As parents, we are keenly aware that our children grow in stages. There’s the clingy phase of infancy, the fiery independence of a toddler, the moodiness of tweens — just to name a few.
But what about parents? Too frequently family conflicts arise when parents fail to adjust their parenting approaches as their children mature. Rather than responding to a new stage with a new approach, we default to old ways and our children may not respond well. Let’s look at the parenting phases and see if it’s time for to you switch it up!
1. Parent As Safety Anchor
A newborn needs to know they will be cared for. Our job is to ensure that their physical and emotional needs are met, so as parents, we conform our schedules to our baby’s needs. We nurse them when they’re hungry and settle them into sleep when they are drowsy. When they cry, we soothe them.
2. Parent As Teacher
In the second half of the first year, babies' tummies and brains have developed enough that they can begin learning how to fit into the schedules of the family and greater society. We are diurnal animals: active in the day and sleeping at night. We have three meals a day; morning, noon and night. As our children grow up, we must teach them our social customs so they can function well in groups. But this is no small job.
Getting along in a group is the primary survival skill for social creatures, which humans are (like dolphins, whales and monkeys). For humans, there are a million small lessons to learn, like hanging up your coat, making your bed, brushing your teeth, not interrupting, sitting down to eat a meal, saying please and thank you, sharing, helping and so on. We teach these skills and then enforce them by using firm and friendly discipline. After all, discipline is derived from the word “disciple,” which means to teach.
3. Parent As Facilitator/Coach
Entering adolescence, our tweens have learned a ton. Their neural growth has been explosive. These brains have an incredible capacity for problem solving and critical thinking. So make use of it!
This is the time for parents to step back a bit further and let children exercise those capacities. Just as our kids have one foot in childhood and another in adulthood, we have to balance active parenting involvement without being overly directive or controlling. We need to facilitate the process of allowing them to work through issues themselves.
4. Parent As Sage Counsel
The brain continues to grow until the age of 25. There is a period of neural pruning that helps improve the brain’s efficiency, and during this time the brain is evolutionarily wired to help children jump from the safety of the nest and fly. You have given them good roots, now they need wings.
During this phase, and into early adulthood, the role of a parent is that of sage counsel. Our children will decide for themselves who they will or will not be influenced by. If we have successfully managed to win our children’s respect and co-operation during early adolescence, they will continue to want our opinions and seek out our perspectives and advice. When we look at the proactive factors for keeping kids safe in high school and college, healthy family relationships trump anything else you could hope to accomplish.