Three Simple Parenting Approaches


Many parents are presently bombarded with thousands of parenting programs. While there are many successful programs it is often hard for a parent to find a program that fits the needs of their family and one that can be remembered in the moment parenting skills are needed. I have met with many parents during my years as a therapist who have lost confidence in these programs because of their complexity and how complicated they are to implement. I have searched for parenting strategies that are simple to learn and easy for a parent to recall in crucial parenting moments. Here are three parenting strategies I believe work and are easy to remember. First is to “impose parental will,” second is to “collaborate,” and finally “do nothing.”

I often ask parents which of these three is the best approach before I explain the use of each.  Most parents jump quickly to the collaboration strategy as the best approach. Often a wise parent will answer they all are good depending on the situation. That is correct! I have yet to find a situation where one of these three strategies won’t work.  I have also found that it helps parents narrow down ideas and broaden their skills in parenting their children.

Let’s take a closer look at these three strategies by using electronic devices to illustrate them.

Impose parental will. This is a “no questions asked” approach. The parent takes a very direct and serious approach here because there may be some aspect of danger or the foreseen outcome of the child’s behaviors will cause significant distress. The parent acts decisively and confidently; there is no negotiation in this approach. For example, a teenager may be posting inappropriate material online. The parent decisively takes or shuts down the electronic device until the youth accomplishes some benchmark goals that indicate he/she will attempt to be more responsible. This approach underscores the parents’ need to get involved and take control due to a possible serious outcome.

The collaborative approach would work well if the behavior is not too serious to cause significant harm but the situation warrants the need of parental direction. For example, a teen may spend many hours on a cell phone avoiding time with the family and neglecting other responsibilities. The parents and the youth sit down in a council of sorts. The approach of the parent is one of trying to unify and come up with a mutually beneficial result. They may compromise on some things but hold strong on others. They set up an electronic curfew and agree on a time that is appropriate for the use of the device. They will also collaborate on the consequences if the new rules are broken. Collaboration can be difficult if the teen refuses to collaborate. In this situation the parent can inform the teen of the desire to collaborate and make a mutual agreement. If the teen refuses then he/she surrenders the opportunity to have a say in the new rules and “parental will” is imposed by the parents setting up new rules for the electronic devices.

Do nothing. This approach often gets a bad rap from parents. We feel as parents we have to provide a consequence for every negative behavior. How exhausting. There are many things a parent can just let go. For instance, a parent might enforce the new rules made in the collaboration approach. They might tell their teen to get off the phone and come to dinner.  The youth might say something like “I hate this new rule,” “it’s so stupid,” and then make an irritated face at the parent as they put the phone away. The parent could jump to imposing parental will by grounding the teen from using the phone for a week and risk a blow up. They could sit down and try to collaborate with their youth to not talk this way and come up with another structure to eliminate this behavior. Using those approaches give attention to the negative behavior which would likely produce further negative interactions between the teen and their parents. The parent could just say “none the less” (addressing the teen’s statements of anger) but “thank you for following the rules” (addressing that the teen put his or her phone up) and then walk away. This approach puts an emphasis on the positive behaviors of the youth and gives little attention to the negative comments, avoiding a power struggle.

Impose parental will, collaboration and doing nothing, three uncomplicated parenting approaches any parent can remember in moments where it counts. Many parents have had success using these approaches.