News & Views
from   The Parenting Center at Abington

     The Science of Parenting

  It is back to school time. Thoughts of reading, writing and arithmetic fill the minds of many. For me, school brings back memories of science. As a child, I could not wait to find out what we would be learning in science each year. There was something about science that just always intrigued me. Maybe it is the way scientists do their job, the way things seem so organized. Scientists have systems in place for making predictions, planning experiments, observing, recording data, and drawing conclusions based on those observations. It all seems so logical and quite contrary to my life as a parent, where more often than not, my days seem to be filled with chaos, confusion and way too little time to sit back and even think about recording the data.

   Science and parenting can seem like they are worlds apart but through some careful observations, one can soon discover that actually there are a lot of similarities. Think about it; science is about questioning, proving, analyzing and solving the uncertainties and unknowns in life. Not many things are filled with as many uncertainties and unknowns as parenting. For instance, who could have ever predicted what our children would look like, what their temperaments would be, or that they would not sleep through the night until they were six? As parents we spend countless hours questioning, explaining, proving and trying to solve the uncertainties of our children’s behaviors and lives. So how is it then that scientists appear so calm and in control when they do their job while we as parents are often emotionally stretched beyond our limits while doing ours?

   While in school, I learned that one of the keys to success in science is being a keen observer. Guess what? I have since discovered that being a keen, objective observer is also a key for successful parenting! The problem is observing takes time and it is sometimes really hard to do when our children are yelling and screaming at each other and us. We can feel an almost immediate need to jump in and stop our children’s behaviors without really taking the time to “see” what is going on. We quickly jump to conclusions about who did what and why, even as our children yell back at us, “You just don’t understand!” Chances are, maybe we don’t.

   So how can we understand better? One of my favorite quotes comes from child psychologist, Haim Ginott. In some situations with children, he says, “Don’t just do something. Stand there!” How could that be? What could we accomplish by just standing there? The answer is a lot. It is absolutely amazing what happens when you take the time to put yourself in the role of a scientist (parent) who is observing his or her subject (child’s behavior). When we consciously put ourselves in the observer role, there is not that frantic need to have to do something right away. We can give ourselves permission to take our time and to gather information about the situation instead of responding irrationally.

  Much as a scientist would do while conducting research, our observations become even more meaningful if as we think about gathering information, we take the time to learn about who our children are temperamentally, where they are developmentally and how all of this fits in with what’s going on around them. Sometimes then, things seem so much clearer and make so much sense. For example, being the parent of almost teens, I was able to really put on my scientist/observer hat after reading the book Raising a Teenager by Elium & Elium. I developed a better understanding about why my emerging adolescents seemed so angry at times. I am able to put myself in the position of stepping back and observing their behaviors and I am fascinated by what I see. They are growing up and doing the job of a teen, just like the book says. And even though some of the behaviors are not so pleasant, the best part is I am not feeling threatened by their behavior nor am I taking it personally.

  By being an observer and not reacting impulsively, we can learn to maintain an emotional distance from our children that helps us not to take on our children’s anger and problems as our own. It is this emotional distance that will allow us to be able (for the most part) to maintain a sense of calm and a clear head so we may think more clearly about what is going on for the child, what he or she is needing at that moment and how or whether we should intervene. We can learn to recognize when a scream is just a cry for attention, when the bickering is really just our children’s way of connecting with each other or when the slammed door means something not so great happened at school today. We see our children working on the developmental tasks of their age and stage as they are forced to grow socially and emotionally. It’s fascinating to watch this process unfold before our very eyes if we just take the time to see it.

  I am the first to admit though, it is so hard not to jump in with our own assumptions and conclusions about our children’s behavior, but by becoming an effective observer, we can actually become more effective participants in our children’s lives and ultimately this can help us to build better relationships with them. And that, for most of us, is the biggest uncertainty we face.

By Deanna Bosley, Certified Parenting Educator
September, 2002
Vol. 5/ No.1
The Parenting Center at Abington
is a non-profit, non-sectarian community service organization.

Editor of News and Views: Deanna Bosley,
Certified Parenting Educator

A publication from The Parenting Center at Abington
P.O. Box 596, Abington, PA 19001 (215) 576-0586

Printing of this newsletter is courtesy of the Abington Memorial Hospital.
The Abington Board of School Directors assumes no responsibility for the opinions, information and possible typographical errors and omissions, etc. that maybe reflected herein.

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