Secure Yourself First
Self-care means using the scaffold planks to feel stronger and better about being a parent.
Instead of rushing and moving yourself and your kids through life at a breakneck pace, slow down. Structure a sustainable schedule. Maybe cancel some things. Take breaks. Relax. Restore. Even five minutes a day does wonders.
Forgive yourself for being an imperfect human and bask in self-love and self-encouragement for all the good you do for yourself and your family.
Reflect daily by asking, “What’s going on in my head? What’s stressing me out? What unacknowledged feelings or thoughts am I having? What is preventing me from paying attention to myself? What can I do to feel better and adapt?”
Check your phone usage daily to prevent screen time from taking over your alone/romantic/nature/creative/reflection time.
Draw a New Blueprint
When inking your new blueprint for raising your child, remember to draw upon your planks.
It can take up to three months to establish new behaviors after you start positive opposite reinforcement. But stick with it. Once the changes set in, they become the new normal.
Never tease your child. Period. Full stop. Be the person who your child can count on for kindness and compassion.
Listen to yourself talk, and ask, “Am I only seeing what’s wrong, or focusing on always being right?” If so, acknowledge your bias blueprint and strive to redraw it.
Anger and hostility lock parents and kids into negative patterns. If you feel your blood pressure rising, know that nothing positive will come next.
Track all your child’s behaviors, negative and positive, to find out if his bedtime or homework routine, for example, are really as bad as you think.
Lay a Solid Foundation
A solid parent-child relationship is the base on which your child will grow and learn independence and resilience. To secure the base, practice your planks.
Even if you have to repeat yourself a thousand times, keep giving your child corrective feedback until she gets it. Then move on to the next skill, and the next.
Reinforce positive behavior with praise and rewards.
By being emotionally available and present, you’ll validate your child’s feelings and encourage her to open up and share them.
Check yourself before your helpful feedback turns into harsh criticism.
Take a close look at your schedule and make sure to include daily quality family time.
Frame feedback by saying what you like and always deliver it with a calm, clear voice. Anger and nagging do not lead to compliance.
Few things are harder than watching your child suffer, but you have to hold steady, and tolerate your own discomfort, to scaffold their growth.
Even though you feel your child’s pain deeply, wait to vent your distress until you are away from your child. The goal is to guide and support him first and to model self-control. If you need to vent or find comfort, turn to other adults.
Be affectionate and attentive when your child is upset.
Listen more than you talk.
Validate her feelings.
Be conscious of whether you are overreacting, trying to suppress your emotions, or avoiding dealing with what’s going on. None of those approaches is helpful for you or your child.
Modulate your intense emotional expressiveness so your child isn’t confused or frightened.
Never react to your child’s emotional expression with distress, or he’ll learn to hide and internalize his negative feelings.
Check in with your child about how she feels. Don’t assume that one scaffolding session of providing comfort and modeling control is enough.
Stay on Their Level
To scaffold open communication, parents have to stay on their kids’ level and be honest and authentic. The end game of any interaction with your child is strengthening trust and modeling respectfulness. Remember to use your planks.
Talk about impersonal subjects, and casually ask for their opinion.
Get any neutral conversation going and wait patiently for your child to bounce into what is really on her mind. It might take a while.
Wait for your child to ask for your opinion before you give it.
Use irreverent humor when appropriate.
Be interested in your child’s hobbies and pastimes.
Don’t criticize his taste in music, games, and shows.
Praise her for her curiosity when she asks a lot of questions, and then answer them.
Listen closely to what your child says to any opening that you can then gently push a bit wider.
Praise him whenever he expresses his emotions and encourage him to think about why he feels the way he does.
Be aware of your own anxiety and discomfort about communications and overcome them for your child’s sake.
Be a neutral, nonthreatening, noncontrolling visible presence.
Don’t ask open-ended questions—e.g., “How was your day?”—that might be perceived as prying and manipulative.
Get a frame of reference about how best to talk to your child by observing her “in the wild” with peers and other adults. What does she talk about? How does she interact? Work within that frame to get to know your child better.
Check in with him daily with specific queries that lend themselves to replies. “Tell me about practice” is much better than “How was practice?”
Growth is a process of trying, failing, learning, and trying again. Parents can empower growth with their planks.
It can feel like torture to watch a child struggle and fail when you know you could take away the pain by doing things for him. Your patience will be tested when you nudge him out of the Comfort Zone, and gain as you collaborate in the Growth Zone, again and again. But the reward for being patient is a self-reliant, self-motivated learner.
Be the shoulder to cry on. If your child is sad about a failure, let her be sad and validate those feelings. And then, with warmth and compassion, move the discussion gently toward “whys” and empowering problem-solving.
Always be aware that what you want for your child might be more about you and your past, more than what’s in the child’s best interest. Whenever you feel the urge to push, reflect on why you feel so strongly about it.
When parents swoop in, it’s usually because of their own fears about the uncertainty of life. If that rings any bells, check yourself before you swoop. Life is uncertain. Better to teach kids about that reality than reinforce a damaging illusion.
Failure hurts. Rejection stings. But to role model that failure and rejection are just outcomes, and not cause for a global negative interpretation like “I suck at everything!,” you have to take your own stumbles in stride. Fall down, stand up, brush off, onward. No histrionics or self-pity.
Take a closer look at a kid’s pushback against growth opportunities that seem like a good fit. A hard limitation might indicate a deeper problem that needs professional intervention.
Check in with your reliable sources of information, instinct, and influence about whether your child is growing at a strong pace for him, but resist comparing his growth to his peers.
Repair and Minimize Cracks
There is no better way to scaffold your kids than by standing strong on your planks.
No matter how “crazy” your kids make you, take a deep breath and remind yourself that parenting might seem endless and really hard, but it goes by in a flash. What once drove you crazy might be something you miss when they’ve gone off and started their adult lives. If you can bring that perspective into scaffolding, you might be able to summon that two-second pause to find your patience before you react in another way.
No parent will look back on the scaffolding years and say, “I really wish I had been colder and crueler to my child when she was young and vulnerable.” You are her first source of warmth and love. Maintain that same feeling in your heart, even when she pushes back against it.
You can’t know you’ve slipped unless you make a habit of checking in with yourself. So every month, when you do something routine like pay the mortgage or the rent, ask, “How’s my scaffold holding up?” And then make the necessary repairs.
When the Scaffold Comes Down
As parents, we live our lives caring for and guiding our children. And when they start to get independent in high school, more so in college, then get jobs and move away, it leaves a big hole in our lives. We’d built something, and then all of a sudden, it’s gone. We have to look for something to fill that space.
But when parents say, “I’m going to take care of you forever,” it’s not a love story. It’s a horror story! You have to give your kids light and space to grow.
From the first brick of your child’s building, from the first plank of your scaffold, you are rising and growing together, in constant connection and communication. The scaffold is an essential part of the building’s construction. Tools and materials come up via the scaffold. The scaffold guides and supports, provides a safety net for catching pieces as they fall. And then, eventually, the day comes when the building is complete, and the scaffolding is superfluous.
Remember and then remind yourself once again: The scaffold was never meant to be permanent. Its purpose is to lend structure and support, and it necessarily becomes less and less important over time, until it’s not needed at all. Getting rid of it might make you nervous, but if your child is ready, it has to come down. Otherwise, it just blocks the view.
Dismantling the scaffold will be your moment of glory. You can stand back and admire the fine, strong building you raised with pride and joy. And then you can set off to build something new that’s completely your own.