An article entitled “Disciplining children over fake guns may be a wrong lesson” recently appeared on Yahoo. It is an old theme. After Columbine, the temperament and nature of the work I do changed dramatically. Kids were suspended from school immediately if they “played aggressively.” Parents were concerned their kids would be the next “killers.” Children were discouraged from pretending play or fantasizing about those things which were dangerous to others. I recall shortly thereafter the first Halloween (which is the paradigm of death, kill, die, etc. for children) that many more of my clients were suspended from school.
With that as a backdrop, this is no surprise to me, that as a society we have become defensive about the normal play of our children. If we continue to encumber and restrict our children from playing normal, appropriate play, we will create a generation of people who are aggressive, mean, and disrespectful to others. I encourage parents to not be afraid to allow their children to create fake guns out of Lego’s, to pretend death, die, and kill, and to sometimes, even be involved with their fantasy, aggressive play. ALLOWING IT IS NOT ENCOURAGING IT. As a matter of fact, in most situations, it allows them to not continue doing it.
To those ends, my office becomes the only place the child is allowed to act out, play, and express him/herself. Perhaps we need to encourage parents to create safe areas in the house where children can, as in the playroom of a therapist, play, act, fantasize and imagine some of their inner, most difficult playful struggles. I would encourage parents and school professionals to not be afraid to encourage, set limits, monitor, but not restrict, children from playing in normal appropriate ways.
After being in the field for over 30 years, I know that every five years, a new “hot parenting technique” emerges. Professionals need to recognize that an integral part of our work with children is parenting. We need to be able to present it in an articulate, clear, efficient fashion. Depending on your theoretical foundation, this attention to parenting should not compromise your individual work with the child, the couple, or the family, but is an integral part of the clinical work.
There are two things that I’ve discovered. First, effective parenting requires firmness and consistency. That, of course, involves love and not anger. Whatever you do, you must do it firmly and consistently. Whether you use Filial, Theraplay, or an Adlerian approach, clinicians and parents need to set boundaries. It takes eight to ten weeks to be able to accomplish the goals of parenting. Parents that come into the office need to know this. Often success in this area alone will keep clients coming back.
The second “finding” regarding success with any program is our clinical ability to “massage and tweak” the program to the nuances of each family. Every book our clients read, or approach they hear, can only work if it is molded to be responsive to that family’s dramatics and dynamics.
In summary, it is incumbent upon all of us to have a parenting approach and be able to articulate it to our clients. For an expansion on technique, please review my blog entries on parenting topics.
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