Parenting from a Dialectical Approach


It is not uncommon for parents of kids with unpredictable, frequently changing, or intense emotions to struggle with their own emotions when making parenting decisions. Parents tend to get caught in the trap of “extreme” or “black and white” parenting decisions—for example, either being too loose or too strict with rules.

Parents may gloss over problematic behaviors (such as drug or alcohol dependence, skipping school, or self-harm) or make too much of typical teen behaviors (such as increased antagonism, increased conflict, or increased moodiness). Parents may also foster too much independence or do the opposite, fostering too much dependence.

Overall, parenting isn’t black and white. There are so many factors involved in making parenting decisions that it isn’t fitting to choose one extreme or the other. Parenting is all about balance—and so is DBT, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy. When you are dialectical, you are able to find balance, like the balance between acceptance and change. Interested in learning more about DBT? This is how you can adopt a dialectical approach in order to make parenting a bit easier…

In addition, DBT can be helpful for parents by teaching you to parent from a more balanced perspective—parenting more “in the gray.” Instead of being too lose or too strict, you can enforce clear rules consistently AND be willing to negotiate on some key issues while not overusing consequences. This helps foster an environment of flexibility and collaboration. At the same time, it teaches children and teenagers that some rules are absolutes while other things may be changeable depending on circumstances.

DBT is great for recognizing and gauging your children’s behavior as well. Instead of downplaying severely problematic behaviors or hyper-focusing on normal milestones of adolescent development, you can find a balance between recognizing when a behavior has crossed a line and when a behavior is typical of adolescent development.  You’ll have a better idea of what is cause for concern and whether to seek out professional help.

Lastly, parents of teens often struggle with finding balance in their relationship with their son or daughter. Parents may encourage too much dependence and an overly close relationship, or foster too much independence and not provide enough structure and guidance. If you find yourself at one end of the spectrum, try to find balance by giving your children guidance and support, while teaching them appropriate responsibility. At the same time, gradually step back and give your teens increasing amounts of independence while still encouraging some structure.

Moving away from rigid, black and white parenting may seem difficult at first. However with some practice, a bit of time, and an altered mindset, it can be done! You’ll find that by taking a dialectical approach, you can greatly improve your relationship with your son or daughter!