Parenting is difficult. Your choices run up against the uniqueness of your child. Each has a personality that is specifically their own. The interventions that work with one may not be required or yield the same results with another. That much is true. But, that does not stop anyone from giving you their best advice. I am no exception, but my advice comes with two important differences.
First, my advice takes the holistic health and development of your child into account. Most parents settle on choices that work for the moment’s safety without a consideration of the long-term impacts of the parenting choice. After your child has cleared the toddler stage and demonstrates an ability to reason, your parenting must evolve. Incrementally, your main task is no longer to keep them safe, but to support their decision making to manage and determine their own risk and safety. If the lesson does not provide a pattern for adult decision making, it must be reconsidered. Parenting is a role modeling of adult behavior as well as the function of keeping a child safe.
Second, I have reviewed both best practices in research of parenting and its effects as well as the results from my own parenting choices. As with everything, the question concerns what you want your child to BE. The end goal determines what lessons and restraints you put into the process. It is more than how you were parented, or reactions to that experience. Parenting must provide the support for each child to best utilize their uniqueness to achieve the goals you facilitate each child to aspire to.
With those two caveats, I present my top 5 lessons I would correct if you allowed me to influence your parenting. I present them as Stop and Start lessons. They are patterns for relationships with money, people, information, and time–all the resources that matter in health, well-being, and the development of wisdom.
1. Stop: Punishing (Hitting to Hurt). Start: Promoting Empathy.
Many parents believe that discipline is about bending the will of the child to the will of the parent. That is a recipe for dependence at least and destroyed autonomy at worst. Discipline is about reinforcing the interconnectedness of us all. Your goal is that your child care about how he impacts the world–how he makes you feel. This is empathy.
Taking his favorite toy, pastime, or privilege does not teach empathy. It teaches resentment with the message, “You hurt me, and I’ll hurt you.” There is a better way. Have your child write out their thoughts and reflections on how their actions made you feel. Explain how you felt, your fears, and your anger. Explain how the pattern of their actions leads to negative consequences in the long run. Encourage them to care.
2. Stop: Expecting them to be Still. Start: Encouraging Excited Activity.
Somehow adults got the message that children need to learn to sit still and listen. While it is true that listening can be done well while still, it can be argued that learning requires activity. I have observed parents who even scold children for being excited during exciting experiences. The extreme injustice is medicating children as young as 6 years old for hyperactivity.
The challenge for parents, teachers, and caregivers is to engage the child. Many lament that they don’t have the energy to keep up. But, you don’t need the movement, the child does. Outline short instructions with grand movements. Encourage movement throughout the interaction. The younger the child, the shorter the instruction and the larger the movements.
3. Stop: Refusing Explanation. Start: Communicating in Discussion.
Two things: Listen to explanations, and Don’t accept “I Don’t know” as an answer. So many parents ask questions genuinely wanting to know what their child was thinking prior to an act, but don’t have the patience to work through the answer. They train their child through their impatience to answer with responses that simply move the conversation without engaging intellect or empathy.
The inclination is correct. If you can understand and see as reasonable the choice of the child, you can provide information that forms the basis for alternative choices. The key is the analysis of the choice behavior. As you continue with this pattern of dialogue and analysis, the child becomes better able to analyze her decision making.
4. Stop: Over-programming. Start: Allowing Boredom to Create.
Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. And, a bored mind creates it own amusements. The adage is true. Your job as a parent is to provide raw materials, boundaries of action, and patterns of behavior that lead to creativity. Too often, I observe parents that wear themselves out attempting to save children from boredom. They exhaust themselves only to find that their child has adopted a unsustainable habit to cope with the sense of overwhelm.
Another option is to balance activity and interest with meditation and centering. Your child can learn to explore interests, maintain commitments, and belong while valuing reflectiveness and creative time. Ensure that their is daily time for being uncommitted. In these moments, allow reflection with an outcome of writing, painting, or some other art that is not for anyone’s evaluation or critique.
5. Stop: Working to Earn. Start: Require Proposals of Purpose.
Working for what you get is not a complete lesson in appreciation, the value of money, or work ethic. The problem is WANT. The lesson you most want your child to learn is not work ethic. It is that desires must have purpose and expectation that is sustainable long-term. In other words, what you WANT must have purpose.
I suggest that parents require a proposal from their children. Engage the goal to develop knowledge about the want and educate you to the specifics. Have them articulate the usefulness of the want in their long-term vision for themselves. Rather than work to get the item, have them explain the work that the want makes possible.
[These 5 points appear on COACHMethod.com with a different introduction dated Nov 9, 2015.]