Caring parents who consider the advice of experts are on a journey to “get better” at raising well-adjusted adults who succeed in life and work.
But it’s not easy. It’s not supposed to be easy. The culture is working against you – the teen culture and the larger influence of society. Also, as you learn about a new skill to make your parenting more effective (e.g., an effective listening skill or a technique for diffusing conflict), and you make an effort to put it into practice, you will sometimes forget what you intend to do, or your initial attempts will be clumsy. It’s discouraging!
After trying your best and failing, it’s tempting to feel guilty or self-critical. You think: Why did I do that? I know better. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough.
It’s not easy for another reason. Learning a new skill or improving a skill involves replacing old habits. Important insight: behaviors become behavior patterns because they have been hard-wired in the brain. Frequent repetition of a behavior (a helpful one or a counter-productive one) causes brain cells to connect into a circuit. This “wiring” doesn’t disappear simply because you learn about a better way of doing something. In fact, initially the old habit gets in the way of establishing a new behavior pattern. Your reaction under the pressure of the daily flow of events might be to fall back on behaviors that are already well-ingrained. Even if you make an effort to concentrate and catch yourself before you react with an old pattern, at first you may have more mistakes than successes.
This is why trying to follow the advice of experts can be so frustrating that you consider giving up and going with what feels “normal.”
As Mark Twain wisely said, “Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”
The lesson: As you try to parent your child more effectively, you will make mistakes. You’ll frequently come up short, even if you keep trying. It comes with the territory.
Corollary to the lesson: Don’t give up. Keep trying. The trick to making any skill your own is to get lots of repetitions. This is what causes the brain cells to connect together. And when that happens, the new pattern will feel as natural and automatic as the old pattern.
Also, when your efforts aren’t getting the results you hope for, try this instead of beating yourself up: In a quiet moment, think about what went wrong. Why did you behave the way you did? What impact did it have? What will you do differently the next chance you get?
This reflection exercise is a conscious way to learn from experience.
So give yourself a break. Expect that initially your old habits will get in the way of your efforts to improve. But learn from what has happened and trust that if you keep trying, being the kind of parent you want to be will become easier on the way to becoming a habit.
Also, discover some powerful techniques for encouraging teens in my new book, How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain.
You can grow the bond with your child through better listening. Download the FREE ebook, Listening to Understand.