Wednesday 23 August 2017

One day at a time: The rollercoaster of parenting

Parenting is a real rollercoaster ride but the good news is that the ages from five to 11 are halcyon years -- so enjoy them!

BILL Cosby once said that no matter how calmly you try to referee, parenting will eventually produce bizarre behaviour -- and he wasn't talking about the kids.

Parenting is a rollercoaster but it's also a series of phases which constantly change into something else, leaving you racing to catch up.

One minute you're plodding from room to room in the early hours with a screaming, teething infant -- the next you're awake 'til the early hours, tossing and turning, unable to sleep until that same child, now a teenager, is brought home safe from the disco.

In between are a myriad of cycles, some deeply stressful, some more manageable.

It's inevitable, says psychologist Patrick Ryan, that the demands upon the parent will be completely different each time, so you constantly need to develop fresh skills to cope with each new stage.

The problem is, nobody's there to teach you -- it's really a case of learning as you go along.

But learn you must, because if you don't adapt you'll struggle, says broadcaster, psychologist and Health & Living columnist David Coleman.

"One parenting approach will never survive your child's development span, so you have to be constantly adapting in the way you deal with them," he warns.

Parents may not think of themselves as going through learning stages, says Ryan, but they do.

There's the babyhood/toddler phase, the going-to-school phase, the tween phase, the teen phase, the young adult phase and each time you're forced to adapt your own behaviour. "At certain times the impact on parents will be either greater or lesser.

"The baby/toddler period is very labour intensive -- it is high demand and requires a high energy input with high levels of monitoring and supervision so you are very much on your toes.

"It's a very labour-intensive time, and a lot of people find it very tough."

Between the ages of about five and 11, though, things change.

"A lot of people can feel that this is an easier time. They feel a burden lifting off their shoulders -- though some find it a bit unpredictable.

"It's about learning to let them go in a managed and planned way and the skill here is creating opportunities for more autonomy while still having them directly under your eye."

Just as you're getting to grips with all of that, along comes adolescence and with it a huge increase in the psychological and emotional demands upon parents.

"With adolescence there's a lot of instability. Part of our job as parents is to contain that a bit until they get to late adolescence where things start to settle.

"One of the jobs of an adolescent is to work out their place in the family and their place in the world so there's a lot more negotiation, questioning. The psychological intensity increases."

One of the skills here is to learn to stop micro-managing your child and allow them make some mistakes, says Coleman, who gives the example of one 16-year-old boy who was still getting daily reminders from his parents to brush his teeth -- and reacting badly to it, which was resulting in a lot of unnecessary conflict.

Another example of parents not adapting, he says, are those who still take on the responsibility of getting their adolescent children up in the morning.

"By the time they're heading for secondary school your son or daughter should be getting themselves up -- give them the responsibility for setting the alarm," he says.

Adolescence can be heavy going for parents, acknowledges Ryan.

"This is more psychologically demanding than the earlier physical demands of toddlerhood.

"It is this psychological demand that places people under stress," he says.

And don't expect it to end any time soon. This stressful period usually continues until your child launches into college, training or the workplace at the age of 18 or 19.

But even when your child is an adult, Ryan warns, the parent still needs to learn yet more new skills.

"With adult kids what you have to do is to negotiate adult-to-adult -- you can feel like you're starting all over again because you don't have a script for it."

National Parents Week October 17-23. For more information call 1890 927277 or info@parentline.ie or visit www.parentline.ie

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