Power for Parents

One thing that I have noticed about articles and research around parenting: the good, the bad and the ugly; is that they mostly induce parental guilt.  Guilt induces feelings of paralysis, fear and hopelessness and all types of parents and carers seem to suffer from it at sometime or another. 

Whether it working mothers: a classic example is the factious character played by Sarah Jessica Parker in the new film adaptation of Allison Pearson’s “I Don’t Know How She Does It” or single parents – recently accused in the press as ‘responsible’ for the summer rioting amongst some British young people (YP)

Parents of YP do seem to bear the brunt of the media’s criticism at a time when their parenting skills are pushed to the limit. Parents of pre-teens and teenagers will recognize the aspects of the surly behavior characterized by Matt Lucas in “Little Britain” and Harry Enfield’s ‘Kevin’ (if you need reminding watch www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLuEY6jN6gY) However, they may not find themselves laughing a great deal with their own Kevin and Vickys’.

Whereas there are endless tabloid column inches written about bad parenting there is a dearth of narrative about ‘good enough’ parenting.  Maybe that is because the experts don’t agree on what equates to good parenting and therefore they are reluctant to commit themselves in the national press: unfortunately this doesn’t seem to stop the ‘non-experts’ publically criticizing and castigating parents on what seems like a daily basis.

In my work as a counsellor, it seems to me that generally parents and carers are only too well aware of their own failings (it’s that guilt thing again) and are more than capable of self-flagellation.  Public criticism only reinforces their guilt and sense of despair making them less confident and therefore less capable parents:

children and YP have a sixth sense when it comes to sniffing out unconfident parenting and will ruthlessly divide, conquer and dissolve wobbly parenting resolve.

Now I’m no expert on child rearing or parenting but I am a parent of teenagers and I work with YP and their parents so I’m talking from my own experience here and I believe that the parents’ of Britain need empowering not punishing!

One way of empowering parents is through helping them to feel positive about their abilities to parent affectively.  Skills are usually helpful too and one skill that I have witnessed as being helpful at times to some parents when dealing with arguments and destructive behavior is something I have nicknamed “POW” © – Pause, Observe and Withdraw (although some parents may relate to the acronym prisoners of war…)

I’m currently trying out what is really a simple idea to understand but harder to practise.  As it encourages the parent to actively NOT sort out their young person’s problems but to support them to sort out the problem themself.  This can go against the instinct of the ‘good parent’: some parents hold the belief that it is their role to take on and sort out each and every problem (whatever that problem maybe) their child faces and whereas this is probably very helpful to a vulnerable young child it is less helpful to a pre-teen/teenager and can be very frustrating and disempowering for all involved.

The first step in POW© is to P-ause: to take a breath when your teenager (or the young person you are working with) is upset about a problem.  O-bserve asks that you watch and listen to the young person and reflect back to them what you see and hear: it maybe frustration, fear, anger.  Once you have reflected back the feelings you recognize and have offered your understanding of them back to the young person you also offer to help them with ‘their problem’ once they have calmed down and then W-ithdraw.   This can be a physical withdrawal to another room or if this is not possible or not safe, withdraw into another activity not centered round the young person’s problem.

The simple act of ‘catching’ and tentatively offering an acknowledgment of a young person’s feelings; thereby focusing on how they are ‘reacting’ to their problem rather that focusing on the problem itself seems to enable the young person to let go of the feeling. It can diffuse the situation by avoiding the familiar escalating arguing and disagreeing that seems to follow . This seems to me to be more respectful of the young person and less onerous for the parent/carer. 

I would be really interested to hear from any parents or counsellors/therapists of young people who try out POW© for themselves and I can be contacted at mail@joannebuchmuller.co.uk.

Who knows, maybe together we can create a positive, supportive narrative about parenting for parents.  Just remember counsellors and parents:


Copyright  ©  2011 by Joanne Buchmuller MBACP Accred.

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