There are theories to help explain how change occurs. The Stages of Change Model (SCM), which was introduced in the late 1970s by researchers James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente*, has been used to help us understand the mind/body stages we go through when we change. The model also provides us with the sense as to the complexity and chaos involved in the process. With this awareness, there is greater potential for us to generate more patience, understanding and compassion – towards others and towards ourselves – as we navigate the struggles within each stage.
In Part I, we focused on Pre-Contemplation, the first stage. In this article we will identify the remaining stages, and explain each phase as it relates to parenting changes. (Note: The name used in the illustrations below was chosen randomly.)
Stage 2 – Contemplation
In this the stage, people are aware that a problem exists; however they are ambivalent. They will weigh the pros and cons of modifying their behavior. And although they are beginning to recognize there may be potential benefits to making a change, the costs (not exclusively fiscal) tend to stand out. They may be viewing change as a process of giving something up rather than gaining vital benefits (i.e., mental, emotional and physical well-being). This conflict can cause some people to procrastinate and not commit to taking action.
On a positive note, during this phase, people are more open to receiving information. They are more likely to use educational interventions, and reflect on their own feelings and thoughts concerning their behavior. Since this is a time of self-reflection, it may be helpful to consider the following questions: Why do I want to change? What benefits can I expect to experience when I change? What type of support would I need to help me change?
During our initial conversation, Ariella listed an array of resources she tapped into during recent months, including parenting tapes, lectures and workshops. All in all, she had amassed a great deal of information on effective parenting from well-known educators and professionals. However, she was still experiencing the same problems with her adolescent; hence, the phone call.
Ariella’s inquiry came from a place of fear and concern for her family’s sense of sanity and security. She realized it was time for a change, and perhaps coaching would provide her with an answer to her most daunting question: “How can I regain control of my home?” Needless to say, Ariella was eager to find a solution, however, she was conflicted. Her work schedule, personal family stressors, and involvement in two wedding preparations were in the forefront of her mind. To quote her, “Life is so overwhelming. I have absolutely no time or energy to tend to sessions at this point.”
Although Ariella was not yet ready to commit to a coaching relationship and a learning process, I left her with one vital question to consider:”Will the cost to your well-being and family relationship be greater if you do not begin working on a different parenting methodology?”
Stage 3 – Preparation
In the preparation stage, people have made a commitment to make a change. They might make statements such as: “I’ve got to do something about this – this is serious!” Or they will explore avenues that will lead them toward their desired change. At this juncture, they will seek outside resources (i.e., professional direction, a support group, friends and/or educational literature) that will supply them with effective guidance, encouragement and inspiration. In essence, they will take small steps that will help improve their chances of successfully making a longer lasting change.
The second time Ariella contacted me she was prepared to commit to a coaching relationship. She approached coaching with the idea that her coach would give her instructions and some quick answers that would solve her problems. She also anticipated that her coach would help turn her child into a compliant young person (i.e., a mensch). Lesson number one, therefore, focused on differentiating between aspects of control: beliefs (i.e., what we believe is in our control) versus a reality check (i.e., what, truly, is in our control).
Stage 4 – Action
During this fourth stage of change, people begin taking direct action in order to accomplish their goals. They will hold themselves accountable to their long-term goal by setting up shorter term goals that are attainable and measurable. Additionally, this is the time for people to review their motivations, resources, and progress in order to refresh their commitment and belief in their abilities to change.
Ariella had stated her outcome; she wanted to communicate more effectively with her children. Beginning with a small goal, she undertook a practice for the week, of uttering to each child (at least) one positive statement per day. However, the task required a thinking process when it came to her struggling child. What a discovery opportunity! Ariella’s challenge, therefore, was to look for a few qualities in this child, the one whose negative behaviors stood out most prominently. And although the task was a struggle, it was, nevertheless, doable. Her coach was there right by her side, playing a vital role: supporting and reinforcing her continued positive steps of achieving excellence toward her long-term goal.
Stage 5 – Maintenance
The maintenance phase involves successfully avoiding former behaviors and keeping up with new behaviors. It is during this time that people become more assured of their ability to continue with their change. However, since the human factor is involved, there are different reasons why people lapse into previous behaviors. In that regard, here are some thoughts to consider.
When people work on making fundamental changes in their parent-child relationship, it is difficult for them to be objective. Since they are diligently working to undo behaviors in which they have been engaged most of their lives, they require ongoing perseverance and a patient attitude. However, that is not always possible. Sometimes individuals lack centeredness, and they forget to tap into their resourceful self. For example, when people are tired, stressed and angry, they forget about their newer behaviors. Or if they are being judged and friends or relatives are questioning their methodology (i.e., “I would never do that,” or “You are enabling him.”), they may doubt the changes they have begun making.
Ariella was in the habit of observing other parents, seeing how well they seemed to interact with their children, especially those who were implementing control mechanisms (which she had previously used). She felt inept, incapable and embarrassed because she could not manage things at home. When she doubted her parenting skills, she would revert to her old ways. Her coach validated her discomfort and assured her that such feelings were quite common and normal for a parent whose child was struggling. For future purposes, though, her coach advised her not to engage in comparisons, simply, because she was being unfair to herself. Instead, her coach provided her with a few encouraging mantras: “Don’t be too hard on yourself,” “Don’t give up; setbacks happen,” “Relapse is a common part of the process of making a lifelong change.”
Changing one’s parenting approach is synonymous with changing one’s character traits. The process is highlighted by its ups and downs, rises and falls, and is often referred to as a roller coaster ride. I wonder did you ever reflect on this exciting mode of enjoyment? Passengers on the ride are forewarned of possible dangers if rules and restrictions are not heeded. There is a safeguard – a seat belt that provides security. An operator, who is always present, runs the ride, and sees to the safety of the passengers and progress of the ride. And then there is the park director, the overseer who sits up on high. He is aware of all. He cares about the personal well being of each passenger, first and foremost. And isn’t it interesting, that as the cars ascend, and the passengers anticipate an intense drop, they seem to trust the Director, the One controlling the overall operation.
Debbie Brown is a certified life coach specializing in parent coaching, and is an NLP practitioner. She is available for private, confidential phone coaching sessions as well as lectures and group workshops. For further information or to express feelings regarding the Parental Perspective topic, Debbie may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.