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  • Dr. Amber Ufford

Why Parenting Scripts Don't Always Work

I’ve had a lot of parents say to me, “I’ve been trying all of the parenting scripts that I see on these parenting blogs and Instagram accounts when my kid is melting down, and they’re just not working! What am I doing wrong?!”

Nothing! You’re doing the best you can with the resources you have. We just need to expand your flexibility and your parenting toolkit. While these scripts might work for some families, parenting isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. What works for one kid may not work for your kid.

Let me give you an example. Recently, my daughter has started to say that she doesn’t want to go to school…even though every day she comes home saying how much she loves school! After a few instances of this, I have figured out that she really just wants to stay home and be with mommy. Today was one of those days. As we were finishing up breakfast, she began to whine and then finally said to me, “I don’t want to go to school today.”

If I were to try the scripts recommended by some of the popular gentle parenting accounts, I might say “I hear that you don’t want to go to school. Going to school can make you sad sometimes because you miss your family. It’s ok to be sad. Let’s take some deep breaths together and then talk about it.”

Is there anything wrong with this type of script? Not really. It expresses validation, it reinforces the message that all emotions are fine, and it encourages coping skills.

However, I also know from experience that using this particular strategy for *this* situation was just going to increase my daughter’s dysregulation and reinforce the idea that staying home with mommy would be way more fun than going to school. I had already made time to connect with her this morning by having special time, and we were on a tight schedule for school drop off, so a long back-and-forth about going to school was definitely going to make us late. And since I know that one of my parenting triggers is being late, I wanted to keep myself regulated so I could be the best parenting version of myself.

So instead, I just said, “Okay, I hear you. But we still have to brush our teeth. So, let’s just take it one step at a time. Do you want to use the blue toothpaste or the pink toothpaste?”

(She chose the pink toothpaste. She's in a princess phase right now.)

By the time we were done brushing teeth, she was excited and ready to go pick out her shoes for school. Situation defused! Morning saved!

Why was this effective for my kid?

I used several tools from my own parenting toolkit: I acknowledged her without giving in, I stayed calm, I provided choices, I scaffolded effective distress tolerance skills with productive distraction, and I held the boundary. We always brush our teeth whether we go to school or not, so that was the next step that we were going to do today. Routines can be really regulating for many of us, and especially so for small children. Children like predictability. As parents, when we follow through with limits and routines consistently, we help our children feel safe and secure. By helping my daughter stick with our morning routine, she was able to begin regulating her own emotions. And by providing her choices (blue toothpaste or pink toothpaste), I nurtured her growing sense of autonomy and gave her a sense of control, which also helped her feel calmer.

Do I think we should abandon parenting scripts all together? Absolutely not! I think they can be really helpful strategies for when you’re caught in the moment and you need something that makes parenting easier. Scripts can be especially helpful if you use them as a framework to come up with your own authentic and validating phrases. However, remember that these scripts are not meant to control your child’s behavior, but rather should serve as way help you learn to validate and accept your child’s emotions as they are. Sometimes just validation alone can help your child feel heard and thus defuse the situation! But other times validation is only the first step to a more nuanced process. Different situations may require different tools, and having flexibility (and creativity!) as part of your toolkit will help you be a more effective parent overall.

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