Parent Counseling: Parent-Child Conflict: Win-Win

By: Jessica Anderson

Updated February 05, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Ema Jones, LCSW

Parents and their children will experience conflict, and it's both healthy and normal in many circumstances. However, if the conflict you have with your child is causing stress and other negative emotions, it may be time to consider professional help. It is challenging to experience parent-child conflict, but it is not a hopeless situation. In many cases, these conflicts can be improved or resolved through parent counseling.

Parenting Is Difficult At Every Age
Learn How Parent-Child Counseling Can Help You Navigate Parenting Today.
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Why Is Parent Counseling Beneficial To Both Parents and Children?

Parent counseling is beneficial because it provides you with an outside view of what is going on within the walls of your home. It provides your family with an objective professional who is specifically trained to improve the relationship you experience with your child. They can look into your parenting styles and compare them with your child's developmental behaviors. They can provide insight to improve the relationship based on what they find.

What To Expect From Parent Counseling

Parent counseling can be a strong tool when you find yourself facing significant conflict in the relationship you have with your child. You can have a better counseling experience by knowing what to expect when you go in. Here are some components of parent counseling that you can expect.

Discussion Of Parenting Styles

Most parents recognize that their child has a will of his or her own around the time the child begins to learn verbal and non-verbal communication skills. What the parents may not realize is that the source of conflict does not necessarily arise when a child first communicates opposition to a parental command or a rule. It actually may arise from the way a parent addresses a child's opposition.

One style of parenting is called “authoritarian.” These parents typically feel they have the final say, and that "no means no." Parents who follow the authoritarian style may have difficulty adjusting their composure when their child is having a bad day or experiencing a developmental milestone that brings defiance.

Another parenting style is “authoritative.” These parents are more democratic in their disciplinary approach. They recognize the value of balancing their relationship with the child and viewing their child with unconditional positive regard. They demonstrate empathy, acceptance, and understanding. They often view discipline as a teaching opportunity.

Aside from these two general parenting styles, parents vary in style across the world as well. Children from various countries may grow up under different parental expectations. If children are brought into American culture after beginning their childhood within another culture, cultural differences may give rise to additional tension.

Family dynamics, such as household size, can also affect parenting style. Single parents may find themselves feeling particularly isolated when struggling with a child’s behavior. Families with children of varying ages may find it more difficult to implement a consistent parenting style with all their kids, especially if the children have diverse personalities or needs.


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Understanding the source of conflict is the first step to resolution. Parent counseling or therapy can be helpful to parents who need support in understanding parent-child conflict, no matter what their parenting style may be.

Parental Expectations

When a parent-child relationship has reached a point where neither parent nor child can leave the situation as a “winner,” the best solution is usually to take a step back and reassess goals. What does the parent expect from the child? Is it a reasonable expectation? What can they do if the child has other ideas or feelings? A therapist can help the parent reevaluate their expectations. They can help them learn a more advantageous parenting style, as well as techniques to deal with specific behaviors.

The Pressure Of Parenting Well

Parents sometimes resist going to counseling for parent-child conflicts because they fear they will be harshly judged. However, the role of the counselor is to work with the parent, not against them. Taking a step to improve your relationship with your child is something to be admired, not judged!

Therapists are aware that the parent is the one who has the most power to bring positive change. They see a parent's wellbeing as a crucial part of a peaceful home environment. Try to follow their lead and accept support for your own wellbeing, so you can better support your child in turn.

Therapy Begins With The Parent

There was a time when counseling for parent-child conflict began with the child. The child might go to a therapist for play therapy or even individual counseling. While many children still participate in counseling, therapy for parent-child conflicts is now typically focused on the parent because the parent has the greater capacity to make changes that are reasonable and beneficial.

Therapy May Take Time

Parents may feel overwhelmed by conflict when they begin therapy. They may need to hear suggestions a few times, as well as spend time considering them at home before they are able to put them into place. It's important to remember that due to these factors, therapy may take some time before it produces noticeable results. Be patient with yourself as you learn new ways of managing difficult situations, and try not to put pressure on yourself to do everything right immediately.

Learning About Your Child

In parent therapy, the parent learns about themselves as well as their child. The counselor can help parents to identify problems that the child may not yet be able to express or understand on their own. They can bring in knowledge of where the child is developmentally, and how it might relate to the conflict that is taking place. In this way, parent counseling can provide a unique and valuable type of education for the parent.

Parenting Is Difficult At Every Age
Learn How Parent-Child Counseling Can Help You Navigate Parenting Today.

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Seeing All Sides Of The Conflict

In therapy, parents will need to identify the part they are playing in continuing the conflict. They may think at first that the child is the main source of the problem. However, when they look closer at their own behavior, they can begin to see how their responses to the child's behavior might affect or worsen a situation. When a parent finds out they are contributing to a conflict, they may feel guilt or shame. However, this can be the first step to solving the conflict entirely.

If you find yourself in this situation, remember that you are taking an important and admirable step! You cannot solve problems that you cannot recognize, and parent therapy is a non-judgmental, professionally guided way to identity ways to strengthen your relationship with your child. You are doing important work. Try not to let the temporary discomfort of guilt get in the way of a permanent improvement.

