Improving Your Family Dynamics

by , M. Ed., Priceless Parenting (sign up for monthly parenting newsletter and receive 20+ printable charts for kids and parents)

(listen to article read by the author)

siblings fighting

How have things been going for your family this past week? When were you feeling happy and content? What situations left you feeling frustrated, angry or sad?

When you reflect back, think about what has gone well and what parts feel out of alignment. If you could change anything what would it be?

Acknowledging Problematic Behavior

Recognizing what isn’t working well is the first step in making a positive change. When parents report their biggest challenges, they describe problem behaviors like:

  • Not listening
  • Throwing tantrums
  • Disobeying
  • Hitting people
  • Back talking
  • Being a picky eater
  • Sibling fighting
  • Being disrespectful
  • Not getting homework done
  • Arguing and questioning
If these behaviors make your list too, know that you’re not alone! While your kids will behave in ways that you would like to change, the only real change you can make is to your own behavior. Don’t despair! When you focus your energy on changing your own behavior, you increase your influence on your kids’ behavior.

Responding in Better Ways To Your Kids’ Challenging Behavior

What changes do you want to make? Start with one challenging behavior that you’d like to change. Write down the behavior along with how you typically respond. Next generate ideas for how else you might respond that could work better. Try out one of those responses and record how it goes. You may need to try a number of different responses so if the first one doesn’t work, try another idea.

For example, are your kids not working hard enough on their homework? If nagging them and lecturing them isn’t helping, you could try …

After considering a few different new approaches, decide on the one you’d like to try first. If it doesn’t work well, figure out if you need to make adjustments or if you need to choose a different strategy.

Laura, the mom of 18-month-old Emma, knew she needed a different strategy to deal with her daughter's hitting. When Emma was 9-months-old she started sometimes hitting her mother. Laura would gently take her hands saying "no hitting" while rubbing them gently on her face.

Well, this didn't stop Emma. Soon she was hitting, scratching and pulling hair too. She didn't just do this to Laura any more but other kids, daddy and the dog.

Laura knew her response was not improving Emma's behavior. So she decided to direct Emma to sit on a “thinking mat” whenever she hit or scratched. Laura was pleasantly surprised when Emma's behavior improved. Emma realized if she wanted to be with everyone else, she needed to not hit or scratch.

Working Together To Improve

Knowing that something needs to change and knowing how to make that change happen are two very different things. One mom knew exactly what she wanted to change in her family. She tearfully described how distant her two children and husband had become. Each one spent a majority of their time at home in their own worlds of TV, computers, phones and video games.

They had even stopped eating supper together. It really bothered her that they were no longer even connecting daily around a meal. They had gotten into a habit of living separately in the same house.

Getting in touch with her intense feelings of sadness gave her the determination to make a change. She decided to begin by holding a family meeting. Being able to discuss her concerns with her family made her feel more hopeful. Together they came up with ideas for how to build in daily time to be with each other – tech free. They met weekly to discuss how their plan was working and make adjustments.

Addressing Important Problems

In her book Stay Close: A Mother's Story of Her Son's Addiction, Libby Cataldi describes being the head of her sons' school when a teacher caught her 5th grade son, Jeff, smoking behind the gym. This is what she wrote about how she and her husband, Tim, handled the situation.

"My duality as both head of school and Jeff's mom maximized my feelings of humiliation, anger, and shame. I removed myself from the situation and Tim was called to the school. Other administrators at the school met, and Jeff received a day of in-school suspension. He was young; everyone was sorry. Tim shook his head quietly, took Jeffrey home, and said little. I swung in the other direction and ranted about dishonoring the family name, and told him that he was to report to the school's after-care program until the end of the year. Tim and I didn't talk together or with Jeff about why he was smoking, nor about what had happened, and not about how he felt.”

Tragically, they did not deal with the underlying issues leading to Jeff smoking. Jeff seemed to desperately need more attention from his parents but Tim was gone most of the time due to business and Libby was extremely busy as head of the school. Eventually Jeff found companionship with other youth doing drugs. Tim and Libby ended up getting divorced and suffering greatly as they tried to help Jeff overcome his addictions.

Ignoring problems does not make them go away instead they continue growing. If there is something not going well in your family, figure out what needs to change and don't be afraid to ask for help.

About Kathy Slattengren

Kathy Slattengren

Parenting expert Kathy Slattengren, M. Ed., is dedicated to supporting parents in doing their best parenting. She helps families create homes where everyone feels accepted, heard, respected and appreciated.

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