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I have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as being a perfect parent. The kids do not come with instruction manuals, and even if you have it figured out for one kid, the next one will still manage to throw you for a loop.
However, over the years of teaching, studying psychology, and doing my best as a parent – which includes making my own mistakes – there are some patterns that hold true in most cases. This is what I would have liked handed to me as a new parent, and in areas where I have experienced success, this is what I have found to hold true. Enjoy.
What’s the Goal?
Most parents have two primary goals for their kids:
1. be self-sufficient
2. be happy
Having both the parent and the child keep those goals in mind can give a common ground to stand on when working through the challenges, especially in the teen years.
Build up with Self-Worth and Respect
Who is more likely to stay above the fray and not be tempted by peer-pressure?
- The one who is strongly confident, even proud of oneself, and holds a sense of self-worth and respect?
- Or the one who is constantly criticized, feeling that no matter how hard one tries, it just doesn’t matter. Life will suck anyway, and there’s nothing one can do about it.
This isn’t a trick question, and the obvious answer is the confident person with a sense of self-worth and respect. The real question here is how to create that person when parenting your child. The goal is to build up your child. If you want your child to have a sense of worthiness and respect, then treat your child with worth and respect, while also behaving in a respectful manner yourself.
The 5:1 Ratio
Yes, sometimes the negatives happen. Sometimes they are even beyond your control. However, keep in mind the five-to-one ratio: it takes 5 positives to counter 1 negative. That means if you have one negative thing to say, it will take five positives just to get the kid back up to point zero. If you want to rise above ground zero, then you need more than five.
Make it Daily
How often do you let your child know that you love him or her? That you are proud of something your child has done? How often do you select a particular talent or aspect of your child’s personality and make note of it and how you are happy for it? It can be a simple thing, but acknowledge it. Look for the opportunities.
Logical Consequences Instead of Punitive
Real life has its own way of teaching. When mistakes (aka learning experiences) are made, allow for the logical consequences to follow. There is no need for punitive punishment such as writing 100 sentences or any consequence that has to be created by you. Instead, allow for an authentic cause-and-effect for both “rewards” and “punishments” in life. One way to do this is to package things in the positive.
Package in the Positive
Psychology studies tell us that people, especially teens, do not respond to punishment – at least not in the way we intend them to. Instead, a more effective approach is to package things in the positive. To simplify this idea:
- Negative Approach: You can’t have X because you haven’t done A, B, and C.
- Positive Approach: You can have X when you do A, B, and C.
- Even More Positive Approach: You can have X when you do A, B, and C, because you have already done Y and Z (acknowledging/reinforcing current accomplishments or positives).
This creates a clear sense of cause-and-effect that mirrors real life while empowering your child to be able to be successful in life.
An extra note on this one: Your kid could be asking to do something that you would never allow as a parent of minor. For this, you can state that your child can have “X” when reaching a point in life where he or she is independent and able to own the potential consequences, and here is what needs to be done to get to that point. My youngest daughter looks forward to certain freedoms when she has posted her associates degree and has a full-time job; before anyone thinks I am being ridiculous, know that her current timeline for accomplishing this is age 17.
The “Sins of the Father” are Not those of the Child
Each person is unique, gets to chart a personal path, and make his or her own learning experiences. It doesn’t matter how much you screwed up in your life; that is for you to own. Sure, use it to guide you, and don’t be a fool as a parent. But also don’t “preemptively punish” your kid for your mistakes, unless you want to create a depressed kid. Find the balance with this one.
On the flip-side, don’t let kids tell you that your mistakes somehow disqualify your advice. Explain that because you have “been there, done that” you are the expert. You are there to guide them.
All the Other Kids…
This argument doesn’t work for the parent nor the child. Again, each person is unique, on a unique path, and needs to be nurtured as such. What makes sense for one kid doesn’t necessarily have to be applied the same way with another. This can get tricky when you have more than one kid in the home. However, just because one sibling did things a certain way doesn’t mean the other should too.
Also, as Sir Ken Robinson points out, we are not born with manufactured dates, and we need to quit treating kids as if they are stuck in a certain “batch” and limited as such. Avoid arbitrarily limiting (or failing to limit) your child only based on age or what most kids do or don’t do; your child is unique and needs to be nurtured as such.
While all of this applies to both boys and girls, I would like to take a moment to emphasize how especially important this is for girls. In our society, girls are often told to “be nice” in the same situations where boys would not be. They are encouraged to suffer the disrespect of others. If they state their views, they are even more quickly oppressed for being insubordinate. We still have a long way to go.
If you want your daughter to be successful in this society, teach her that she is respected and worthy of that respect. Model by showing respect for her.
If you want her to only respect those who are worthy of it, then behave in a respectful manner in order to insist on it being mutual. If she refuses to have anything to do with somebody who is being a jerk, respect her decision, for this is what you want her to do in life. You want her empowered to walk away from bad situations.
If you want her to have a sense of self-worth so that she isn’t apt to be taken advantage of, then build her confidence in all ways possible.
If you want her to feel power over her life, then show her how she has power within cause-and-effect scenarios and, even when things do not go according to plan, she still has power over how she responds to life situations.
If you want her to have a voice, then allow her to speak, and communicate with her in a respectful manner even when disagreeing. Value her perspectives, ask questions, and work together to find common ground.
Short and Simple
I could go on, but the formula above is simple enough to apply on your own to multiple scenarios. It is just that “you reap what you sow,” and don’t be dumbfounded when what grows is that which you planted.
And remember that this isn’t forever. While you will always be your child’s parent, the time of your influence is shorter than you think. However, it will impact your child for the rest of his or her life.