Parents often need counseling too. I coach/counsel parents of children and adolescents. I offer sessions staggered between child counseling sessions, or if more appropriate I also offer parent sessions independent of working with their kids.
My approach to parenting is simple: for humans to survive, their off-spring need to ask for what they need from their parent. Human children, like other off-spring, need love (the verb form!), attention, and pizza to survive. The pizza is the easy part! Love and attention, although easy on paper, can be complicated in practice. Sometimes kids don't do what we want them to do... and it's frustrating. As parents, we start to form a narrative to explain why our children do what they do. The narrative may be helpful -- or unhelpful, depending our reasoning. Our intention is good; we want our children to behave, and go on to live happy and healthy adult lives. However, the way we encourage our children to behave isn't always loving Note: don't confuse being loving with being soft. We can deliver a firm message and still be loving. But what I've found is that many parents are just overwhelmed, burned out... and yelling.
I have worked a great deal with children whose intentions are less complicated than their adult counterparts are. I find that I agree with psychotherapist Alfred Alder, who proposed that humans have two important drives: to individuate and belong. Children have the intention of individuating, so that they are unique and significant in the family; AND they have the desire to belong: first to their parents, then to their family, their peer group, and their community.
The drive to individuate is formed early. We see it in the "look at me" behavior of the child who wants attention for being the dancer or the quiet compliance of a child who wants praise for following the rules. It gets more complicated when children compete with their siblings for position, talents, or significance in the family. The drive to individuate motivates behavior. Parents who are aware of and attuned to their child's needs can respond with more focus and understanding. When parents come to me for coaching, we explore how their children have individuated and how it drives behavior.
The child is driven to belong to a parent/family/group too. Thus, a child who misbehaves cannot intend to push his parents away - yet that's what it seems like. So what's going on? I have counseled 6 year old children who have tantrums practically from the time they get up to the time they go to bed, and the one thing they have taught me is that they do not want to tantrum. Tantrums are exhausting and typically end in negative results. Children want peace and harmony, but for lack of better control over their emotions or the skills to verbalize their needs or explain their impulsive reactions, they fail at rational reactions and end up in irrational tantrums. They want their parents' love and affection, which feels impossible if their parents are reacting, too.
When we react as if our children are intentionally disrespecting, rebelling, and behaving non-compliantly, a cycle is perpetuated, and the results leave everyone involved angry, hurt, and confused. Children want to please their parents until they believe there is no pleasing them or for some unforeseen reason they can't. By looking at our children with this understanding and compassion, we can base our reactions to their behavior and answer their needs more successfully.
When I coach parents, we discover together what stands in the way of your child's intentions to individuate and belong. Sometimes the answer is a neurological challenge (sensory disorders, executive functioning disorders, mood disorders) and sometimes it's a family dynamic issue. It's rarely because the child wants to get in trouble, be rejected, and lectured. As parents understand their child's motives, they tend to react differently to their child's behaviors. They become more compassionate in their response and thus change the dynamic to one that is more positive. Compassion nurtures change and brings about a greater opportunity for growing, learning, and connecting.