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Behavior Management “A Sea of Challenges”

Submitted by on July 26, 2010 – 6:00 AMOne Comment
Behavior Management  “A Sea of Challenges”

A few weeks ago Sunshine Mama, Lori McCluskey, asked for readers to give ideas on parenthood and the disciplining of children.  In my personal opinion, being a parent and managing the behavior of children are the hardest jobs in the world!  My children are now young adults, and I still find myself researching this topic and seeking out the advice of others.  There are some important things that I have learned from my years in education and from my experiences both positive and negative in the role of a parent.

You can think about parenting styles in three ways.  Since Florida is an ocean state, it may help to think of it this way. There are “jellyfish” parents, “grouper” parents, and “hard shell crab” parents.  Jelly fish parents have no real consistency.  Some days there are rules and guidelines.  Some days there are not.  Children of jellyfish parents often misbehave as they are not sure of what the guidelines are.  There is no consistency regarding what is appropriate, so children often take the chance to push the limits.  They just aren’t sure if there are real rules to live by!

Consistency in expectations and consistency in consequences is very important in managing the behavior of children.  The complete opposite of the jellyfish household is that of the hard shell crab parents.  In this family, the rules are always the rules and never to be negotiated.  The rules and consequences are maintained at all times and all places.  There is no give or take in special circumstances or for individual children.  There is never to be any discussion of the rules and expectations.

Then there is a parenting style somewhere between the jellyfish and the hard shelled crab parents.  More desired is the grouper parenting style.  The grouper fish has a backbone.  The backbone allows the grouper to have flexibility as it negotiates the waters. Grouper parents have set expectations and consequences, but also allow themselves to have flexibility in behavior management based on individual events and knowledge of their children.

For example, let’s say that a child is invited to go to special performance on a weekday night during the school year.  The special event will only be in town that night.  The jellyfish parents have no problem with the child going.  They don’t even worry about the day of the week, homework completion, the significance of the event, place, time etc.  They just go with the flow of the child’s desire instead of taking a strong guiding role. Is it any wonder that jellyfish children often make inappropriate choices of friends, activities, and behaviors? They basically can do what they want.

Now the hard shell crab parents are not going to let the child go to a special event during the school week.  They have a rule about such and they stick to it no matter what.  It does not matter if the child always completes his homework, can be completely trusted with his choice of friends and has a history of being home by a set time.  No going out on school nights and that’s that!! The hard shell crab parents just aren’t going to bend from time to time.  Children as they grow up need to be able to discuss many ideas and concerns with their parents.  Imagine how difficult this must be for jellyfish children!

The grouper parents are not loosey-goosey like the jelly fish.  Nor are they completely unbending like the hard shell crab. The grouper parents with the flexible backbone look at the child and the events.  If the event is worthwhile, the parents will allow a dependable child to attend.  They will not be as flexible with a sibling who is not consistent in completing assignments.  The grouper family will have basic expectations and consequences, but will base decisions on the trust level they have for each child.  Children in the grouper family will come to see that consistent adherence to family rules will earn them the trust of their parents, which will in turn allow them to have more personal freedom. Grouper children will learn that ideas and concerns can be discussed. Is there any wonder that children of grouper parents often become high achievers and leaders in the whole sea of life?

All of this consideration and consistency regarding behavior expectations must start in the earliest years, and as Mr. Tom often expresses in his column, communication between parents is the key to making it all work.  Look at your own style of parenting?  What kind of ocean are you living in?   Are you living with jellyfish, wishy-washy about guidelines, never knowing when the next sting of misbehavior may occur?  Are you stuck in your crab’s hard shell where your children don’t dare to question or ask about their ideas or concerns?  Are your children living in an ocean of turbulent waters where two parents are not able to agree on rules and consequences? Or, are you living as a grouper family, trying to swim together peacefully most of the time, and setting up reasonable, consistent rules mutually agreed upon by partners? Do you feel waves of freedom allowing you to be flexible when needed based on the uniqueness of your individual children?

Parents, I try to walk across the street each day and just fathom at the awesomeness of the Atlantic Ocean, my home for the majority of my life.  Some days the surf is turbulent and some days the surf is calm.  I will never stop crossing AlA. It is the choice I make. The wonder and the beauty of the sea are not to be missed.  Yes, at times it came be rough and challenging. I always know there will be many other days of indescribable majesty.  The sea of parenting is so much the same, sometimes very turbulent and scary. I don’t want to miss the challenge of negotiating the changing tides. It is my choice. The journey of parenthood, too, is filled with indescribable majesty!

Dr. Annie Hurt is a certified parent educator for the internationally recognized Triple P. Positive Parenting Program and Back In Control Parenting,  and may be contacted for individual consultation and group workshops at annie@sunshinemams.com

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One Comment »

  • Dr. Annie,

    I love how you’ve incorporated sea life with parenting styles. It made it very simple to understand this concept. As you know, I am definitely the grouper parent. I am however looking forward to going back to school in order to get us back on a set schedule (bedtime 8 o’clock)ha ha! At this point, I feel I need to become a little more like the “hard shell crab parent” in order to implement some structure and get back on track.

    I look forward to more information regarding parenting styles and how we can incorporate them in our everyday lives. I would also like to learn about how, we as parents, can implement a parenting style that is maybe not so comfortable or natural for us. It’s hard to break children of their bad habits, but it is also hard for parents to change in some instances as well.

    As always, thank you for your wonderful words of wisdom!!