Repairing the Relationship

I went to a 2-day conference this past weekend and saw one of the founding “fathers’ of play therapy, Dr. Garry Landreth. He has been working with children as a play therapist for 50 years! Among many of his rich and interesting stories about the field of play therapy, were the pearls of wisdom that Dr. Landreth gave us. One that I found to be very powerful, especially for us parents is “It’s not what you do that is important but what you do after what you have done.” So, as parents, we goof! For example: instead of patiently answering our child’s question, one that s/he has asked for the 100th time, we grow impatient and respond inappropriately and out of frustration. Our child walks away hurt or gets angry back. We have bruised the relationship with our child. This leaves us feeling bad/guilty/sad/ _______(Fill in the blank.).

We give lots of importance to what we have just done. We berate ourselves because we have not lived up to our standard of being the perfect parent. Therefore, if we follow the words of Dr. Landreth, we will want to shift the focus of what we have just done over to repairing what we have done, thus repairing the relationship with our child. How do we do this? It’s not hard but the hardest part for many is admitting that we made a mistake, that we were less than perfect. It is important to model being less than perfect, model making mistakes and how we recover from these mistakes. Mistakes are an important part of learning. If we weren’t meant to make mistakes, erasers would not have been invented!

The repair is really quite simple the “what you do after what you have done” part of the equation.

1. Allow for a cooling off period. Let yourself cool off and gain composure. Your child may need to have a cooling off period too. This can be from 30 minutes to 2-3 hours. See my post on the cycle of anger.

2. Tell your child what you did not do well. Admit that your performance was less that perfect. It’s okay for your child to see this part of you, to see that people are not, nor need to be, perfect.

3. Say, “I wish I had ________ instead of __________ (What you did). This is a very important part as it also teaches your child what s/he can do as an alternate behaviour. So in the example above, losing patience, you might say, “I really did not handle that well when you asked me that question over and over. I got frustrated and yelled, I’m sorry. I wish I had said instead ‘I’m  frustrated by you asking me the same question over and over, so please don’t ask me again.’ ”

4. There are no buts in this equation. Do not say, “I really did not handle that well when you asked me that question over and over BUT it frustrated me.” But implies that you had good reason to blow up, that you are not responsible for your actions. This is not what you want to model.

Now you have just repaired the relationship and modelled it for your child. Try it next time you “goof” and I can assure you that you will have many opportunities to practice these 4 easy steps of making repairs!!

Share your successes or your challenges.



Remember when you first rode your bike without training wheels? You were taught, you practiced, you watched others, you fell down and brushed yourself off but eventually you         did it.  You were wobbly at first, but with practice, it became second nature.

 The principle of practice makes perfect is just as true for parents as it is for beginning bikers.  Most parents come with parenting “training wheels:” our innate ability to care for a child’s basic needs.  But what about when the four-year-old stomps his foot and shouts “NO!” when it’s time to leave the park, or when you constantly have to remind the older child to pick up her toys, or when the teen breaks curfew?  Where does that fine parenting balance between kindness (which shows respect for the child) and firmness (which shows respect for ourselves) lie?  How can a parent learn to go on without their training wheels?

Attending parenting groups are a great way to learn to lose those extra wheels. They provide consistent information and step-by-step guidance for parents wanting to learn more effective ways of raising responsible, respectful, independent children.  Participating in these groups not only acknowledges the skills parents already possess, but provides them with additional parenting tools.  These tools include: understanding the child’s temperament, personality and behaviour, using encouragement instead of praise, effective communication, how and when to use consequences and so on.

Equally valuable is the experience of meeting and connecting with other parents who face similar challenges.  Where better to talk about your six-year-old’s bedtime struggles than with a group of parents who’re going through the same thing? Facilitated by trained, experienced parenting educators, parenting classes provide non-judgmental, inclusive group settings that offer not only education, but solidarity, too.  In response to the question “What was especially helpful or meaningful to you?” One course evaluation given out at the end of a parenting series found that what the majority of parents found most ‘helpful or meaningful’ was this opportunity for talking with other parents with similar challenges.

Each class in a series is designed to address specific topics: language of encouragement, communication, goals of behaviour, routines/chores, consequences, sibling rivalry and more.   The facilitators send parents home at the end of each class with new tools to use and try out. When parents return the following week, they can share their successes or challenges with other parents in the group. As they gain new tools each week, parents often notice how the increase in the number of tools actually makes the job easier, rather than more overwhelming!   After the first week of one series, a father of a ten-year old told the class that after learning about temperament and personality and how they relate to behaviour, he recognized how similar his and his daughter’s temperaments were. “We both dig our heels in when we’re feeling upset.  I’m less quick to anger when she has her stubborn moments now; I know what it feels like.”  During the opening exercise in week three, a single mother told the group how intrigued her seven-year-old daughter appeared to be by the changes in this mother’s approach toward her.  “I don’t know what you’re learning at those classes,” said the seven-year-old, “but you’re different.  We don’t fight now.”  Another mother shared a tale of newfound parenting and culinary success: “When my 12 year-old son asked me if he could bake cookies for his class, I cringed at first.  I could see it all now!  My kitchen would never be the same.  I took a deep breath and told my son that I had confidence in him to bake cookies on his own and to also put the kitchen back as he found it.  To my surprise and delight he succeeded in both tasks and I didn’t have to remind him at all!”  These parents’ experiences show that by taking parenting classes and learning new, efficient ways of dealing with children and their behaviours, children flourish.  The more parents practice and refine their skills, the more confidently they can set reasonable boundaries and limits, and the more effective they can be at encouraging their children to be responsible, respectful, independent and contributing members of the family. These courses are an investment into one of the most important things in our lives: our children.  Why stay dependent on only the training wheels?  Venture out on two wheels, refine your skills and feel the excitement and joy of navigating the road with confidence and ease.  Feel the wind in your hair!  Experience the joy in parenting!