Why the Good Advice in Parenting Books is Often so Hard to Follow, Part I

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By now you’ve probably read two, three, four or even more parenting books and you are reading this blog now because you are still searching for answers to the problems that you are having with your school age son. He’s a bright, sensitive, creative, energetic boy and you love him, but his moodiness, his constant “no’s” and his opposition to even simple requests are making it hard to love being his parent. You also worry that you are failing him. What will life be like in the future for your son if you don’t help him learn how to cooperate and get along now?

As a father of three school-aged children and as a psychologist who works with challenging boys and their parents, I have read many books on parenting myself. Maybe, like me, you’ve read some parenting books that present truly compelling perspectives on raising children. These books describe positive parenting practices based on respect for children, empathy and understanding, and firm but gentle discipline that avoids the use of threats, bribes and punishments. I read these books and think, “Sign me up! I want to be a calm, respectful, firm, empathic, understanding and non-punishing parent!” These books also argue that their positive respectful practices lead to the creation of a family culture in which children return their parents’ respect, feel good about themselves, listen, cooperate, and work together with their parents to collaboratively solve family problems. I think, “Wow! I want my family to be like that too!”

It all sounded great when I read it, but something kept going wrong in trying to put these parenting ideas into practice. The parents that I recommended the books to would find themselves unable to do what the books suggested. Often they wouldn’t be able to think of the books’ recommendations when in the midst of an escalating power struggle with their child. In other instances they would try the recommendations, but would eventually abandon them as ineffective. In my life, I also frequently found with my own children that I couldn’t think on the spot what a book would suggest to do and I would end up losing my cool and resorting to threats, bribes, punishments, and yelling. At other times I thought I was doing it ‘according to the book’ only to have things turn out in the same old bad way.

What is going wrong? Are these positive parenting books full of hot air? No, many of them are based on sound clinical experience and research. If the ideas are so good, then why is it so hard to follow the good advice that is found in many positive parenting books? I believe there are three main reasons. First, most of us weren’t raised according to the principles of positive parenting, so it’s not instinctive for us to parent this way. Second, positive parenting requires that we remain calm, however, power struggles with our children are stressful and elicit reactions from us that frequently escalate the conflicts. Third, by the time most of us take steps to solve our child’s behavioral problems, those problems have become ingrained patterns. Negative behavior patterns are resistant to change, as a result attempts to modify them represent significant uphill battles.

In the blog posts that follow this one, I will discuss each of these obstacles to implementing positive parenting strategies in more detail and then will discuss my Parent Diary Method (this method is introduced in an earlier posting on the parent diary). The Parent Diary Method is at the heart of the Challenging Boys approach to solving the problems that you are having with your son. The Parent Diary Method empowers parents to become the positive, calm parents that they want to be, and to have a relationship with their son that is based on mutual respect and cooperation. This method furthermore recognizes how busy we all are as parents. In just 15 minutes a day, the Parent Diary leads parents through a process of prevention, planning, and revising plans that will enable them to develop an effective parenting program that will transform their relationship with their son.

(To skip ahead to how to start addressing these problems, click here.)

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