You May Receive Assignments

Sessions may sometimes end with an assignment for the parent. For example, the counselor might request that the parent identify a certain type of situation with their child in the days following the therapy session. At first, the assignments might consist of observing what happens, rather than doing anything to make changes. Later assignments might be geared toward resolving the conflicts once a problem behavior is identified.

Other Ways To Improve Your Parent-Child Relationship

There are many ways to improve the relationship that you have with your child, so do not worry if you are not quite ready to try counseling. You can try the suggestions below before approaching therapy, or you can combine them with therapy.

Make Time To Talk To Your Child

In today's society, it is becoming easier to love someone without speaking to them. We are living out busy schedules, and our smartphones and other electronic devices often pull our focus. These trends take away our chance to spend meaningful time speaking with those closest to us.

As a parent, you may want to consider setting time aside each day to speak with your child. Put away the phones and turn off the screens. Ask them how their day was or let them tell you how they feel about current events. Ask them how school is going, how sports have been, and how the relationships they have with friends are. If you can get your child to really open up during these conversations, you will get to know them better, even if it seems like you already know them well. Your child will find that they can confide in you as well. This connection and trust can make conflicts easier to address with closeness and may just make you feel closer to each other as well.

Consider Parent-Child Dates

Aside from just talking, consider spending time with your child just to do one of their favorite things: shopping, playing a sport, or even just taking a regular stroll through your neighborhood. This one-on-one time will help provide you and your old with positive interactions. These positive interactions may be lacking if there are constant arguments happening between the two of you, so these special dates can balance emotions and help you connect in healthy ways.


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Provide Explanations For Your Decisions

Many of your conflicts with your child may happen when you make a parenting decision that they do not agree with. Try to remember that your child understands more than you believe they do; give them a sincere reason behind each unpopular decision you make. “Because I said so” may pop out every now and then—and you are the parent, which means you are in charge—but in the moment it is often counterproductive and might make you seem illogical, arbitrary, or unfair. Helping your child to understand your thought process—“I told you that you needed to clean your room before you can leave with your friends, and it’s very important to me that you learn to keep your commitments”—will give them more respect for your authority in the long run. Eventually, your child may fully grasp that you truly do have their best interest in mind.

Seeking Help

Parent counseling can provide a number of benefits to any family that is facing parent-child conflict. Remember that receiving therapy is absolutely no disparagement of your ability as a parent; in fact, seeking expert advice and support only demonstrates your level of caring for your child. Think of a therapist or counselor as a training partner who can support you as you take your parenting skills to the next level. Parent counseling can truly make a difference; a recent study found that parents who participated in a six-session counseling program scored significantly higher than their pre-therapy results on measures of support, satisfaction, involvement, communication, limit setting, autonomy, role orientation, and their overall parent-child relationship. Thanks to online therapy services like BetterHelp, you can find a way to fit this effective counseling into your busy life.

Online therapy with BetterHelp may be a great solution for your family. Online therapy can be arranged on a schedule that suits yours—even in between the drive to soccer practice and picking up dinner, if needed! With no need for transportation to an appointment, you can save time and hassle and meet via your preferred format: video chats, phone calls, emails, or text messages. Consider these reviews by others who have relied on BetterHelp therapists for support in their families.

Counselor Reviews

"I have been working with Carolyn for 6 months now, and have tremendously benefited from her counseling as I support my daughter for Anorexia. Anorexia is a very complex mind-body illness, and the family members can play a very important role in the recovery by educating ourselves and understanding her behavior. This allows me to use correct words with her and watch my own behavior with her, so I am supporting her in a healthy manner and not enabling her illness further. Additionally, my own stress has been very difficult as I watch my sweet daughter suffer, so I had been in need of finding coping skills for myself. Carolyn's expertise, her very compassionate but clear guidelines and feedback to me have made me more confident and capable of dealing with this difficult illness. I am finding a lot of strength from her therapy, and most importantly, I am handling my daughter better and can see the difference in my interactions with her. I am thankful to Carolyn for coming into my life when I needed someone to guide me through this. In addition to our weekly video chats, I am able to send her quick texts on the BetterHelp app if an issue arises, and I need her thoughts, and Carolyn replies back very quickly with more tips to help me. I have recommended BetterHelp to friends as access to a great therapist like Carolyn would not have been possible for me without this platform... while I also do this from the convenience of my time and home. Thank you, Carolyn, and thank you, BetterHelp, for being here for me!"

"I am THRILLED with Rachel and with BetterHelp! It is affordable, I am a single mom with 4 kids on a tight budget and a LOT of stress, and this format makes it easy to get help. I LOVE that I can write my feelings to her whenever I am having them, not have to wait a week for the next session. She is very insightful, and I am thankful!"

Conclusion

If you are struggling with conflict between you and your child, remember that you're not alone. Conflicts with children can and do challenge every parent. Remember, though, that expert help is available. Consider reaching out to a therapist to address the conflict within your household. No matter what you're experiencing, a healthy, fulfilling relationship with your child is possible—all you need are the right tools. Take the first step today.


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