What’s the dumbest parenting strategy your parents believed in? Did they have a zero-tolerance policy that taught you how to lie better? Most black-and-white parenting styles have negative, unintended consequences. Did they ever figure out how dumb it was, or did you just age out of its range of stupidness? Being a parent was just as tricky and complicated for them as it is for you, and you are probably doing something counterproductive yourself. You can’t help yourself. You’re human and a parent, but you can do a better job of ending ineffective parenting strategies. Journaling can help you do this, and the rest of this article will cover the why and how six questions can help you improve your parenting skills.

Recognising mistakes

How many times have you done something as a parent and immediately realised it was not the right thing to do? As a parent trying to do your best and avoid some responsibility, you might chalk it up to being tired, rushed, or otherwise not thinking, but how often have you done the same thing a day or week later? You could revisit the list of things to blame or be more honest and admit that you didn’t learn from your mistake the first time. You aren’t alone. We all go through this. We are, all of us, stupid parents once in a while. Realising this stings, but it can also be a springboard to better parenting. Pressure, stress, and other factors can overwhelm our ability to be our best, but it doesn’t have to. We can learn from our mistakes and change our behaviour. A straightforward and effective way to do this is through journaling.

Learning from errors

Why is journaling able to do this? Lisa Hutchinson, a licensed mental health psychotherapist, puts it this way, “Writing forces you to slow down and pay attention to what is going on in your life.” In other words, journaling can be a tool to counter the pressures created by our fast-paced world, and it can give us a chance to pause and be the parents we were meant to be.

Many caregivers and the people who train them already know this. Journaling can increase self-awareness and have therapeutic effects by giving caregivers an opportunity to put their thoughts and emotions down on paper (Hutchinson). Most importantly, for parents who want to do better, journaling can be a place to develop new plans and strategies.

Parental self-reflection

Staring at an empty page can be daunting, but there are a series of questions parents can use to get the most out of their time. I’ve adapted this set of questions from a list of six created to help students and clinicians learn from their practical experiences (Ofoe) and turned it into a process parents can use to make sure they remember the suitable strategies, recognise the bad, and make a new plan to be more successful the next time around.

The next time you have one of those parenting moments that you would rather not repeat, try answering the following questions:

  1. What happened? The starting point is to describe, as neutrally as possible, the event that went poorly (you don’t want to repeat it), or you can do this when things go well (you want to repeat it), too.
  2. What do I think and feel about what happened? This is where you get to write about what was happening in your head and heart. It’s valuable to understand how your thoughts and feelings shaped the experience.
  3. What are the pros and cons of how things went? Usually, our experiences with our children are a mix of positives and negatives. Maybe you stopped the child from burning his finger on the stove (positive), but how you did it may cause new problems (bad). This is a chance to give yourself credit for what you did that you like and take responsibility for what you did that you did not.
  4. How well did I do? Break it down into specifics. Now is the time to analyse the strategy you used. What was said both verbally and nonverbally? Which strategies worked and which ones didn’t?
  5. What does this say about my parenting style at that moment? Sometimes, you may feel great at this stage, and at other times, you may feel terrible. That’s okay. Be honest with yourself and know that the final step is about improvement.
  6. What can I try the next time something like this happens? Here’s where learning can move into action. Create a plan so you are emotionally and mentally ready for the next opportunity to be a confident, loving parent who knows every challenge is an opportunity to bond and learn for you and your child.

Make the journal work for you

This doesn’t have to be a long or time-consuming process; with practice, around 10 minutes is usually enough time. And you don’t have to write beautiful, lengthy paragraphs. Get the main ideas down in the way that best suits your writing style. Anything from bulleted lists to longer paragraphs will work. Another benefit of writing things down is reviewing the journal and seeing if any patterns emerge over time.

As parents, we are going to make mistakes, which is nice to admit. After all, aren’t we always trying to tell our children that it’s okay to make mistakes, but we should do our best to learn from them? As for your parents, maybe they weren’t that stupid. Maybe their parents didn’t teach them how to evaluate their own parenting or emotions in a way that made sense to them. Whatever the case, there is no reason to repeat their mistakes.

This is the number one reason to try journaling: You can be a better parent if you reflect on the conflicts you have with your children. A straightforward way to do this is to journal and answer specific questions listed above. Write about what happened and how you felt. Follow that by looking at the benefits and drawbacks of your current style while breaking down what happened into specifics. You can use this knowledge to honestly assess yourself as a parent, including the good and the bad. Then, and this is the best part, you can use what you have learned in journaling to develop a better way to handle the situation the next time it happens. As parents, we know those challenges will show up again. How great is it that we will be able to try something new when they do?

Author’s Bio:

Steve Anderson is married and has two sons. He is the former director of the Boys to Men Mentoring Network of Minnesota, where he led national and international transformational weekends for boys. He has over ten years of experience working with men and boys, developing the emotional awareness and skills they need to reach their full potential. He also has over 20 years of experience teaching people how to be more effective communicators. He lived through his dad’s spectacular burnout as a teenager and works with fathers to help them avoid doing the same in their own lives. He is a certified professional coach with training in applied neuroscience.

Website: https://steveanderson.coach/