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Situational Parenting

In the various articles, I have talked about using behaviour modification methods, the rod, reasoning and feelings. Here I will attempt to piece all these together in a model of parenting called "Situational Parenting" because different situations call for different parenting skills.

This model is adapted from the book, Parenting for the '90s written by Philip Osborne. The book was published in 1989 by Good Books, Intercourse, Pennsylvania and is available in the National Library (Singapore) and its branches. The call number of the book is 649.1 Osb

Situations (or problem areas) can be classified into the following three areas: child's own problems, child's bothersome behaviours and mutual problem areas. Specific examples are given below to illustrate and to help you understand the model.

  1. Child's Own Problems (COP) refer to situations that bother the child but not the parent. Situations would include problems with friends in school. For example, your child comes home from school and tells you that his classmate, Dennis always calls him "Stupid!"

    Since the problem is the child's, we need to refrain from taking over the problem such as storming to the school and having a talk with Dennis. Allowing the child to struggle with his own problems encourages the child to move towards the long-term goal of being a resourceful and self-accepting person.

    The goal in dealing with COP is to be supportive and encouraging. The parent needs to listen to the child's feelings, fears and frustrations and equip the child with the attitude and skills to deal with the problem. Ask your child if he thinks that he is stupid. Explain that a bottle of chilli remains a bottle a chilli, no matter what the label on the bottle says. Even if you put a ketchup label on it, it remains a bottle of chilli. Teach him to ignore Dennis' remarks (not Dennis) and when Dennis discovers that there is no fun in teasing him, he will stop.

    Easing the Teasing: How Parents Can Help Their Children


  2. Child's Bothersome Behaviours (CBB) refer to things that the child does (or does not do) which are upsetting to the parent. Usually, the child is enjoying what he is doing or is oblivious to the impact of his actions on his parents. For example, changing his clothes ever so often and leaving the dirty clothes on the floor.

    What you may find "cute" in a preschooler may become "bothersome" in a school-aged child. What has changed is not your child's behaviour but your expectations of your child as he grows and develops.

    CBB include only those situations that relate to the parent-child relationship and exclude other concerns in parent-parent relationship or parent-work relationship. Of course, these other concerns do affect the size of this area. For example, when parents have a bad day in the office, they may become irritated with things their children do, which on other days do not seem to bother them that much.

    The goal in CBB is to get the child to change whatever it is that is bothering the parent. Parental skills to deal with CBB include the following:

    1. expressing your own feelings and interests ... explaining that you feel relaxed when you come home to a house that is neat and tidy.

    2. changing the environment to decrease the probability of the undesirable behaviour (e.g., putting a laundry basket in the room where the child normally changes his clothes). Not all bothersome behaviour is misbehaviour.

    3. using behaviour modification techniques (e.g., penalty ... making demands and establishing consequences for non-compliance with parental requests ... clothes left on the floor will not be washed and soon he will have no clean clothes to wear)


  3. Mutual Problem Areas (MPA) refer to situations when the parents' response is part of the child's problem. For example, your son is not well but he still has not finished his school work. You prefer that he goes to bed but he is worried that his teacher will make him stay back after school for not finishing his work. You could insist that he goes to bed but that would create undue stress in him.

    You are concerned about his health but he is afraid of being punished by his teacher. The short-term goal in MPA is to manage the conflict by searching for mutually satisfying solutions to the problem. The long-term goal is to teach conflict management skills to children. The parenting skills needed in this area are:

    1. listening to the child's views and feelings ... if you do not listen, you would not know his concerns. You may mistakenly treat this encounter as wilful disobedience.

    2. compromising assertively by providing alternatives ... insist that he goes to bed as you will write a letter to the teacher explaining the situation. Or suggest that he sleeps now and you would wake him up half an hour earlier in the morning to complete his homework. If this is unacceptable to the child then it may involve helping your child in some ways to speed up the completion of the homework so that he goes to bed earlier.

    3. giving up the problem (i.e., to be less anxious about it) ... giving up the problem may cause the child to respond differently to the problem too. Your child may fall asleep while he is working on his homework.



Although the size of each area is depicted as the same in the diagram, the actual size of each area varies with each family. Each family is made up of different individuals and therefore is unique. The dynamics of the family relationships are different for each family. Some children are strong-willed while some are easy going. Parents are different too. Behaviour that irritates one parent may not be a problem for another parent, even within the same family.

An Environment of Love

Note that surrounding the various situations is an environment of love. Foundational to parenting is a relationship of love between parent and child and such a relationship can only be inculcated through time and effort.



Situational Parenting Jan 1998 Alan S.L. Wong