How many times have we wondered exactly how to parent our kids when our kids throw us a curve or -- as we found out recently -- world events upend our sensibilities? Perhaps surprising is that how we parent has several underpinnings that never change, no matter what the circumstance.
Parenting is a skill like any other. And just like any skill, it improves with practice. As a devoted parent of "children" over the age of 40, I can attest to the fact parenting skills constantly evolve and grow. But "go with your gut" is probably the single most important lesson I have learned.
If what you are saying or doing as a parent "just doesn't feel right," chances are it probably isn't. Always listen to that inner message. Knee jerk reactions are just that, impulsive, impetuous and more often than not the wrong way to respond. Having a solid grasp of your own parenting needs is important as your children grow up.
It is for the parent to set the limits without an abuse of their power.
One very simple but necessary aspect of my parenting is always reminding my grown sons how much I love them. Growing up, there were times when I didn't really feel loved so I resolved that my own children would never wonder in that regard. Never assume they know of your love. And never assume there can be 'too much' love in a family.
The cornerstones of effective parenting hinge on respect, consideration, and kindness. These little people staring up at you are just that -- people with their own feelings and world view. Be considerate of their feelings. And remember, as Mary Poppins said, "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down."
"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." Aesop
It is for the parent to set the limits without an abuse of their power. Rather than doling out punishment in the heat of the moment, set known limits in a matter of fact way well before the calamity. Example: A family road trip can have behaviour limits established before the trip begins and not as your children are picking at each other in the back seat and escalating the tension in the car. The most important parenting factor in this instance is follow through. If the consequences were reasonable and agreed upon and time limited, make sure they happen.
Inconsistency in parenting begets manipulation. Kids are skilled manipulators and very quickly figure out how to get around parental restrictions. Quite often the parents are too close to the situation to see how their children are controlling them. Sibling rivalry is shaped by manipulation. How can they make the other sibling look bad to the parent? In many ways as it turns out.
Parents (just like the best teachers) use the teachable moment effectively. In an old Andy Griffith episode from the 1960s, Opie kills a Mother Robin with his slingshot. Andy shows his son the nest with the motherless robins and Opie is charged with raising those baby birds as a consequence of his actions. A good example of the teachable moment. Empathy is a skill.
A good parent recognizes the enormous power they carry in their child's life.
In keeping with that lesson, parents should also own their mistakes in life. There will be times when your parenting or life circumstances gets derailed by emotion. We are not perfect. In a quiet moment go back to your child and admit that emotion got the better of you. Apologize. Sincere apologies are powerful tools of parenting.
Parents also know that experience is the best teacher. Listening to pipe dreams, letting them try, within reason, and fail if that is the outcome. Being there to help them up when they do fail, is part of being a good parent. No admonishment, but assisting in the identity of the lessons learned. Then -- there's always the chance of a success that might surprise you.
Listening follows as the next pillar of good parenting. Active listening requires attention. Look your child in the eyes, look at their facial expression and body language. Both of those attributes can sometimes tell more about the story unfolding than the words. Actions always speak louder than words.
A good parent recognizes the enormous power they carry in their child's life. They respect that power imbalance and at no time abuse their parental power in their child's life.
Parents teach their children to own their choices in life. Externalizing the blame is never an effective way to deal with a problem. Own it, accept it and resolve it. That is a lesson to be applied throughout their lives.
Parents lead by example. This is particularly true with friendships and relationships. Making a good example with the people in your life gives your child a frame of reference for their own lives.
Children learn what they live.
The inspiration for this article came from Erica Reischer's book What Great Parents Do: 75 Simple Strategies For Raising Kids That Thrive. I thank her and recommend her book to any parent seeking to improve and grow their skills.
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Face it, there are just some things that you will never agree about. It's better for the children to see that their parents accept they have differences, than to fight about those difference to their death. We want to model to children how to co-operate.
If your child comes complaining to you that mom said he can't have TV because he didn't get a good grade on your last test, don't undermine the other parent! Do not undo or reverse her decision. Simply offer empathy "sounds like you're upset with mom's decision about that -- you need to talk to her about that if you think it's unfair" Do not triangulate and get involved.
It's okay to talk about your disagreements in parenting, just don't do it in the heat of the moment. If you don't like your partner's approach -- talk about how you might think it could be handled differently NEXT time. Don't step in and change this up midway.
Remind yourself that if you both parented the exactly the same way, one of you would be redundant. Instead, think of the assets you both bring to the family. I was a very patient parent, so I was best to help with homework with the kids. My partner seemed to get them tucked into bed without the dawdling. We used our these difference to our advantage!
Why leave parents to battle it out? I am a big believer in bringing family issues to the entire group and to hunt for the best solutions with everyone's input. Kids included. Children are more likely to live with the rules they helped establish. It no longer becomes mom against dad when discussing such things as: what to do when kids don't eat their suppers. By asking the children "what should happen when people don't eat?" and "how can we improve meal times?," you bring the entire family into agreement about how things should proceed.
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