I am a psychotherapist and life coach, and also a mother of two teenagers. When I doubt myself as a parent and feel frazzled, I turn to Andy and Sandra Stanley’s Four Stages of Parenting model to remind me of my parenting role, redirect my focus, and help me to be more effective.
The four stages are:
(i) Discipline years (0 - 5)(ii) Training years(5 - 12)
(iii) Coaching years (12 - 18)
(iv) Friendship years (18+).
Discipline years (0 - 5):
What a wondrous time! There is so much learning going on for both children and parents. However, it’s worth remembering that tamariki in this age group see the world in black and white and do not understand reasoning. It is crucial that parents establish clear boundaries and provide guidance.
- Be clear and direct with your requests, and clearly outline what you consider is right and wrong. Be clear about your expectations and outcomes.
- When your child misbehaves it is not useful to ask or wonder if they did it on purpose. Their brain has not developed the capacity to fully understand the concept.
- Take time to connect with your child in ways that are meaningful to them, such as reading stories, singing songs, playing hide and seek, or playing with their favourite toys. This will help to strengthen their cognitive abilities, emotional development, and social skills.
- Teach your child that their actions have consequences. This helps them to comply with rules and expectations. This also helps them to make responsible choices for themselves.
A few examples:
“Hot things can hurt you.”
“Fire can burn your skin and hurt your body.”
“Knives are not toys. They are tools used for cutting food.”
“Food is not for throwing. It’s for eating. You can put it down here on your tray.”
“Chairs are for sitting. Put your bottom down on the chair.”
“Crayons are not for eating. They are for drawing with your hand like this.”
As parents, we must acknowledge that children in this age group are innately noisy, disorderly, and passionate. They enter this world without understanding limits, and it is our responsibility to guide them towards safety. It is difficult when their actions provoke an emotional response within us.
The process can be long and tiring, requiring a lot of effort and grace.
Training years (5 - 12):
During these years, consistency is key. The key point here is the value of consistency. Consistency promotes a stable and predictable environment for children. Well-structured routines, clear boundaries, and firm but fair discipline are important during this stage.
Parents can begin to reason with children and explain the “why” behind the “what”. By holding children accountable for their actions and encouraging responsibility for their behaviour, parents help them grow into responsible adults.
- Set regular bedtimes and mealtimes. Establish rules for behaviour, consistently reinforce them, and have consequences for breaking them. Offer positive feedback on various occasions.
- Use a firm tone when setting boundaries and expectations, but also use a nurturing tone to comfort and encourage. Ask a lot of questions to understand your child’s perspective and help them navigate social situations. Use humour and playful language to engage with your child.
Children in this age group should be allowed to make their own choices and mistakes. Being too rigid with rules may hinder their decision-making skills and their ability to make sound judgements in the future. However, allowing too much freedom without intentional guidance may lead to misbehaviour and irresponsible actions. It is important to strike a balance that allows the child to develop independent thinking skills while fostering a sense of responsibility.
- Set clear guidelines such as bedtime and screentime while at the same time allowing your child to choose their activities during the day.
- Teach your child to make decisions by allowing them to choose their meals or clothing while guiding them to make healthy choices.
Children in this age group benefit greatly from taking part in family traditions and activities. When kids feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves, they feel more confident, secure, and loved.
- Take time to involve your child in both long-standing family traditions and new activities you start together, creating positive memories that will last a lifetime. It could be as simple as a weekly family game night or movie night or going on a family hike together once a month and taking turns choosing the track. Or celebrating cultural events from your family background.
Fear and control parenting phrases have been used by parents for generations, but they can often do more harm than good. They may work to a certain extent, but they shut down communication with our child. They can cause our child to feel unheard and undervalued, leading to a breakdown in trust. The child may begin to view us as authority figures to be feared, rather than loving caregivers to be respected and to whom they can go for help.
- Phrases to avoid:
“Because I said so.”
“Quit crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.”
“Wait until your father/mother gets home.”
“Don’t talk back to me.”
“I’m the boss here.”
“I know what’s best for you.”
