It’s a school-day morning and you discover your 9-year-old son dilly-dallying in his bedroom, still in his pajamas, 15 minutes after you awakened him.
You tell him to hurry. A few minutes later, he tells you he cannot find his other shoe. You help him with the hunt.
Your son is finally at the table for breakfast but spills the milk while pouring it on his cereal. Then he begins reading the back of the cereal box out loud, while you go over in your head a presentation you have to give at work. You remind him to brush his teeth and put his lunch sack in his book bag.
You gather your briefcase, your purse and your cell phone and head to the car. Halfway to school, he tells you he forgot his lunch. You open your mouth, and out comes a barrage of words:
“What where you doing in your room instead of getting dressed this morning? You are such a dawdler. How could you not see your lunch setting on the counter? Why can’t you take your shoes off right inside the door? You are always making me late. Did you even brush your teeth? I just wish you’d be more responsible.”
This and similar scenarios occur in thousands of family homes all across the county, but Liana Lowenstein, a therapist, author and international speaker on parenting strategies for today’s busy families, says things can change.
She is coming to Fort Wayne at the invitation of Park Center for a free parenting workshop 6:30-8 p.m. May 15 at the Allen County Public Library.
“I think parents are more stressed than ever,” Lowenstein said, citing factors such as parents juggling demanding jobs and parenting, more single parents bearing the whole weight of parenting, and the over-scheduling of children. In addition, many parents today lacked proper, effective parenting when they were children.
In this fast-paced society, “It’s difficult to find quality parent-child interaction time,” she said. If a child is especially challenging, with a learning or developmental disorder, for example, “the time spent together is often wrought with negative interactions.”
Parents must make children their priority, which means engaging them in meaningful conversation. The parent must fully focus on the child and use active listening and open-ended questions to help the child express thoughts and feelings.
One strategy she recommends is “pillow talk.” Every night, the parent takes time to lay on the bed with the child for a few minutes and ask the child the same open-ended question.
The parent of a younger child might ask, “Was this a happy face day or sad face day or both?” Then the parent asks the child to elaborate on his or her answer with open-ended questions that elicit more than a one-word response. Older children can rate their day from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best day ever.
The habit encourages active listening on the part of the parent, engagement between parent and child, and “establishes from very early on a positive attitude,” Lowenstein said.
As for those times when a schedule needs adhered to, such as school-day mornings, Lowenstein recommends parents of younger children take photos of the child doing various tasks, such as a picture of the child getting dressed, of making his bed, brushing his teeth and doing other routine responsibilities.
The photos are mounted on a chart in the order they are to be done. The photos make the routine more fun and help keep the parents from resorting to verbal nagging and coercion.
Lowenstein will share many other practical ways to help parents engage their children in meaningful conversation and will equip parents with positive strategies for handling children’s meltdowns and other problem behaviors.
The invitation for Lowenstein to come to Fort Wayne reflects the importance Park Center places on equipping families to have as positive and healthy a home environment as possible, said Ina Carlson, the community mental health center’s vice president of child and adult services.
“You can’t love your child too much,” Carlson said. “Treating our kids well is essential to the future and current mental health of the community. We want to make sure the daily troubles of getting your child to brush his teeth don’t descend into battles that get physical or mean.
“Trauma is damaging to children,” she noted. “It is really very, very long-lasting and very powerful. It affects the brains of the very young. This is a real investment to ensure we have healthy people to function well in the world.”