Encouraging Parents to Talk
Parenting and parenting styles can be a contentious issue in counseling. Sometimes a counselor’s values and beliefs will be similar to the parent/ client, but often they will be vastly different (Geldard & Geldard, 2005). If a counselor is to be able to assist a client whose parenting styles and values are different from their own, then it is imperative that the counselor understand the client’s world in the context of the client and not themselves. Encouraging parents to talk is the first step in this process.
It is not unusual for some parents to smack their children and use forms of corporal punishment. Many professionals especially in the counseling field prefer to use Time Out (a negative punishment) or reinforcements for positive behaviors. But it must be remembered that clients often have varying backgrounds, values and experiences, all of which contribute to their view of discipline. This of course does not mean that the parent client is right or that their parenting styles and values must not be challenged, but that challenge must come from a counselor who is empathic to the parent and not judgmental.
When an individual feels or senses that they are being judged, (Geldard & Geldard, 2005) they become inhibited, less trusting and less honest. Only when an individual feels accepted for who they are and not what they do can behavioral changes take place.
There are four recognized parenting styles (Bukatko and Daehler, 2001):
- Indulgent (sometimes also called Permissive),
- Authoritative and
- Uninvolved (sometimes called Neglectful).
Briefly, Indulgent parenting consists of setting few boundaries for children and low to moderate nurturing. The Authoritarian parent style includes harsh and controlling boundaries with strict obedience to rules. A demand for respect with little flexibility, there is little to no nurturing.
The Authoritative parenting style uses positive reinforcement rather than punishment; these parents tend to behave in a mature fashion towards their children encouraging dialog with their children while being supportive and nurturing. The Uninvolved parent is emotionally detached from the child and focuses on their own needs as opposed to the child’s. Few boundaries exist with little to no nurturance in the parent/child relationship.
When parents first present to the counselor, part of the assessment a counselor must take into account is whether the incident or reason that the parents are seeking advice is an isolated “one off” occurrence that has caused them concern or if the issue needing to be addressed is on-going or has a history.
Encouraging parents to talk
All individuals will experience anxiety in a new or unknown environment, regardless of how confident they may be in their lives. Therefore, what might be considered a minor concern to the experienced counselor, can be quite traumatic for the parent.
The process of normalization (Geldard & Geldard, 2005) could be most useful to the confused or anxious parent. The counselor can give the parent information that assists them to understand that their reactions to their particular situation are understandable and acceptable: quite normal under their particular circumstances. Normalization can assist the parent to accept that they are not being judged by the counselor.
Counselors my find it challenging to motivate parents to change their perspective in order to change behaviors. Many parents are not aware that their parenting styles (Barber, 1996) need to correspond with the child’s age. Some parents will treat their teenagers similarly to the way they treat their two year olds, by not allowing them to take responsibility or accountability for their actions around the home. Yet others will load their toddlers up with all the problems of the world.
It is often helpful to introduce parents to Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development to assist parents to understand the necessity of changing parental styles in accordance with the child’s age (Carlson, Heth, Miller, Donahoe, Buskist & Martin, 2007).
Empathic communication especially with parents is vitally important. Counselors will be aware of the advantages of open questions which encourage clients to explain and expand with their responses (Pelling, Bowers & Armstrong, 2007). When combined with active listening and empathic responses, open questions can assist parents in expressing their feelings and concerns. Empathic responses also encourage the client to share more information because they feel understood and accepted.
It must be remembered that all the other counseling skills such as attending, observation, closed questions, encouraging, paraphrasing and summarizing (to name a few) are equally as important and have their strategic place when counselors are assisting parents to share information and gain insight into their behavior.
Many parents who have come to the counseling session are prepared to speak with the counselor to gain some insight into an issue or problem. But some parents do not understand why they need to be involved in the counseling sessions, and others know why, but do not want to be involved.
Some parents are silent, (Ollier, and Hobday, 2001). Maybe their anxiety is due to their fear of being blamed for their child’s behavior. It is important for the counselor to explain that if a child does partake in negative behavior, it is not always because something is happening at home, sometimes the cause can be associated with school or friends and acquaintances. Encourage the parents to work with you to find a solution.
Dependent parents can believe that the counselor will “fix the problem” or they can become dependent upon meeting with the counselor because they leave the counselor feeling positive. Encourage the parent to take responsibility for their decisions, encourage autonomy.
Aggressive parents need a different strategy altogether. Never see these clients late in the afternoon or when you could be in the office alone. Always ensure you have an “emergency exit” plan in place if you find you need to quickly leave the room. If children are present, remove the children saying: “I’ll just take the children out to the play area so we can discuss this matter ourselves”, or something similar.
In separated families, the division of loyalties can be difficult for children to manage. This can often raise issues as to which parent should be involved in the counseling session. Remember, with the use of open questions, empathic responses and the use of solution-focused therapy, the counselor must always encourage the parents, to move toward working together to promote the best outcome for the child.
Foster carers and adoptive parents will probably never know the full extent of a particular child’s past experiences (Ollier, et. al. 2001). As a significant number of foster care children and adopted children have been abused or neglected, they often suffer emotional disturbances that can cause behavioral problems. Gaining trust with these children is a common problem as many children will spend a lot of energy “testing the waters” to find how their new (foster or adoptive) parents will respond to provocation. This can cause the parents to have feelings of inadequacy.
Source: Working with Parents CE Course