Doing it Right! Being an Effective Parent in a High Stakes Situation
By Foster W. Cline, MD and Lisa C. Greene
One of the most memorable, and heart-breaking, stories we have heard from a parent was after one of our workshops. A mom came up to us afterwards and shared, with tears in her eyes, that if she had our material years ago, her son might still be alive.
She continued to explain that he had diabetes. He was a great kid with a bright future. He went off to college and lived in a dorm but didn’t tell his roommates about his diabetes. They went out drinking one night. When he passed out later that evening, they thought he “just needed to sleep it off.” When he didn’t wake up in the morning, they called for help. Sadly, it was too late.
We’ll never forget the look on this dear mom’s face as she gripped our hands and said, “Tell my story to everyone who will listen, don’t stop teaching this material. Parents need to know the dangers of being a helicopter parent- it happened to me.”
It’s so important to parent children with serious medical issues “right” because the stakes can be so high. If a child fails in taking responsibility for him or herself, it could have life threatening implications.
This mom’s story is, unfortunately, not that unusual. We commonly hear stories of teenagers and young adults with serious illness not taking their medical care seriously or rebelling against it. When they don't take care of themselves, of course parents and doctors come down hard on the kid which, in the case of a rebellious teen, might make the situation worse. Or, because the parents just don’t know what to do about it, they don’t do anything. Sadly, some of these kids spiral downwards until they land in the hospital. Some don’t make it back out. Others have permanent damage that reduces their lifespan or causes further complications down the road.
We hope to reduce the number of families that experience this heart-breaking cycle. And, it’s possible with parenting education. Families that start with their kids early will benefit greatly.
Parental responses have a huge impact on the way their children cope with health issues. Dr. Trotter, a pediatrician, expresses this so well:
“Parenting children with special healthcare needs magnifies the results of effective and ineffective parental/caregiver responses. Raising a child with a chronic illness involves an often-confusing state of mixed uncertainty, apprehension, and heightened responsibility. I have had a special interest in medical genetics and children with special healthcare needs throughout my entire thirty-plus year career and, until now, have never come across a book or program that truly meets the needs of these families. One of my mantras for many years has been, ‘Don’t disable a child with disabilities!’ As this book points out so clearly, these children, even more so than children who are not obviously medically impacted, need to be confident, competent, respectful, responsible, and, ultimately, independent.” —Tracy L. Trotter, MD, Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine; Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics
It is risky for us to say “do it right” because so many people bristle at the possibility that they might be doing it wrong. And in today’s culture, the idea of anything being absolutely right or wrong is so “old school.” But the reality is, with parenting, research clearly shows that there are right and wrong ways to respond to children. And that’s the awareness that we hope to bring to parents and healthcare professionals.
That being said, we don’t want to imply that there is only one right way and that it’s our way. That is not what we are saying. But, it is true that common parenting responses like yelling, anger and punishment, bribes, lectures, sympathy, rescuing and permissiveness are much more likely to result in rebellion or poor decision-making than our approach. And we want parents to know that so that they can make a conscious choice about the responses they use.
Without awareness of the dangers of ineffective parenting responses, then there is no hope for change. And, as the story at the beginning of this article shows, the risks are too high to just "wait and see" how things turn out.
As we teach parents and professionals about effective and ineffective ways to respond to children, we walk a fine line because we don’t want parents to feel guilty about not "doing it right.” Parents of special needs kids are already packing around a lot of guilt! But, as human beings, if we find things that need to be changed, we have to let go of guilt and move forward. We all do the very best we can with what we know at the time. The important thing is to move forward.
Over the past thirty years, we have seen extremely dysfunctional families change their lives with this material. Even relationships with adult children change when parents use healthy, effective parenting responses. We want parents to focus on the hope rather than feel guilt or blame when ineffective parenting responses are pointed out.
We want parents to know that they can do it! With a handful of simple, effective parenting skills, homes can be calmer, happier, and quite possibly, healthier.
Foster W. Cline, M.D. is a child psychiatrist, best-selling author and co-founder of Love and Logic, a popular parenting program. Lisa C. Greene, MA CFLE is the mother of two children with cystic fibrosis and a parenting educator.
Together, they have written the award-winning book Parenting Children with Health Issues: Essential Tools, Tips and Tactics for Raising Kids with Chronic Illness, Medical Conditions and Special Healthcare Needsby Foster Cline, MD and Lisa Greene. Visit www.PCWHI.com for more information.