“Just follow your gut, and you'll find your parenting style!”
And how do you really follow your gut when Instagram, Facebook, your mother-in-law, the nursery teacher, and so many other people keep pouring unsolicited advice at you. And when, at best, these seem to offer a very polarized set of options.
Parent coaching can help when you don’t have it all figured out
The notion of parent coaching can feel awkward. Despite parenting being one of the most challenging and evolving roles we will ever embark on, there is little real guidance.
Which is strange.
After all, if we want to dance salsa, we hire a teacher to show us how. If we want to cook, we can easily look for lessons. But when it comes to parenting? We feel we should have a natural in-built ability to know just what to do.
Finding your parenting style is hard. It is harder still when you find yourself looking at all the parents around who you seem to have it all figured out. This leads to feeling isolated in your role as a parent and that can invite more doubt, stress and insecurity.
Well, I can tell you, as a Hand in Hand Instructor, coaching the Hand in Hand tools, I meet many, many parents who don’t feel they have it all figured out.
In fact, by the time they consider parent coaching, many have tried and tested a whole lot of traditional parenting ideas and found disappointment, but not answers to the parenting challenges they were facing.
Using coaching and guidance to find your ideal parenting style
I believe there is no one-size-fits all approach to parenting. It is something you work on discovering, through trial and experimentation. And in my sessions with parents, I use the following steps and ideas to help parents find what works for them and their families.
You do not need to start from scratch in your quest for a parenting approach that feels like a good fit for your family. Many parents and experts have already done the heavy lifting and investigated various styles of parenting, and what style is most effective for children to thrive.
My favourite framework for understanding the various parenting styles comes from clinical psychologist, Diana Baumrind. Her Baumrind model suggested that most kids are parented using three different styles: authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative. (Later, a fourth style, neglectful, was added).
Discover frameworks for parenting
In an authoritarian parenting style, children are expected to follow strict rules established by parents. A failure to comply results in punishment and questioning of the rule by the children is commonly shut down by the parents.
Diana Baumrind compared these children with children raised in families with a more permissive style; these parents were emotionally invested in their children, but held no real expectation of them and had few rules.
Guess what happened? Kids parented with high control tended to become obedient and proficient but not particularly happy. They suffered from low self-esteem and struggled with underdeveloped social competencies.
Kids parented with low control did not do well either: they could not self-regulate well, and their executive functioning skills were underdeveloped compared to the average of children of the same age group.
This parenting style is shown to be super effective
Baumrind suggested that children thrive when raised using a third style: the authoritative style, which involves a high parental involvement and emotional responsiveness.
Kids need limits and guidance. But she discovered that to become self regulated and cooperative they also need to feel understood and to receive empathy.
In her study, Diana Baumrind concluded that the authoritative parenting style was generally linked with a positive outcome as children grew up.
You can learn more about this research, and what kids need as toddlers, during the school years and as teens here.
So here we go: when defining your parenting style, keep in mind that establishing rules and guidelines will be helpful for your child. But at the same time, feeling understood and emotionally connected is critical for them too.
Keep this broader ideal – involved and responsive – in your back pocket as you refine exactly how you parent.
Say goodbye to ‘Mr. or Mrs. Perfect Parent’
Parents often begin parenting with high expectations for their children and how they will parent. But life is messy and unexpected things can happen every day.
As a parent, it is nearly impossible to keep all of your principles completely intact day in, day out. Adjustments are frequently required.
Often we forget this, yet sticking rigidly to a plan can make things feel harder, as though you are messing things up.
It’s my job as a parent coach to let you know that this is OK.
There might be afternoons when the only activity you can think of is a good old Peppa Pig episode on the ipad. You may have evenings when dinner is simply crackers and peanut butter.
And that is just fine.
Having people on your side helps when doubts cloud your mind…
I remember a mum who attended one of my Starter Classes and knew all the theory and practicalities of the Hand in Hand Parenting tools.
But I could feel that something was not sitting quite right with her. She was highly critical and vocal about how the approach would work in reality.
She knew what she wanted for her children. Her goals were clear. But she felt extremely resentful and guilty that she was not able to implement the parenting approach she had chosen. With the other parents of the Starter Class, we listened to her a lot.
We heard how hard it was for her every day to work full-time while taking care of a five-person family.
How exhausted she was with her three-year-old, who had not slept the whole night through since he was born.
How impossible it felt for her to “do it all”.
How, despite having outstanding academic and professional achievements, she felt judged and despised by her parents about her choices.
A lot came out for her. And in offloading the guilt, the anger, the judgment and disappointment, she was able to develop a lot more self-acceptance.
When I am coaching parents, I tell them: Always remember, you are a good parent. You are always doing the best with what you have at the time.
In times that feel hard, repeat this to yourself.
Decide on your repair process when you make mistakes
The moments we feel most alone and low as parents are usually when we feel we have messed up.
I always tell parents I’m coaching that no matter how hard they are working to be empathetic and responsive to their children, there will be times they feel they messed up.
You may find yourself yelling or being forceful with your child.
Shaming your daughter in front of her friends.
Lecturing your son for hours about fighting with his younger brother.
Whatever principles you have, whatever parenting training you have attended, there still comes times when your patience will reach its limits.
The good news is, there are ways to repair. Repair is important. It reduces your parenting guilt, heals resentments and empowers your child.
You will find lots of good ideas here about how to stop acting harshly when your patience is running low, and ways to prepare for it, from creating an “I love you” sign for your child to show you when you are upset so that you are reminded of their goodness, to rewinding a tense scene that just happened.
Your kids might be surprised by your ideas at first, but will undoubtedly be happy to give them a try.
