Successful parents don’t fly off the handle when their kids act up, but they also don’t cave in when it comes to enforcing the rules. They are actively involved with their children’s education, but they don’t over-emphasize test scores at the expense of family-fun time.
And if they get stuck, successful parents raise their hands and ask for help, say veteran San Antonio area family therapists, educators, advocates and parenting program administrators.
“Don’t isolate yourself,” says Yesenia Gonzalez, director of parenting programs for Avance-San Antonio, which has helped at-risk parents of young children for 40 years with 90 percent-plus success rates by most measures.
Gonzalez says successful parents form support networks with other parents and also seek help from outside organizations, no matter how basic the challenge. “One of our men was going to be a new father. He was terrified of changing diapers. One of our new volunteers was a male nurse, and he said, ‘I can show you how to do that.’”
In other words, don’t be shy about asking for help, especially when it comes to communicating with your kids’ teachers, Gonzalez says.
“Teachers like to have parents involved. I enjoyed it,” says Paulette Mallard of San Antonio, who recently retired after teaching in the South San Antonio School District for more than 30 years. Mallard says students become more motivated when motivated parents ask for parent-teacher conferences, join the local PTA, volunteer and attend school-sponsored events. “If there isn’t any kind of motivation, kids can get into a slump,” Mallard says.
Then there are the parents who study all the literature, show up for school functions and still risk losing it when their kids exhibit bad behavior.
“Parents can get too intellectual or too emotional,” says Brent Evans of Boerne, who has been a family therapist for 40 years.
Evans, who has offices in Boerne and San Antonio, says successful parents remain calm when children misbehave and let the child know that misbehavior will result in immediate consequences, not with a ban on participation at some later event.
“I go by soccer rules: yellow card, warning; red card, you’re out of the game. You will lose all your privileges now,” Evans says. “Consequences are not effective if they’re not immediate.” Parents can allow their children to redeem themselves with a chore they are not normally expected to do, he adds.
Parents should help their school kids with homework and organization, he says, but they should not over-emphasize grades and tests. “You don’t want to make academics the most important thing,” he says. Allow kids to play, which helps them develop social skills. “Get outside and do family activities. It’s not just screen time, but green time,” Evans says.
The time to seek professional help is when parents see a pattern of bad behavior or events that don’t respond to typical parenting strategies.
Pamela McGuire, a 20-year veteran of family counseling in school and private practice settings, is executive director of San Antonio’s Center for Family Relations, which helps families cope with divorce and family conflict. Structure and consistency are keys to successful parenting, she says.
Pre-determined schedules for bedtime and “dinner together without electronics” are important. Schedule a family meeting once a week for 30 minutes to discuss schedules, talk about the week, share ideas for family activities or delegate chores, suggests McGuire. At the end of the meeting, celebrate with a treat or an outing.
“Family meetings are when everybody plans to be there at the same time, and where everybody comes prepared,” McGuire says. “If you can treat your family very well, you can go out and treat others well.”
When it comes to family rules for behavior, be consistent, and “don’t be afraid to let your child get angry” about the rules, she says. Acknowledge their feelings, but don’t join an argument. “Explain until you can’t explain anymore, and then stand silent,” McGuire says, “You will have stayed the course.”
Like Avance, McGuire’s center offers free classes for parents of young children, although Evans and Avance’s Gonzalez says parents of older children are also welcome to contact their organizations.
About the Research
Smart phones, social media apps and online games now available to many children are adding to parenting challenges. Set time limits and monitor online activity, family therapist Evans says. Years of research on nutrition and sleep have confirmed the importance of instilling good eating and sleeping habits.
Research that once focused on the negative effects of physically punishing a child is now turning to not just spanking, but yelling. A study published in September by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh looked at the effects of harsh verbal discipline on middle school students with mostly middle-class parents over a two-year period. Shouting, cursing or insults led to increased signs of depression and problem behavior on a level comparable to the negative effects cited in other studies that focused on physical discipline, the researchers reported.
Today’s parents don’t have the immediate family resources of previous generations. Relatives live farther away in today’s mobile economy, says McGuire.
“When we were pioneers, we had clusters of family around. Grandma or grandpa could help,” she says. “What’s happened is we don’t have that sense of support. It’s hard for parents now.”
However, today’s parents can find more online support networks and also more community resources such as school counselor offices, parenting centers, classes, family therapists and the local PTA.
Shellie Cecchini, president of the North East School District Council of PTAs, says several studies have found that actively engaging parents leads to positive outcomes for student success.
“The child realizes school is important to them, so it becomes important to the child,” she says. The PTA helps parents become classroom volunteers or participate in other school-related activities.
“Even if you can’t spare the time, just joining makes a big difference,” she says, because numbers help when advocating for students at the state level. PTAs, for example, were part of the successful drive this year to persuade the Texas Legislature to reduce the number of mandated high school tests from 15 to five, Cecchini says. PTAs also offer help for those who want to learn how to become more successful at parenting. “We have a lot of parent education programs that are free,” Cecchini says. “All it takes is a phone call to ask for that help.””
Renee Haines is a San Antonio freelance writer.