As a child, one of my favorite activities was taking a magnifying glass and incinerating anything I felt like using the power of the sun intensified by a magnifying glass. I laid waste to countless bugs, paper products, and plastic containers. Nothing was safe from my reign of terror..
The world is a lot safer without me and my magnifying glass, but there is a lesson in this for parenting (isn’t there always?).
Too often when we want to make changes in how we are parenting our children, we will try a broad approach with too many things being changed at once. As a therapist who works with a lot of parents, I can tell you this is a process doomed from the start..
We all have a limited bandwidth to work with. From our jobs to driving our kids around, to maintaining a household, there are many things we have to juggle and do on a day-to-day basis just to survive..
Our brains can only juggle approximately 5 things at a time plus or minus 2. This means there is a range between 3 and 7 things that we can hold in our brain at one time. This fact is why a lot of New Year’s resolutions go by the wayside fairly quickly. It is just too hard to try to make many changes at once..
When making changes you are far better off focusing on one thing at a time and applying all your resources to bear on that one thing such as a new behavior or changing an old belief. .
Parents frequently come to me with a list of things they are wanting themselves or their child the change. My first question is, “How many of these things do you think you can do at one time?”. Most parents forget just how much time and energy it takes to change behavior..
When I work with parents on making changes, I have them think about and decide how they are going to maximize their focus on one new behavior during the week. Much like the magnifying glass, they need a white-hot intensity of focus on what they are changing. This could include putting reminders up around the house or on their phone, involving a spouse or partner in the changes, or frequently practicing the new parenting skill..
It will take deliberate practice over time to get good at this skill they are developing. It takes a significant amount of conscious effort to change behavior. That’s why it can be difficult since it takes up so much mental bandwidth to make a change that sticks..
So, for the sake of your sanity as well as your child’s, focus on one thing not many things. That intensity of focus will go a long way in helping you change your behaviors to become a more effective parent..