Practice Makes Perfect: Give Your Child the Gift of Wisdom
by Foster W. Cline, M.D. and Lisa C. Greene
Parenting children with medical issues is not for the faint of heart. A life filled with thrills can be exhilarating but, unlike rock climbing or BMX bike racing, parents don’t have a choice about the risky business of parenting a child with diabetes, cystic fibrosis, serious allergies or any number of significant health challenges. Simply put, effective parenting can be a matter of life and death when raising a child with serious medical issues.
Medical science is advancing so rapidly that many medical conditions have a good chance of someday becoming a ‘maintenance issue’ rather than life-threatening illnesses. Children who willingly comply with their medical regimen have a much better chance of maintaining their optimum health potential so they will be able to take advantage of new treatments on the horizon. Using good parenting skills will substantially increase the odds that your child will take compliance seriously, make good medical decisions and consciously choose to live a healthy lifestyle.
The ‘coping with adversity’ muscle is just like any other muscle in our body. It must be developed and strengthened with training and practice so that it becomes strong and healthy. Living with a serious health issue can provide a unique opportunity to raise children who problem solve effectively, grow through their experiences and cope well with difficulty. A parent’s job is to encourage this learning.
Parents who rescue their children from the mistakes they make ‘steal away’ opportunities for the child to learn, grow and exercise their coping muscle. Kids with health issues need the opportunity to learn from the consequences of their decisions when the price tag is low and not yet a matter of life and death. These lessons are best learned in the early years when the price tag is lowest.
When children experience problems (especially around medical issues), it is very easy for well-meaning adults to give the answers, take over and fix the problem, become frustrated and get angry about the behavior. These most common ‘parenting techniques’ might seem effective in the short run but are ultimately counter-productive, particularly when the teen years arrive. Effective parenting is neither permissive nor demanding; it is both loving and firm. It is essential to show empathy, give choices, allow appropriate consequences to take place and provide encouragement.
Love and Logic®, a parent training curriculum, teaches adults how to guide children to solve a problem by using these five steps:
When a child presents a problem, express curiosity, interest and empathy: “Bummer. I bet that hurt your….” (Feelings, grade, tummy, etc)
Send the power message: “What do you think you’ll do?”
Offer choices: “Would you like to hear what other kids have tried?”
Have the child state the consequences: “What might happen if you…?”
Give the child permission and the responsibility to either solve or not solve the problem:“Well, good luck! Let me know how it goes.”
Following these steps will encourage your children to become accomplished problem solvers and good decision-makers. This is much more effective than lecturing, ranting, raving or rescuing. Wise parents know they won’t always be around to rescue or advise their kids when they face life altering decisions like whether to comply with their medical requirements or get into a car with drunken friends.
When you allow children the opportunity to solve their own problems with your loving encouragement at their side, you give them the gift of wisdom. They will learn to make good decisions that will last a lifetime and, possibly prolong it to boot!
This material is from the book, Parenting Children with Health Issues: Essential Tools, Tips and Tactics for Raising Kids with Chronic Illness, Medical Conditions and Special Healthcare Needs, by Foster W. Cline, M.D., child psychiatrist and Lisa C. Greene, mother of two children with cystic fibrosis. The book is available at retail booksellers, www.loveandlogic.com and www.amazon.com.