At the NASW Ohio conference November 17th & 18th, a number of excellent continuing ed workshops were offered to social workers. Psycho-analyst Norm Shub of The Gestalt Institute, author of several books, and leader of some 150 parenting programs annually, delivered an intensive, (impressive) interactive session on dealing with difficult parents. Here are a few highlights, paraphrased:
‘A UN Study found kids are in therapy 6-6.5 months while parents only go to 2 sessions. To be successful, we have to help the parents understand fully for a child to learn, thrive and grow. They need to discover what they need to do differently to help their kid develop. If their heads are buried in electronic devices with-out real engagement –eyeball to eyeball, that’s a problem.’
A key point Shub made, ‘You cannot reach success as child therapists without working with the parents.’ He continued, ‘Lots of parents default to top psycho-education when they really have to look at behavior. Kids learn to be in the world 3 ways: 1) the way you relate to them, 2) how you are with your partner, 3) there’s power in what they say to you- 80% of learning comes from watching. This is about ‘show’; not ‘tell’. But, you do not show them how to act; you’re constantly modeling behavior for them. Autistic children learn through modeling and repetition.’
He explained that instead of parents blaming; there is a 4 step need-meeting cycle: 1)Say how you feel; 2) ask for what I want with/in the family; 3) get it/acknowledge what you need; 4) feel better. “Some 62% of the problem is fixed by changing parenting.” He asked the audience what to do, and the first person said ‘ask the kid a question’. Shub screamed ‘Aaarrghh!’ and said, “Tip #1- kids HATE probing questions. The first thing in engaging parents is not just about guidance but finding out what’s getting in the way of their ability to parent. For example, single parents: 1. Often compensate for the divorced parent. 2. Thinking you and divorced spouse must be on the same page. (Respect other but don’t have to agree.) 3. Deliberately make person who hates you an ally in parenting – there are parents who hate each other more than they love their kids.” See his book: “Jumping over Quicksand”.
‘Look at parents; how they engage you. To the kid it’s not your fault. 1. To that kid at school, you draw the child out through gentle curiosity, not probing questions-or they’ll shut down. 2. More interested in hearing than telling, 3. Feel rewarded that you really care about them to let them share, 4. It’s more than the ring of sincerity; they can spot a phony a mile away. Kids change in 3-stages in response to parenting behavior change: 1. Get worse because perceive no credibility, 2. Build trust over time; 3. Change behavior incrementally.’
Shub suggested understanding how parents are doing. Some 2/3 of couples are in unhappy relationships because they do not have the skills to sustain a relationship over time. Kids learn their relationship skills from parents. “Heart to heart, what would your partner say you need to do differently in your marriage commitment?”(He went around the circle for participants to answer.) “A marriage commitment involves: 1. Being the best partner I can be, 2. He/she should make you feel like the most important person in his/her life; 3. Keep the lines of communication open and do not let anything come between us.” (See his book, “Heart to Heart”).
‘Feedback in parenting is a core skill of parenting. There has to be open emotional engagement with the child to foster a connection. Working with and through conflict builds self-esteem. A feeling of safety in parenting comes from: 1. vulnerability/opening up. 2) if you feel what you’re saying is true, they’ll trust you; 3) they need to feel you care about them.” Shub explained.
In a (representative, fictitious) client history, parent wasn’t involved, didn’t seem to care from infancy forward, had substance issues, other parent absent, sometimes neglect, sometimes abuse, sometimes hunger, frequent moves, poverty, and inconsistent schooling, bullying, and inadquate housing. Kin only periodically involved. Isolation. Ultimately, the outcome frequently is rage, conduct issue, ADHD and/or depression. A child feels that ‘no one cares.’
Shub said there are “three skills needed to parent effectively: 1. Be emotionally present, 2. Know there is a difference between answering and responding. They don’t want an answer but to know you care. Responding takes what the kid says and draws them out; it’s not so much responding to what they said as to what’s in ‘my head’/what’s behind it. 3. You can’t expect a kid to share if you don’t share and care; show vulnerability. 4. A key parenting skill is melting; becoming radically immersed.” This needs to be distinguished from helicopter parenting.
What’s often missing where there are issues? Shub explored the idea that, ‘Every child needs a container. A container is a core skill set of parenting: it is what’s important to you as a family. What are the rules you’re running the family by? There should be chores in every container- as an investment in my family. It’s not an allowance; not a payment for chores- you don’t have to pay to be in the family.’ He explained, ‘This is training for adulthood. For instance with an allowance you get to keep 1/3; you give 1/3 back-to charity; and 1/3 is for college- because research has found a child is 2x as likely to go, and also to do a grade and a half better.’
Rather than the familiar reward-punishment ethos, Shub said, ‘For a child not abiding by the rules, there are basic consequences. Consequences change behavior; it’s not discipline. The world doesn’t punish you; it consequences you. Punishment implies bad or guilty; consequences are the price of screwing up- you don’t take away things for a mistake in social development. Anger has nothing to do with parenting; it’s about understanding the depth of your hurt.’
He summarized, ‘A container teaches: 1) respect, 2) impulse control 3) self-discipline, 4) safety and 5) let’s child know he/she is loved.’ The group gave him a round of applause. It felt like he was just getting warmed up, as he departed for the airport and another talk.
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/nation-wimps/201612/the-failure-launch-epidemic? Psychology Today interview by Hara Estroff Marano with David Lancy Professor Emeritus of Utah State University and author of Anthropology of Childhood- described as the best parenting book by the New York Times