Situational Parenting:
An Empathetic Approach



Although we all love our children and would do anything for them, we know parenting can be difficult. Situations we never expected or that scare us or try our patience can crop up at the drop of a hat. There are a variety of modern styles we can adopt to help us bring up our children to be happy effective adults like positive parenting, attachment parenting, unconditional parenting, spiritual parenting, and slow parenting. They are very different from the four recognized traditional styles that include authoritative parenting, authoritarian parenting,  permissive parenting, and uninvolved parenting.

Another option is situational parenting, which focuses on adapting parenting skills to different types of situations teaching our children boundaries and providing them with guidance and stability. Much of the time, stressful moments occur with our children because there is a breakdown in empathy or communication. In situational parenting, situations, problem areas, or breakdowns are divided into three different categories: the child’s own problems, the child’s bothersome behaviors, and mutual problem areas.

The Child’s Own Problems
These are concerns that upset the child but that don’t bother the parent. They often have to do with what their friends think of them and whether or not someone is upset with them. These situations directly affect the child and not the parent so the parent often doesn’t accept the validity of the concern or empathize with the child in the manner the child would like them to.In these situations, the most important thing for the parent to do is recognize that this is the child’s problem and not theirs, and therefore, the solution has to come from the child. This is hard for parents. We don’t like to see our children suffer in any way, and our first instinct is to take over the situation and make it all better. In situational parenting, the parent listens to, rather than dismisses, the child’s concerns and gives them the skills and attitudes necessary to deal with the problem on their own. Empathy and empowerment are key to helping children resolve their own problems.

The Child’s Bothersome Behaviors In the case of bothersome behaviors, it is the child who doesn’t empathize with the parent, instead of the other way around. Bothersome behaviors are things the child does consistently that upset the parent, although the child probably isn’t aware of the problem.
For instance, the child may habitually leave a mess in the kitchen after making a snack or throw their dirty clothes in a pile on their bedroom floor that keeps on growing ever larger. In these situations, the key thing for the parent to remember is that the child is probably unaware the behavior is causing anyone concern. In situational parenting, the solution to the problem is threefold:

1) The parent brings the problem to the child’s attention and explains how it makes them feel.  2) The parent speaks with the child about what is expected of them and helps the child be successful by altering the environment in a way that will lessen the likelihood the behavior will be repeated. For instance, in the case of the pile of dirty clothes, they provide the child with a hamper. 3) The parent establishes a consequence. For example, if the hamper isn’t used, the clothes don’t get washed. Eventually, the child will run out of clean clothes. 

A Combination of the Two 

Sometimes when a child feels a parent doesn’t understand their feelings, the child reacts with a bothersome behavior to try and change that. We’ve all been in the situation in the department store where we’ve had to pass the toy section in order to get to the appliance section and our child spots something they believe they can’t live without. When they are told “no” a tantrum sometimes ensues. In situational parenting, the first thing for the parent to do to handle the situation is acknowledge the child’s desire. The parent then explains why the desire isn’t practical at that time. Finally, the parent explains to the child the right way to ask for something and the expectations that have to be met in order for them to receive it.

Situational parenting emphasizes empathy, reasoning, empowerment, safety, and creating an environment for success. All children aren’t the same, nor are all families. Some children are more easy-going than others and some parents are, too. One family’s manner and frequency of problem situations will differ from another’s. Situational parenting is practised in an environment of love, understanding, and emotional warmth while offering help and stimulation. When you cocoon each situation with these attributes, you create an environment where the child is more likely to succeed.