“Do it my way or not at all.”
- Phrases to try instead:
“Let’s talk about it.”
“What do you think?”
“Help me understand – what you have to say matters to me.”
“It makes sense that you would think that.”
“I know it can be hard to wait for things we really want, but patience is an important skill to practise.”
“I’m here to listen if you ever have any questions or concerns.”
“I understand that this is frustrating. Let’s work together to find a solution.”
It’s not about saying the right thing. It’s about modelling behaviour and attitudes that promote connection and encourage and support growth and learning.
Coaching years (12 - 18):
As parents of teenagers our role is often to give guidance and advice from the sidelines, while the relationship moves toward connecting rather than correcting.
Parenting at this stage may require a shift in mindset. Andy and Sandra Stanley say that parents need to recognise their limitations in parenting teenagers. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges of raising adolescents. It’s important that parents are open to learning and seeking support from various sources to better understand their teens and effectively deal with the challenges of raising them.
The key to parenting teenagers is to keep open and honest communication.
- Listen to your teen’s concerns and feelings and respond in an empathetic and supportive manner. Be alert to what’s going on in their life, because they are not likely to tell you everything. Be observant, know who their friends are, where they are, and what they are up to.
Keeping your kids aware of where you are is a great way of modelling that you expect the same from them.
- Do not lecture your teen or judge them. They will be more willing to talk with you if they think you can be trusted, have useful advice to offer, and are open and available to listen and talk.
- When your teen tells you something, DON’T FREAK OUT. PUT ON A POKER FACE. If you freak out, whether it’s something great or something terrible, they’re going to shut down and you’re not going to get any more information.
- When your teen begins to talk and tell you what’s going on, do not jump in and try to teach them. They will just stop talking and they’ll likely roll their eyes. Be the receiver of information and respond with “Wow, I can’t imagine. Were you scared?” or “Aha, and then what happened?” or “Oh.”
Just let them talk. Many of my teen clients tell me, “If my parents find out they are going to freak out!” or “If I tell my parents/mum the truth, they/she will just lecture me and probably ground me.”
Parenting teenagers can be difficult, especially when it comes to discipline and control. Fear and control parenting phrases can often do more harm than good. Here are a few phrases that you may want to avoid.
- “Because I said so.” This phrase may seem like a simple way to assert your authority, but it can cause your teen to disengage from the conversation and can lead to resentment or rebellion.
- “If you don’t behave, I’ll take away your phone.” Threatening to take away privileges or belongings can create a power struggle and may not be effective in changing behaviour.
- “You’re grounded for a week.” This punishment may seem right for a misbehaving teen, but it can also lead to feelings of isolation and aggression.
Instead of relying on fear and control tactics, try to communicate openly with your teenagers, validate their feelings, and work with them to find solutions to problems. By using connected parenting phrases, you can build stronger relationships with your teens and create a positive family dynamic.
Here are some phrases that can help you navigate the teen years.
- “I’m here to listen.” Saying this to your teen lets them know that you are available and willing to hear them out without any preconceived notions, criticism, or judgement.
- “Let’s work together to find a solution.” This phrase encourages teamwork and problem solving, helping your teen to feel empowered and capable.
- “I understand how you’re feeling.” Acknowledging your teen’s emotions helps them feel heard and validated.
- “I appreciate your hard work.” Recognising your teen’s efforts can boost their confidence and motivation.
- “I’m proud of you.” This phrase shows your teen that you notice their achievements and are proud of their accomplishments.
Connected parenting isn’t always easy, but incorporating these phrases into daily interactions with your teenager can make a big difference. Keep the lines of communication open and remember to always approach your teen with kindness and empathy.
Friendship years (18+):
Congratulations on surviving the preceding three stages! Now is the time to let go of your child while remaining available to help.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are struggling with the challenges of parenting and are feeling overwhelmed as you are reading this, it’s important to take a step back and assess whether you may need support. It’s never too late to correct your course. Seeking professional help is a powerful way to make a positive impact on your child’s life and create a fulfilling and rewarding parenting journey.