There is no one “right” way to raise a child. There is much diversity in the human race and everyone has varying preferences and needs. I aim to not so much give advice, as ask the right questions and offer guidance along the path that every parent must travel. So guidance I will offer—guideposts, actually. Here are three of what I consider to be the most important markers of good parenting. The triple crown if you will: respect, relationship and repair.
First and foremost: respect. This makes sense—we want and need our children to respect us, right? Right. I think the tricky piece here is staying mindful that respect must be a two-way street. This also makes sense; intellectually anyway. Practically speaking, it isn’t always easy to respect a small child who needs your near constant supervision and care. It’s even harder to hold in high esteem a small person who may not be behaving rationally, managing their emotions, or have all their teeth yet.
Let’s face it, our culture is not one in which the weak, emotionally volatile, and unreasonable command respect. Along these same lines, we mainly parent within a paradigm where kids are the sponges and we are our child’s first teacher. But this is only one side of a much more complex story. As adults we may have more information, knowledge, and common sense than a child. But we forget our duality, and easily dismiss children’s inherent gifts of connectedness, creativity, humor, and emotional honesty. It is commonly reported that children laugh on average 300-400 times a day and that this number drops to 15-20 laughs a day in adulthood. Knowing the many positive benefits of laughter, I have to ask: Who should be learning from whom in this case? This is one small reminder that we grown-ups don’t always know best, or have the all the answers.
Next: relationship. This is what parenting is all about! Ah, but we are so easily side-tracked into control and behavior management. Rebecca Thompson, executive director of The Consciously Parenting Project notes that behavioral approaches (consequences, etc.) all stem from the research of B.F. Skinner—you may recall that he worked with laboratory animals? Animals are not people, and although many have proposed that “training” techniques do work to change conduct in children, often this is not the case, and the result ends up being even more escalated behavior. Ms. Thompson suggests addressing the underlying emotion first, before discussing behavior, or what might be done differently next time. Keep in mind that it’s hard to receive feedback on your actions while you are having strong feelings (and brain research confirms this), no matter what your age!
Children need to feel connected. They need us to listen and validate their feelings. This truly is a need and not a want for a young dependant child. I am a certified Parenting by Connection instructor for the wonderful organization, Hand in Hand Parenting. This organization suggests that listening is so important it warrants multiple ways of learning to listen to our children. (see resources list for more information on listening concepts) We must remember that our children do need this listening, and our focused attention. This takes effort and is not always easy. I remind myself daily to hang up the phone, turn off the computer, and truly engage with my child. I know it’s cliché, but it is a fact that he will not always be interested in my company.
And finally: repair. I’ll be honest; sometimes I just don’t get it right. We are all human and prone to messing up. Part of repair is being accountable for our actions. Apologize if you’ve made a mistake. This is a skill all people need; modeling it for your child is incredibly valuable. When we approach a problem, error, or offense—ours or theirs—with true curiosity about what can be done to amend, fix, repair, or make restitution, we are on track for learning, making things right, and better behavior in the future. Punishment, criticism, and negative consequences all use fear as a motivator. Ultimately, I’d rather maintain love, not fear, in my connection with my child—repair helps with this.
So keep doing what you’re doing! Love your kids, treat them with respect, and remember that your relationship will long outlast the phase where you are “parenting” them. Hopefully you will have a much longer adult-adult relationship with them than you will have adult-child. Model kindness and humility when you do wrong. It’s the good news and the bad news: your children are usually paying very close attention to your behavior—try to make sure it’s desirable.
[author image=”http://kidzedge.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Sarah-MacLaughlin.jpg” ]Sarah MacLaughlin is a social worker and author of the award-winning, Amazon bestseller, What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children, and the blog Balancing Act. She considers it her life’s work to promote happy, well adjusted people in the future by increasing awareness of how children are spoken to today. [/author]
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