Stop jumping on the bed; jump on this pillow instead.”

“Hang up your coat please.”

“Sit up when you print please.”

“Stop fiddling with your hands.”

“You have 5 more minutes for your play time.”

“No, you cannot cut up that magazine, here’s one you can cut.”

“No, we can’t buy that toy, maybe you could ask for that for your birthday.”

“We can play for 10 minutes, then I will have to do my work.”

Using Rewards and Consequences

“If you can play by yourself for 15 minutes without interrupting me, you can earn a sticker on your chart.”

“If you come home late from Jesse’s house, you will not be allowed to watch TV tonight.”

“If you can help me fill the cart, then we can go to the park to play after shopping.”

“Remember I told you no jumping on the couch; if you keep jumping on the couch, then we will have to end our play time for today.”

“The bookshelf is not for climbing on. If you choose to climb on the bookshelf again, then you will have to go for a time-out.”

“If you hit your sister, you will need to go for a time-out.”

“I see you are painting on the wall again, remember I told you no painting on the wall? I will need to put the paints away for today, right now.”

“I see you did not pick up your toys like I asked you to do, so you will have to lose a sticker from your chart.”

Teaching, Educating and Assistance

“I’ll show you how you do that first, then you can try.”

“This is how you do it.”

“What does that word say?”

“Let’s think about some other ways you could solve that problem.”

“Kick the ball with the inside of your foot.”

“How many purple ones are there?”

“Now it’s time for Jamie to have a turn; we need to take turns with our friends.”

“This is what I would do in that situation…”

“Let’s imagine what you are going to do next time Jamie calls you stupid.”

“Here, let me show you how to stir the eggs.”

“Kids can get into real trouble if they do that.”

“Be careful, you could hurt yourself if you run too fast.”

“In our family, we believe it is important to help poor people because…”

“Say thank you when she gives you that pencil.”

“Hold the bat with your hands here like this.”

“Say good-bye to Mrs. Jones.”

“Look at people when they talk to you.”

“I have signed you up for swimming lessons. We are starting next week.”

Monitoring and Supervision

“I am in the next room. If you need help let me know.”

“I’ll be listening to make sure you are not getting into trouble.”

“I’ll be talking with your teacher tomorrow.”

“What do you need to do for homework?”

“Phone me when you get to Katie’s house.”

Connecting

Connecting means providing your child with emotional warmth by expressing positive emotions to your child such as love, affection, approval, pride, and satisfaction. It means comforting, soothing, and reassuring your child when he or she is upset, frightened, tired or sick. It means having a sense of humor and spending time with your child playing and just having fun together. It means being available to giver your full attention to your child, listening to what he or she is saying, then acknowledging and respecting what is said without giving advice or expressing disapproval. It means having confidence in your child so that you can allow him or her appropriate levels of independence and autonomy.

When you use the Connecting category, you are sending the message to your child that: “I love you no matter what you do; you are important to me; I am interested in what you say and do; I enjoy being with you.”

Connecting skills help a child develop positive self-esteem and a sense of identity. They also build and strengthen the parent-child relationship so that your child will value and admire you. The more a child admires a parent, the more the child will want to behave in ways that please the parent. So, connecting skills ultimately improve children’s behaviors.

Here are some things you could say if you were using this category:

Reflecting Child’s Feelings and Desires

“You’re really interested in that.”

“I see it’s hard for you to eat that.”

“That makes you happy.”

“I know it’s hard not to hit when you’re mad.”

“You like how that feels.”

“You’re tired and you want to go to sleep but you can’t”

“You really wish you didn’t have to leave now.”

“That kind of surprised you.”

“I know you don’t want me to leave, because you’re not sure where I will be.”

“That’s frustrating when it doesn’t work the way you want it to.”

“It looks like you’re excited to see that.”

“You’re really angry about that.”

“You’re proud of your painting.”

“You’re wondering what that is.”

“You like how you look with that hat on.”

“I know you don’t like it when mom and dad go out.”

“You really wish we could play longer.”

“You didn’t like the way that turned out.”

“You’re sad about that.”

“You’re trying to figure out what that’s for.”

“I know you’re angry and you want to keep all the cookies for yourself.”

