You just came back from a family weekend with your friend. You noticed — how could you not? — that her 7-year-old son rules the roost. He determined where everyone ate. He dictated what the day held. He pouted in the car as some of you went to the beach — he didn’t like the looks of it. And what did his parents do? A whole lot of bending and bowing. Later, your friend was in tears.
This parenting thing can be hard. And even harder when you see another parent struggling. Or, in your oh-so-humble opinion, practicing bad parenting.
In the days of “no judgement,” how do we — or do we? — tell another parent that they need to change their ways?
First, said several parent educators, figure out how to do it in a way that doesn’t make it seem like you’re judging, even if you are. “I would say ‘It looks like you’re having sort of a tough time. Is that true? This parenting thing is just such a challenge, it’s hard to know what the right thing is to do,’” suggested Patti Cancellier, education director at the Parent Encouragement Program. “Say ‘I’ve had lots of challenges myself and found there were better ways to do this thing.’ Put yourself in that parent’s shoes. If she knew what to do differently, she would do it.”
Connect them with a source of help. Whether it be PEP, another parent group, a religious institution or a talk that you think would help, a specific suggestion could really assist this parent. “A general statement that there are classes to learn to drive and for other things that the state mandates, and yet no classes for parenting — and this can start the conversation,” Cancellier said.
Let them know that it hasn’t been easy for you, either. “Say there’s an expectation that we should just know how to parent, and I found for myself that I could not do it without some assistance,” suggested Vicki Hoefle, a parent educator and author. “So that way, you’ve already made the connection that you’ve asked for help.”
Get in and get out quickly. “The more you talk about it, the more it tends to sound like judgement because you end up sharing your own advice,” Hoefle said. So leave it to the experts, and use your time to point toward the right resources. “It’s a matter of saying, ‘I read this book’ or, ‘I talked to this person and it really worked for me.’”
Back off. There are times when intervening isn’t the smartest move. You know those times — you’ve been there, too, acting worse than the 4-year-old. Jumping in at that moment is “always met with a lot of resistance because the person is already embarrassed,” Hoefle said. “If I know the person and know there will be opportunity for them to see me again, I might say ‘You looked beside yourself the other day.’ If they say that doesn’t happen much, then clearly they are not interested and I run for cover.”