By: Ilka Bezuidenhout

Psychologists in private practice are continuing to experience an increase in parents requesting guidance in communication and discipline methods at home with their children.  Previously parents would bring their children for individual therapy and receive periodic feedback with regards to the progress in these therapy sessions.  These days parents request both feedback, as well as realistic and practical guidance, specifically tailor-made that will best suit their specific family structure and dynamics.  The intention behind these parental guidance sessions is to support progress, both in therapy and in the home environment.

Parental Guidance sessions are quite structured, with a specific format. This newsletter gives an outline of the format that is used by the psychologists at our Claremont Practice who conduct and facilitate Parental Guidance sessions.

The total number of Parental Guidance sessions usually varies between five to eight sessions, but the actual final number will naturally depend on the complexity of the referring concern.

During the initial intake session with the parents, the psychologist gets as much information about the child/ren, the family unit and past as well as current concerns the parents have.  The information and background information forms part of the foundation for all the sessions that will follow.

The second and third sessions’ format will focus on the following areas:

  1. Creating awareness of the different communication languages that are used between the child and their parents and developing effective communication between the parents and their child,
  2. Creating awareness of the specific roles that family members take on in the family and,
  3. Creating awareness and understanding regarding the age related developmental phase of the child and how this impacts on the family dynamics.

During these sessions the psychologist uses a communication ‘table’ to illustrate and highlight what areas are needed in the family to improve communication.  The communication ‘table’ looks as follow:

The idea behind the Magic Table is that the surface of the table reflects the overall quality of communication. Should one or more leg be shorter than the rest, it will create instability and an unpleasant experience. The importance of creating optimal balance in all four areas (‘legs’) of the communication table, that is,  fun, structure, discipline/boundaries and empathy (listening skills, not problem solving) are discussed in detail.  The psychologist integrates the functioning of the specific family in this format and gives practical and realistic recommendations.

Family units all have a unique way in which they function and differ in what are non-negotiable values and behavior for their family unit.  Therefore, although the areas of communication table stays the same for all families, there will be specific recommendations made that fit the family unit.  Parents explore their areas (related to the communication table) of strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, the psychologist identifies with the parents if there are any gaps in their parenting styles and how that influences communication and discipline with their children.

When looking at different ways of communicating, we refer to Gary Chapman’s model as described in his book “The 5 Love Languages” as well as the Transactional Analysis model founded by Dr. Eric Berne. The psychologist discusses with the parents how their communication language influences their relationship with their children.  The psychologist points out the different roles that family members play out in the family unit and how that can influence communication. During the parental guidance sessions, it is important to keep the psychological developmental tasks of the child in mind.  These tasks – depending on the child’s age that are necessary for them to complete  – will influence the way parents need to parent.

Parents’ personality types influence their parenting styles. A very helpful tool is the Meyers-Briggs Personality Questionnaire (MBTI) that parents complete.  The MBTI identifies 16 different personality types and describes how each type has a preferred communication style. During session four, the psychologist gives feedback to the parents with regards to their personality type. The psychologist incorporates the mother and father’s individual personality type to give more specific guidance and recommendations that will suit the parents’ personalities.

The information and guidance that parents receive during these sessions then need to be implemented.  Parents book follow up sessions if they want to re-look, adapt or address other areas of their parenting.

It is very important to keep the child’s holistic functioning in mind while doing parental guidance.  A child’s cognitive, scholastic, emotional and social functioning, as well as his/her health indirectly plays a role in communication and discipline. Furthermore other factors, for example, parents’ careers and their support network also need to be considered when doing parental guidance.

Parents are becoming increasingly aware that healthy communication and effective discipline is vital in supporting a child’s overall development towards adulthood.  With this awareness parents are motivated and focused to develop these skills. They read more, attend more workshops and talks and ask psychologists to guide them specifically in this area of parenting.

To be a parent is an ongoing journey filled with life lessons, challenges and unbelievable special moments. Parenting Guidance sessions can provide an invaluable source of support and information along that journey.  We look forward to sharing that journey with parents and children in their unique family unit.

Recommended Reading and Resources Citation

  1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families – Stephen Covey
  2. The 5 Love Languages – Gary Chapman
  3. Introduction to Type and Communication – Donna Dunning
  4. Giving the Love that Heals – a Guide for Parents – Dr. Harville Hendrix
  5. I’m OK, You’re OK – Thomas and Amy Harris
  6. Staying OK – Thomas and Amy Harris
  7. Games People Play – Dr. Eric Berne
  8. Scripts People Live – Claude Steiner