Brendan Bell, MA, LCPC

Improving Your Parenting Tactics

March 9, 2016 By

Improving Your Parenting Tactics

You can dramatically improve your relationship with your children by improving your parenting tactics. Parenting is often written about, self help books abound, blog articles on parenting proliferate the internet (some are very good articles by the way!), and it seems about everyone has an opinion on the topic. And while, as a family therapist, I also have my own theories and opinions on parenting, my goal for this blog series is to provide something immediate and practical for parents–a series of tactics to conquer specific parenting dilemmas. I will discuss situations where certain tactics may prove useful, when such techniques are likely to backfire, how these tactics can become manipulative if mishandled. I will also rate the difficulty of each technique.

These tactics will address parenting issues ranging from ways to build your relationship with your child or teen, to how to gain greater compliance from your children. Learning parenting tactics is similar to learning how to play chess. Each piece has it’s own set of moves and the pieces work best when used in the right combination with each other. The BIG difference between chess and parenting tactics–both you and your child or teen win when you play well, and you both lose when you play poorly. What a concept!

While some parents may feel empowered by tactics, other concerned parents may feel nervous hearing  the words parenting and tactics in the same sentence. Shouldn’t we feel skeptical of using tactics with those we love? Let’s start with the concerned parent. Here are five common concerns when considering parenting tactics:

1. I don’t want to manipulate my child with tactics.

I don’t want to manipulate my children or my clients with tactics either! In fact, learning good parenting tactics can help you avoid unnecessary blunders and manipulations. Unfortunately, parents often confuse manipulations for good parenting tactics. For example, have you ever given your teen the silent treatment when you meant to just “walk away from a needless argument?” Or have you ever lost your cool and then blamed your kids for your outburst in an attempt to “help them take greater responsibility for their behavior?” Or have you ever offered your teen choices, but subtly guilted them into picking the “correct” choice.

Using parenting tactics effectively is not the same as manipulation. In contrast to manipulations, these parenting tactics must be well-intended, carefully considered, and serve the greater good of the child. Certain manipulations may also appear like effective parenting tactics in the short-term, but can have damaging longer-term effects on a child, thus fooling parents in the moment. Recognizing the difference between effective parenting tactics and manipulations is one of my goals in this blog series.

2. If I just use the tactic, I’ll get better results.

Tactics are not fail-safe. Tactics work in certain situations but not in others. Without proper execution, tactics may fail gloriously. One challenge with tactics is learning to discern when one tactic will work better than another–similar to a repair man who chooses one tool over the other to fix a door. I will do my best to spell out the strengths and weaknesses of such tactics, but if unsure how to effectively execute a tactic, you may find it helpful to consult with a counselor first.

3. I’ve tried tactics before, they don’t work with my child.

“Tactics don’t work for me” is a common complaint from parents. This complaint usually reflects the starting point for therapy, and by no means predicts failure. If a parent’s tactics already worked, then why would they seek help? The reality is, many factors contribute to why tactics don’t work. Here are some examples, just to name a few:

  • Teen and child behaviors usually worsen before they improve–meltdowns and arguments may be a sign of progress and not failure.
  • Other manipulations may be present that interfere with a prescribed technique.
  • Secondary gain (a.k.a. side benefits) may accompany certain acting-out behaviors. Misused techniques may actually contribute to those side benefits, which in turn encourage the acting-out behaviors.
  • While tactics do not always solve problems, they may dramatically lessen symptoms.
  • Other stressors or neurological issues may interfere with the effectiveness of a tactic. Therapy may help uncover these stressors or biological factors.

4. If I learn the tactics, then I can skip family counseling.

Learning parenting tactics does not replace family counseling. While tactics can be very useful, the psychological dynamics in a family often remain invisible to the family until addressed in therapy. Parenting tactics are best used within the context of family counseling, so proceed at your own risk if you chose to use tactics without seeking consultation or family therapy first.

5. My child knows when I’m playing games with tactics.

Actually, children and teens are quite perceptive when parents “play games” with tactics. Instead, the use of tactics must be built upon genuine care and concern for the teen or child. Without the foundation of care, most tactics morph into manipulations and will seem phony or appear like a power grab. If your children have already complained about feeling manipulated or gamed, then start with interpersonal tactics. Learn the skills to listen to your child in order to stay emotionally engaged–a subject to be addressed later.

In this blog series I will set out to provide practical techniques and tips to tackle a number of different parenting dilemmas. I will give examples of when to use different techniques, when these techniques are likely to backfire, how these tactics can become manipulative if mishandled, and also rate the difficulty of each technique. Expect follow-up articles to come!



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Brendan Bell, MA, LCPC

Brendan Bell, MA, LCPC

Brendan C. Bell, MA, LCPC is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in private practice since 2000, working with older children, adolescents, and their families. With a background in sculpting, Brendan also enjoys counseling artists. Brendan is the Executive Director of Cherry Hill Counseling, the parent company to Upswing Counseling in Wheaton. He works at both the Wheaton and Deer Park practice locations.

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