The Parenting Garden

August 25, 2015, Parenting Success Network

This week’s guest post was written by Jen Bettis. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts by Jen.

It’s the time of year in which we can harvest the fruits of our gardens. Gardeners have spent hours watering and cultivating growth to produce this fruit.

This practice also works with parenting and goes along with the Nurturing Parenting teaching curriculum written by Dr. Stephen J. Bavolek. It is easy to get caught up in the negatives in life. Many of the parents I work with can easily share the negative behaviors in their children, often citing how they want these behaviors to change. Much of a parent’s time and attention is poured into changing these behaviors.

One way to problem solve is to do the opposite of what we might think. Rather than focusing attention on changing the negative behaviors, Dr. Bavolek encourages parents to focus on the positive behaviors they see in their children. In the midst of the negative behaviors, it is easy to lose sight of the positive ones, the areas in children that are producing fruit.

As all parents know, there is limited time and energy in each day; in gardening, the watering can has a limited amount of water to be poured out. My encouragement to parents is to look at where the water is being poured. How much is spent correcting negative behaviors (watering weeds) versus praising positive behaviors (watering seeds which lead to fruit)?

Often something as simple as spending 15 to 30 minutes of quality time each day engaging with your child will result in growth. Try it. Turn off technology, put aside any preconceived ideas of what the child should be, and get on their level. Let them take the lead and engage in an activity that brings them joy. The families that participate in our parenting class are asked to do this and report back each week. The stories from the parents who fully engage are full of hope and encouragement. They share changes in their relationship with their children as well as an increase in positive behaviors.

Over my time working with children and families I have come to understand how important boundaries, structure, and consistency are for children. Structure in particular has a positive impact on the family as a whole. When working with families, adding structure to the home is often the first place I start.

My recommendations are to start small, with tasks the family feels they can be consistent with. Consistency will help children know what to expect and what is expected of them, which often lowers anxiety in the child.

Often we start with tasks and activities that are already regularly happening, such as sleeping and eating. Once those patterns are regularly in place the family can continue to build, adding in other daily tasks such as chores, homework, family time, and so on.

I also encourage families to include children in setting a daily schedule, particularly offering choices on when activities happen throughout the day. For example; would you like to complete your homework right after school or have a snack first and then do your homework? This helps the child feel that they are a part of the plan and usually increases their willingness to participate in the schedule.

Finally, I encourage parents not to aim for perfection. It will likely be a slow process with steps forward and back. Being a boundary holder can be a difficult job. I warn parents that children will likely push back at first, testing to see how strong the boundaries are. Hold tight to the areas that are most important for you and your family. With time the whole family will adjust.

Jen Bettis is the Intensive Safety and Reunification Services Supervisor at Family Tree Relief Nursery. She teaches Nurturing Parenting classes at Family Tree.