“I can’t seem to get anywhere with my kid.”
“We’re stuck in the same rut – things never seem to change.”
“No matter how hard I try they just don’t get it.”
Sound familiar? Are either you or your spouse saying these same phrases or something like them? If so, then maybe you’ve hit a plateau. Reminder of what a plateau is – at dictionary.com, they define it as a period or state of little or no growth or decline, or progress. In general we’ve probably heard about plateaus in terms of diet, exercise, or fitness where someone stops progressing. It can happen in parenting too.
Let me describe this in terms of diet or fitness. We get onto plateaus because of repetition and because we stop trying to stretch our limits. We find something that is comfortable and has worked for us so far so we keep doing it. That’s fine as long as we keep progressing, getting the results that we want.
Often though, what happens is that the body adjusts to what it thinks is the new normal. If we’re eating less over a long stretch of time, the body begins to get accustomed to managing with this lower level of input. Your metabolism slows and the body shifts into energy conservation mode and burns less calories and fat.
If we’re working out for strength, speed, or endurance, the muscles and systems involved build to the point that we are working them out. If we continue to run the same speed and distance, or do the same weight routine with the same amounts of weight, then the muscles reach a point where they perform efficiently at this level and cease to get stronger.
Armed with this background, can you think about comparisons to our parenting skills? When we do the same things over and over and expect the results to change, it simply isn’t going to happen. Not only do you adapt to the new normal as the parent, the child adapts as well. A plateau is reached, and we begin to ask the questions that I mentioned in the outset.
This can apply to almost any area of parenting – the amount of time a child spends with media, their school performance, our interactions with them, their dietary and exercise habits, their ability to relate to others, and more. Sometimes the plateau that is reached is a good one, and sometimes not. Maybe our methods are good but the results have stopped improving.
The only way to get off of a plateau is to do something different. But in parenting, you have to be very careful about how much change you introduce. Breakthroughs from plateaus can be achieved in the fitness arena through muscle confusion – changing the workout so that the body doesn’t know what to expect next. Do that to a child, however, and you might not know what to expect next either. We are called not to frustrate our children in Colossians 3:21, so that they may not lose heart. Changing things completely can lead to confusion and frustration, along with the unpredictable behaviors that accompany these feelings.
It’s like the frog in the pot of boiling water. Drop him into a pot that is already boiling and he will hop out. Drop him into a pot of cool water and slowly turn up the heat and he will never move. Slow, incremental changes have a profound impact on the frog.
Same goes for our kids. While we certainly don’t want to boil them, we do want to introduce slow, steady change. But what changes to introduce? What we can do as parents is examine ourselves. Note what works for your child and what does not. Tailor your parenting “workout” to incorporate more of what does work and weed out those things that do not work. The more you take time to know your child, the better you will get at applying these changes effectively.
Mom and Dad, change is up to you. Our children are learning from us and it is up to us to captain the ship. If you’ve hit a wall and are on the plateau, are you satisfied in resting there?
Application Question – Am I using the questions and statements mentioned in the outset? Is my family in a set of predictable patterns that I would like to see changed? What things seem to work most effectively for my child, both positively and negatively?