Parenting 101: Basic Fundamentals in Surviving Parenting from Toddler to Teen
Knowledge is Power
I do believe that children are our future. Every child is born with unique traits and dispositions. They are products of their genetic makeup, the environment they are raised in and the people that influence them. There is no basic formula for raising the perfect child. There is no perfect child. Every human being has strengths and struggles; it’s what makes us who we are. As parents we do our best and sometimes it is hard to know the correct path to take. We try hard raising our most precious gifts into healthy, happy, successful adults. When I was a child I remember watching School House Rock; some of the messages still stick with me. One message in particular is “Knowledge is Power”. Parenting is like any other endeavor we embark on, we must prepare ourselves with knowledge. There are many resources out there to give us guidelines and advice. I am a big fan of Love and Logic. I was lucky enough to attend a seminar that Foster Kline spoke in. He told a story about teaching a child consequences; I found it enlightening and bought the Love and Logic book shortly after. I have handed out copies of the book to new parents and recommend it to anyone that tells me they are struggling with parenting their child. If you are not a fan of reading there are also videos available and many schools and resource facilities host the Love and Logic classes as well.
The Model of Parenting
Things have happened in the last few decades that have changed the model of parenting. Families have changed. We have left behind the days where having a two parent family with only dad working outside the home was more common place. We learn to parent from our parents. But what happens when children spend more and more time with alternative care givers or even alone while parents work. Today there are more single parent families, grandparents raising grandchildren, and blended families. These different living situations bring a different dynamic to the table. However, no matter the family structure there are simple guidelines to understand, guidelines that will help you keep your sanity.
Extensions of Ourselves
We all love our children. We want to give them everything, protect them from everything and never let them fail. That isn’t possible. We learn from our experiences. Children have to be allowed to fail to learn how to succeed. If everything is handed to them how will they learn to earn anything? Many of us see our children as extensions of ourselves. We want to give them all the opportunities we missed, give them things we didn’t have, do the things we always wanted and didn’t. The problem is our children are individuals with their own paths to take. Our job is to guide them by setting clear boundaries and expectations. We also must allow them to be who they are and to learn from their own experiences. I know how hard it is to see the tears and hurt in your child’s eyes because they wanted to accomplish something so badly and did not achieve their goal. I understand the urge to cry with them because it hurts to see them so sad and you want to protect them; instead all you can say is “I know you tried your best and I am proud of you.” What a child needs most is unconditional love, support, understanding and clear boundaries and expectations.
I Call You Son Because Your Mine
The Importance of Boundaries and Expectations
The most basic cornerstone of practical parenting is developing clear and healthy boundaries. When my daughters were nine and ten we went to a friend’s house for dinner. My friend had cooked a nice meal and made dessert. I worked a lot and we didn’t usually go to other people’s houses to eat. I spoke to my girls before going about how people have different tastes and cooking styles. I told them they were expected to try everything and be polite. I also made sure they understood if they didn’t they would not get any dessert. Of course, my 10 year old would not eat. My friend couldn’t believe I was serious about my oldest daughter not getting dessert after she would not eat dinner. He honestly thought I was being mean. My view was I set up clear boundaries and expectations. How is it mean to give my child a sugary treat when she wouldn’t even try food that was more nutritious for her? Even though I didn’t want her to be hungry I had to stick to the ground rules I had laid out, otherwise I would have lost credibility. If the lines are not clear it is easy to overstep them.
Children will defy authority. It is their nature. They are learning to interact with the world around them. You hear people all the time say a child is better for a temporary caregiver then they are for their parents. It is because the child hasn’t tested the boundaries with the caregiver yet. As a childcare provider I seen children go from “Jekyll” in my classroom to “Hyde” the minute their parents came to pick them up. I have seen these children in public screaming at their parents when they were so polite in class. I even seen a little boy that was so shy and soft spoken in class throw uncontrollable fits and slap his mother in other settings with her. I was so shocked that this could be the same child. Later the mother was married and the step father set clear boundaries with the child. In time the little boy’s behavior in public with her drastically improved. The amazing thing is not only was he better behaved he was happier and so was his mother. A child wants and needs to know that you have expectations for them. When they accomplish goals and are praised for doing well they feel empowered and capable. It is a cycle of positive reinforcement instead of a barrage of negative and stressful conflicts.
Happiness in the Little Joys
It is ok to tell your child no. You are not doing your child any favors by always giving them what they want. Children will ask for things, simple or extravagant you are the parent you get to decide. You’re in charge because you are the adult. You have more knowledge and experience. Your children rely on you for your guidance. I knew a family that drank cases of soda. The children ages four and five were allowed to go to the refrigerator when they wanted and get a can of soda whenever they wanted. Their mother told me she drinks soda it wouldn’t be fair not to let her children. I thought about this. I drank soda when my daughters were younger. I know how bad a can of pop is for an adult. I did not feel guilty not letting my children have them. I felt it was more important that my children have healthy choices and develop healthy eating habits so I made a choice. When my children asked for a pop I usually said no. The expectation I set with soda is they were occasionally allowed one during certain events. As the adult I made the choice to try to foster healthier habits for my children.
The Child is Serious
Negotiation is not the same as saying no. You’re the parent. Trust me when I tell you that it is imperative to establish “no means no” in children when they are young because as teenagers the game changes. Teenagers are trying to find out who they are. They are retesting boundaries and pushing back against the rules just because they are rules. I knew as a teenager that if my parents said I couldn’t do something I would argue with my mother until she gave up and told me “fine do whatever you want” and I did. I learned from the experience however, when my daughters would start to argue with me I would ask them “what happens when you argue?” the response was “It will still be no and I will lose other privileges.” Bingo! I had taught them that from an early age. They understood if I said no it was for a reason and it would remain no. They respected my authority and believed in my wisdom as a parent. Hopefully as mothers themselves now, I have taught them how to set up clear boundaries with their children and elevate so much stress from parenting. Parenting is a gift. There is nothing more amazing then watching your child grow. To see them accomplish their goals and grow into happy adults. There will always be tough times because it is the nature of things, but with the right tools and attitude anything can be overcome.
The Right Way?
The most important lesson to remember is there is no perfect formula for instantly raising the perfect kid. There is no such thing as perfect in human beings. However we can always strive to do our best and encourage our children to do the same. Talk to your children, miscommunication and misunderstanding is a basis of conflict. I have been so amazed to discover the “why” behind some of the actions of, not only my own children, but the children I have cared for as well. The best parent is one that tries to understand and teaches by example. I have learned that “do as I say and not as I do” does not work either. We can’t expect our children to be better than we are if we aren’t striving to do our best as well. What do we do if we feel like a failure? Don’t! You can’t be a failure if you do your best. If you make your decisions with love and understanding and you allow your children to learn form their own mistakes without rushing to bail them out, then you are doing an awesome job. We never stop learning and we never have all the answers, that is life and it’s OK. Parenting is the hardest job in the world but it is also the most rewarding.