Parenting Tools – Lessons From a Hammer

Have you ever tried to put in a screw with a hammer?

It might be possible, but most would agree it will take some forethought, patience and creative thinking to make it happen. In fact, many would reason, that it would be worth it to take the time and find something better suited to the job, like a knife, pliers, or (ideally) a drill / screwdriver, rather than use the hammer at all.

In other words … just because you have a hammer in your toolbox, does not mean that's all you're ever going to need or that it will work for every situation.

Yet, when it comes to parenting this is what so many of us do. We walk around with several tools in our parenting pack then only pull out one or two 'favorites' to deal with nearly every situation we face with our kids.

Now let me be clear here – this article is not about blame or judgment of any parents. We all deal with this challenge to a certain degree. It's about arming parents with awareness, because when we understand why we do things – or even that we do things – we have a chance to make positive changes in life.

Few of us have been taught to really look at our parenting pack, sort through the tools and figure out which ones will work best in any given situation. We're not taught why the old tools keep popping up, how to transfer new ones into our pack or why new tools always feel so awkward.

So let's start by taking stock of what tools you might already have …

The most prominent tools in your parenting pack will be those that were used on you when you were growing up. It does not matter if you loved or hated the tools that were used to 'control' you – if they were used more than a few times on you or resulted in a strong emotional response, they will most definitely be in your parenting pack now .

The only way to change that is to make a conscious decision to do so and to learn to notice when the tool you've picked up is not one you would really like to be using. This is impossible to do on autopilot and can be a challenge even with awareness.

What's shocking for many parents is when they realize that they are using old, ineffective tools on a regular basis, despite having knowledge and training of all kinds of current and effective tools. Often, they've been trained for work or as a volunteer in areas like conflict resolution, negotiation, assertiveness training, group management and leadership skills, but never even thought about using it with their kids.

This is like ignoring the screwdriver and actually choosing to put the screw in with the hammer!

This happens for a variety of reasons, but the most common is because when we reach in our parenting pack we are looking for a tool that matches the emotional intensity of the moment. So while natural consequences might be a perfect answer, we may find ourselves grounding our child for a week instead and messing up a whole bunch of our family plans in the process.

In other words, without conscious thought we find ourselves grabbing our favorite hammer to complete a task that would be much better handled with a wrench or a pair of pliers.

Sometimes we have a good tool (ie consequences, time-out, clear directive …), but use it so much our kids tune it out and fail to learn the real message behind the discipline. For the parents, overuse creates habit and habit result in our using autopilot to conserve energy. From the child's perspective, overuse creates boredom and a desire to test.

My message to parents is to start to notice the tools you are using, when you are using them and whether or not they are working effectively. The favorite tools I come across most often are; grounding, privilege removal, spanking, yelling, or threatening one of the above.

Then remember your lessons from a hammer …

  1. When you parent on autopilot, you are most likely to pull out your favorite tool, rather than the best one for the job.
  2. If you do not have very many tools to choose from, it's time to start building up your inventory. Although resources can help with this, you do not have to read a book or take a course to do it. Start by unleashing your own creative thinking and see what you can come up with.
  3. Even a great tool can miss the mark and cause injury if you are not paying attention when using it. Think about what you are trying to achieve and if a tool is doing more harm than good, take a deep breath to calm yourself and either try again later, or choose another tool.