As a therapist in the Washington, DC area working with families, I think a lot about the word, “PROCESS.” Whether abstract or concrete, process can mean several things. Over the course of this month, through three blog posts, I will break down what process means in my therapeutic work with teens, children and families in order to help you understand what you can apply to your experiences with your own children and families.
The overarching meaning of the word process means how we do things. For example, the processes in therapy refer to how a therapist interacts with their patient: 1) what they say and how they say it, 2) what techniques or interventions they use, 3) how they are present or attuned with their patient, 4) and how they work through problems and issues. A real life example might be when someone wants to lose weight. The process of losing weight is to eat right and to exercise. But we all know that it is not that simple. Further questions arise—How much weight should I lose? When do I work out? How do I motivate myself to work out? How do I stop myself from eating pizza? What is a proper diet? Something that seems like a simple process, then becomes more complicated.
In order to understand what is relevant about process, we need to first think about our expectations. In our weight loss example, what is a realistic expectation for how much weight we should lose? For our children, what is realistic for how they behave and what must they accomplish? For our families, what are realistic expectations for how our family functions? These expectations will set the tone for how we do things, or in our words, for our unique processes. Our expectations about how our lives should go or how our family should function can impact how we feel about them. Epictetus sums this up in the quote, “We are not disturbed by what happens to us, but by our thoughts about what happens to us.”
Expectations are especially important for parents to think about. How often do we let our expectations direct our parenting? We, as parents, should try not to routinely do things for our children that they can do for themselves. Similarly, we should not expect them to do everything nor should we expect them to do nothing. It is better to strive to maintain an “authoritative” parenting style where we display high levels of warmth, love, and support along with having realistically high levels of expectations. It is wise to avoid having an “authoritarian” parenting style where we lack warmth, love, and support, yet hold high (often unrealistic) expectations.
As a parent, what should our expectations be? We need to try to keep developmental information in mind when we set expectations for our children. Please refer to the books series by Louise Bates Ames for more information on your child’s developmental milestones. We also need to keep perspective on many issues that our children might have. Alan Kazdin, professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University notes the incidence of many behavioral concerns that parents worry about in his book The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child :
- Most kids only listen about 80% of the time.
- Many (30-40%) children lie when they are 10 and 11 years old.
- The majority of preschool children often struggle to sit still (60%).
- These same-aged children whine significantly (50%).
- A large volume of teenagers engage in risky behaviors, either stealing or vandalism (50% boys, 30-35% girls) or marijuana use (14%).
As parents, we will confront these issues. And, if you do, you are not alone. First, you must think about your own expectations. Think about what is non-negotiable, think about what expectations can be compromised, and think about what expectations are not useful. Think about what you can control and think about what you cannot. Then, you are ready to put your expectations into action. Stay tuned for the next two blog posts, where I will write about how we communicate our expectations and what systems we set up maintain and enforce our expectations.