Remember to give yourself reassurance
While repairing and nurturing the connection with your children is paramount, it is also vital to nurture and repair your self-esteem. I like this suggestion from Pamela Quiery, Hand in Hand Instructor about cultivating a gratitude practice and reflecting at the end of each day.
Try a 10-minute ritual just before closing your eyes at night. Ask yourself what the three bright spots of your day have been, followed by a reflection on how your day went:
- What have you done for your children during the day, however small? How did you plan for them, provide for them, listen to them or support them? Everyday acts often go unnoticed, but they are part of the huge contribution you make. Hold space for them. Cherish them. You are doing a good job,
- What did not go so well? Tune into the feelings that arise when you reflect or the feeling of how hard it was. Acknowledge its presence for a few moments.
- Ask yourself what you might say to support a good friend who came to you with a basket full of worries about those same things. Speak to yourself as kindly as you would them.
How to react when you get challenged about your parenting style
What works in one family might not work in another.
What works for one of your children might not work for his siblings.
But you are the one who knows best.
When I am parent coaching, parents are often surprised to hear me say this. But it’s true. You are your family’s best leader. No-one knows your child as well as you.
When you do things differently, comments and judgements may come your way.
(Plus, a LOT of advice!)
Common reactions to this are becoming defensive or freezing up. Some parents become so embarrassed, they find they conform to expectations rather than face the criticism or judgment again, and then feel guilty about that choice later.
How to stay true to your parenting choices, even when others judge
When my 18 month old boy started nursery, I explained to his nursery teacher that I would be using a Hand in Hand tool called Staylistening to respond to his feelings at morning drop-off.
Staylistening was clearly in breach of the nursery drop-off policy. It stated, “Once the teacher sees your child and has him, please exit the nursery promptly. Call us after 15 minutes for feedback to see how your child is doing”.
I explained my approach to the teacher and shared a Hand in Hand article about Staylistening and separation anxiety that I had printed out. I could sense her doubt. Still, I was pretty determined, and she agreed to do what I thought could help.
It was hard!
For three weeks in a row, I listened to 20 to 40 minutes of my son’s crying every morning during our Staylistening sessions.
I felt at my wits end.
But I did not give up.
Mums stared at us. Teachers stared at us. Even the headteacher stared at us, in what seemed like total disbelief. But I felt it was the right thing to do for my son at that time.
And then, finally, one morning, he was fine.
Happy to wave goodbye and to join his nursery teacher.
I cried out of joy! The teacher looked at me, and I could feel she had revised her judgment and now showed a deep empathy and admiration for the emotional work I had done with my son on all those mornings.
Finally, I felt validated. It had been worth sticking to my “radical” ideas.
This is when it’s helpful to have support, in a class, a group or with a coach.
I share this list of ready-made answers to be used in everyday situations that you can use with other parents or members of your family who do not share your parenting style.
Identify your triggers and talk about them
But even more important, it is critical to identify your triggers and talk about them with your Listening Partner.
I remember using all of my Listening Times with my Listening Partners to explore my feelings about nursery drop-off during that period. Without it, the experience would have been so much harder than I already found it.
These tools gave me the confidence I needed to see it through to the point that my child felt happy with going into school independently.
Keep asking yourself this question…
Finding your parenting style is a journey.
At Hand in Hand Parenting, we don’t tell parents which decisions they need to make, or how to make them, because we know that a well-supported parent will make the best decision for their family.
But this can only work if you ask yourself this very question regularly: How do I feel?
Checking in with yourself regularly gives you moments where you can decide what you are capable of in the moment.
- On a day you feel good, you might handle many big sessions of Staylistening with your strong-willed kids well.
- On another day, when you feel taxed, tired or sad, you might simply say to your child: “I am sorry, I'm not going to be able to listen to you right now.” Instead, you might swap 20 minutes of Listening Time with another parent.
Whatever you decide is all right.
Getting into this habit helps you become more flexible, forgiving and responsive. It also stops you from feeling guilty or like you failed when your original plan doesn’t work out. You re-calculated, and simply decided on a new course of action based on your true feeling, not an out-of-reach ideal.
Feel stuck about how to respond to your child’s behavior? That’s a good time to check-in too. This post shares questions you can ask, and a process you can use to get unstuck.
For anyone who has second-guessed parent coaching
If you ever second-guessed getting parent coaching, or joining a class or group, ask yourself why. Was it because you felt like you should already know it all or have parenting all figured out?
So many of us don’t!
Parent coaching can be a way to get new ideas and strategies that resonate, and offers a good way to practice integrating them into your family. Parents find support, in a mentor, and with a larger community, that stops them feeling isolated, or like they are failing.
As one of my fellow Hand in Hand Instructors, Dipali Ved, says: “Each of us deserves a chance to find a tribe of people who accepts us and that allows us to be human.”
You deserve it.
When you find your tribe and build your support network, you will find the confident parent you know you can be. You will rock. There’s no doubt.
Parenting is a whole lot harder than salsa. If you can take lessons for that, then why not the demanding, life-changing work that is parenting?
Explore Parent Coaching With Hand in Hand Parenting
You can find Hand in Hand Parenting free workshops and webinars here
Discover more about Hand in Hand’s Parenting’s online classes with instructors
Get Instructor support and meet a wonderful sharing community in Hand in Hand's Parent Club.
Set Limits Without Losing It Masterclass
Deep dive into Hand in Hand Parenting’s authoritative approach. This masterclass shows you how to set limits and boundaries with your child, plus four other tools you can use when their behavior is challenging.
Watch now or later. Book a time to watch that's most convenient for you.