Describing Child’s Activities

“You’ve got them all lined up just how you want them.”

“You’ve decided to choose that toy.”

“You’re going to wear those pants today.”

“That soldier (toy) is really angry with the other soldier.”

“You put 2 cups over here and 2 cups over there.”

“You’re making a tall tower.”

“You’re shovelling all that snow into a pile.”

“You’re skating really fast.”

“Now you are going to use that box.”

“Now you’re putting that dolly in the car.”

“You’re taking the dog for a walk now.”

“That puppet is feeling silly today.”

“You dug a big hole right by the fence.”

“That car just crashed right into the other car.”

“You’re going to watch TV first, then play with Lisa.”

“That doll is sure making lots of noise.”

“You’ve decided to ride your bike to Tom’s house.”

“You drew a happy face.”

“You’re trying to fit that piece in there.”

Engage in Child-Directed Play
(play the way you think your child would like you to play; let your child decide the rules)

“You would like me to cut out this picture.”

“So I’m supposed to draw a tree here.”

“You’d like me to attach that to this piece.”

“You want me to put that mask on.”

“You want me to be the doctor and I’m supposed to listen to your heart.”

“Now I’m supposed to go to the store and buy some things.”

“So I’m supposed to be the teacher.”

“You want me to stack these just as high as yours.”

“You’d like to show me your hockey cards.”

“You want me to play this game with you.”

Listening and Respecting What Child Says
(without giving suggestions or advice)

“So what you’re saying is…”

“So what happened is…”

“Oh, I see, that makes sense what you are saying.”

“Yes, I understand you would feel that way.”

Encourage Independence
(without demanding independence)

“You can decide how you want to use it.”

“That’s something you can do.”

“You can use that just about any way you’d like.”

“Some kids might use it as a table, but you can use it just about any way that you’d like.”

“I’ll just start this for you; then you can finish it off.”

“You can choose what you want to do with it.”

“You’ve decided that’s what you are going to do.”

“What do you think some good ideas would be to solve that problem?”

“Keep going. You can do it. You’ve made it part way already.”

Highlighting Child’s Strengths
(without praising excessively)

“It looks like you know how to make it spin really fast.”

“I can see you’re working really hard on that.”

“You figured it out.”

“I can see you are good at making other kids feel better.”

“It looks like you’ve got a plan.”

“You know just how you want that to be.”

“Look at those beautiful colors you used.”

“It’s hard to do, but you just keep on trying.”

“That is really neat printing.”

“Looks like you’ve spent a lot of time thinking that through.”

“You didn’t give up.”

“You have a great sense of humour.”

“You are really good at figuring problems out.”

“You were really patient with that even though it was really frustrating.”

“You did it!”

“Wow, I see you can do that really quickly and easily.”

Expressing Positive Emotions to Child
(such as affection, love, pride, satisfaction, approval, optimism, happiness, appreciation and encouragement)

“I love you.”

“I really like having play time with you.”

“I like to hear your stories, they are really interesting.”

“Thanks for the hug.”

“I love spending time with you.”

“I really like how you put that together.”

“I appreciate it when you pick up your toys.”

“Thanks.”

“That really helps me out.”

Comforting and Reassuring Child

“It’s okay, you’re safe now, I’m here, let me hold you.”

Yes, it hurt, but it’s all over now.”

“Would you like a back rub?”

“Here, let me wipe your face.”

“Just take a deep breath and relax; see that makes you feel better already.”

“It’s okay to cry; just let those feelings out.”

“Here, let me give you a cuddle.”

“Tell me what happened; that must have been scary.”

“You were very brave.”

“Would a kiss make it better?”

“How about we put a bandaid on it; that helps to make it feel better.”

“You’re tired; come and cuddle on the couch here.”

“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to do that; that was a mistake.”

Conclusions

If you can balance these two concepts of providing your child with both Connecting and Controlling interactions, you are well on your way to giving your child a great environment to grow up in and building a strong relationship with your child.

Copyright Kathy Eugster, 2009. All Rights Reserved.

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Kathy Eugster, MA, RCC, CPT-S

MA, Counselling Psychology
Registered Clinical Counsellor
Certified Play Therapist – Supervisor
Child and Family Therapist


Kathy Eugster

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