When Parents Reach the End of Their Rope

The greatest gift you can give to your child is a parent ready to face the challenges of life with a plan. Often parents tell me they’ve tried everything and they don’t know what to do next. The first hurdle for me as a parenting coach is to help them get past a sense of panic. I work with them using the following outline to create a plan. 

1) BREATHE -- Start by taking a deep breath. Now close your eyes and consider your blessings. It's important in life to remember how blessed we are. That gives us a more positive attitude as we begin a major task. This is the time to stop and pray. The Bible says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” When you’re at the end of your rope as a parent, you need God’s wisdom to take the next step. 

2) HOPE -- The next thing to do is to regain hope. When parents lose hope they often resort to all kinds of unhelpful parenting strategies. You want to avoid them. It’s likely that some of the strategies you’ve used in the past are good but just aren’t working right now. You need a different plan.

3) DEFINE -- In order to create a new plan, you first have to define the problem. If you have more than one child, it’s important to focus on one child at a time. Even if the problem has to do with how children relate to each other, each child needs to learn how to deal with his or her own part of the problem. (After you go through this process with one child, go through it with the other.)

To help you define the issues, take out a clean sheet of paper. In a column on the left side write down all the behaviors that your child exhibits that are creating a problem for you and your family. This isn’t a list you’ll show your child.List things your child does that are unhelpful or wrong and be as specific as possible. 

4) GROUP -- Next, look over your list and group the behaviors around negative heart issues. Look for patterns of behaviors that are related and write down those heart issues on the right side of the paper. A child who gripes about food, cries when he doesn’t get his way, or won’t accept no for an answer is demanding (the heart quality.) As you group the various behaviors you’ll see several heart qualities or themes emerge. This heart quality list is shorter and may reveal qualities like dishonesty, lack of cooperation, anger, or selfishness. You may have 50 negative behaviors on the list; boil them down to five negative qualities at most.

5) HEART -- Once you have your list of negative heart qualities, identify the correspondingpositiveheart qualities to develop. You will likely have 3-5 positive heart qualities that your child needs. For example, a demanding child needs to learn cooperation, a disobedient child needs to learn responsiveness to authority, and a child constantly making bad choices needs to learn self-control. Most children have several heart qualities that need work.

6) PRAY -- Stop again and pray. Thank God for revealing these things to you. Seeing your child’s heart problems is a blessing. Many parents raise kids all the way to college and don't truly see their children's heart issues. Now you do, and now you can focus on solutions.

7) FOCUS -- Choose one heart quality you’d like to see your child develop first(you can work on others later.) Next, choose an arena or area where you’d like to see the new heart quality demonstrated. For example, “kindness with brothers and sisters”, or “thoroughness with homework” or “unselfishness with friends” or “cooperation when given an instruction.” The heart quality and the arenaneed to be specified so you can measure progress.

8) PREPARE --Next, identify specific steps required for your child to get from where you are now to where you know your child needs to be. Maybe you need to explain your rules more thoroughly (often we wrongly assume that kids know what we expect.) Plan out logical consequences that would raise awareness in your child. For example: a child slams his room’s door when angry—a consequence is to remove the door. Look for ways to involve other leaders and authorities in your child’s life. For example, share with caregivers what heart quality you’re focusing on. As you implement your plan, remember that firmness helps, but harshness doesn’t.

9) VISION -- Next ask yourself this question, “How will acquiring this quality help my child be more successful in life both now and in the future?” Once you have that question answered you’ll be ready to have a meeting with your child. You’ll share this vision for a better future in the next step.

10) MEET -- Sit down with your child at a peaceful moment and explain several things. Start with some qualities you appreciate about your child, steps of maturity you’re seeing, and positive growth your child is demonstrating. Then say, “But there’s one area that I think is holding you back. That is…” and then name that heart quality that’s lacking. “So, we’re going to be working on this quality in the next several weeks.”  Sometimes just raising the awareness level or pointing out the new direction in a positive way leads to progress. Avoid threats or bribes. Explain the wrong behaviors you’re seeing and what progress will look like. Talk about the benefits of developing this quality in life, both now and for the future. You’ll be evaluating progress over the next few days and weeks so stay positive at this point. As time goes on you’ll be able to further develop the plan and add consequences if necessary.

11) AWARENESS -- Over the next several hours and days point out the issue that you’re looking to see changed. Raise the awareness level with observations and reminders. Coach your child to create his own plan* and give encouragement to move forward. Offer affirmation for any steps of progress.

12) AFFIRM -- Plan to meet daily to discuss progress. Your intent is to affirm progress, encourage the child, and keep the issue forefront in your child’s mind. You may have to confront, remind, or implement a consequence* in order to show your child that you intend to help him or her to move forward and that you’re not content to stay where you are. 

Adapted from the National Center for Biblical Parenting. 

*The NCBP provides parent coaching, seminars and resources to flesh out all the steps of this outline. Visit them at biblicalparenting.org, or contact Dr. Jim Dempsey, a trainer for the NCBP, at d6culture.com.