He: (wearily), “Joseph just doesn’t want to go to bed. Every night is a battle!”
He: “That’s because you let him make it a battle. You need to be firmer with him. Or let me take over the bedtime routine.”
She: “I’m wondering if he’s acting out because I’ve gone back to work. Maybe he just wants more time with me at the end of the day.”
He: “Maybe he just doesn’t want to go to bed!”
The enormous demands of parenting children often reveal in high relief the differences in the way that men and women think and communicate. As parents, men tend to focus on behavior. They often see their children’s behavior as either acceptable or unacceptable, and respond accordingly.
Since most men try to solve problems by taking action, they want to “do something” if their children’s behavior is unacceptable. They want to communicate their disapproval and take a strong stand. They sincerely believe that such action-taking is strong, positive parenting that will ultimately help their children adjust to the realities of life.
And of course, depending on the child and the situation at hand, certain active approaches may often be required. Sometimes rewarding good behavior with an action is exactly what is needed. With a young child, the father might suggest five minutes of playing Monopoly and then “it’s bedtime.”
Women often approach parenting differently. They tend to focus on the underlying causes of their children’s behavior. They do not see behavior as something that exists on its own but rather as a mode of expression, an outgrowth of their children’s personalities. For them, behavior is not necessarily simply acceptable or unacceptable, but also a signal of an emotional state their children are experiencing – possibly anger, boredom, fear, anxiety, etc.
For men and women to co-parent successfully, they need to understand each other’s patterns of thinking and communicating:
Tips for her:
Realize that men have an instinctive need to take action, and recognize that setting choices with rewards or consequences can be, according to the situation, what the child needs in order to learn self-discipline. Sometimes not wanting to go to bed is simply that.
Ask your partner to explore with you the possible underlying causes to your child’s behavior. Most often a child’s negative behavior does not happen in an emotional vacuum. A child’s mood and behavior may be the result of school problems, conflicts with other children or siblings, or reactions to the way the parents treat him or her, or each other.
Tips for him:
See your child as a thinking, feeling person, not only as a discipline problem. Don’t just give orders. Offer choices allowing the child to feel empowered, and to take responsibility for his or her behavior. Creating a positive, reinforcing reward system is an effective way to train a child to make positive choices. Reward often with hugs and praise.
Harsh criticism creates anger and resentment, and is highly destructive to a child’s self-esteem. Of course, every parent at some time needs to simply say “Do what you are told, now!” But use this sparingly.
Put action on the back burner and do some loving detective work: ‘What’s going on in our lives that might be upsetting to our child?’
Both parents need to be open to examining their own individual behavior at home, and their interactions with each other.
Are you non-judging and respectful? Do you often say loving words in appreciation of each other? Do you use humor when interacting? Do you honor and sometimes celebrate each other’s differences? If you do, you will have created an emotionally fertile environment in which your children can thrive.
Based in Rockport, psychotherapist and life coach Susan Britt, M.Ed., former university director of counseling and career services, teaches individuals, couples and families to resolve relationship conflicts, clarify and achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org and by telephone 978 546-9431.