I have been working with families—teaching children, directing schools, and consulting with parents—for 45 years. Yikes! Accompanying parents on their parenting pathways became my life’s work. As the years have crept by and I have worked with hundreds of families, a core set of beliefs has become clear to me.
In recognition of Parenting Pathways, Inc. 15 year anniversary this month, I offer 15 tips about parenting that will make a difference in your children’s and your lives now. More importantly, they will set your children on the path towards becoming competent and satisfied adults.
- The greatest medicine for your child is taking care of yourself. Make sure your own emotional and physical houses are in order. Remember the Oxygen Mask Instruction— before you put one on your child, put one on yourself. Often a problem with your child reflects something going on with you or your marriage.
- Nothing is all good or all bad. There is no totally right or wrong way to parent, and there is certainly not one way. But going overboard in any direction usually causes problems. (Never have sugar. Never watch TV, etc…) Life with children is about balance and compromise, as is all life.
- It’s for now, not forever. People and behaviors are fluid. Your child will not hate you forever for making the hard and unpopular call. Your child and her icky behavior will change. And tomorrow is a new day that will bring new chances and opportunities. Believe it.
- Parent modeling is a child’s most powerful teacher. Children are quick to sniff out hypocrisy, so make sure you truly practice what you preach. Live the life you expect your child to live. Otherwise, he will not.
- Children need have-to’s. There are some things about which children have no choice. (And you will have to be the meanest mom in the world.) Make sure those expectations are reasonable and attainable, enforce them, and counter balance them with plenty of choice. Life will be filled with have-to’s, so your child better get used to it.
- Own your own stuff and take a do-over. Take responsibility for your missteps and mistakes, and your child will learn to do the same. And take a do-over when you’re not happy with what you’ve said or done. Offer your child a do-over, too. Everyone deserves the chance to do it better.
- Tolerate your child’s unhappiness. He needs to learn that his displays of discontent will not change your expectations of him. No one is happy all the time. And if you can’t tolerate your child’s unhappiness, then you shouldn’t be in the business of parenting.
- Allow your child to struggle, make mistakes, and even fail. Do not rush in to rescue him, as that is parenting for the short term. His struggle is critical to learning and growing. And failure is a way of figuring out how things work. Do not step in and sabotage his learning because you are uncomfortable with his hardships and unhappiness. Know that the things your do, you say, and you enforce–the hard calls–will echo in your child’s teenage ears. You are building the foundation for your child’s behaviors and the choices he will make in the future.
- Allow your child to thoroughly experience the consequences of his actions and choices. The lesson is in his having to endure the consequence, not in you being his savior.
- Help your child to cultivate resilience. It is in the space beyond the comfortable that resilience is born. Do not insulate your child from healthy risk-taking. Allow him to go there and figure out what to do.
- Support and encourage your child’s autonomy and cultivate self-reliance. Do not do for your child what she is capable (or almost capable) of doing for herself. Even if it is wrong or not good enough, even if you are in a hurry or it isn’t expedient, insist that she do it.
- Expect your child to make choices. He must learn that life is about choices and trade-offs. He can’t do or have everything. No one can. Many lessons grow out of bad choices.
- Life is not fair. Stop trying to make it so for your child. Fair does not mean “equal.” Fair means getting what you need or deserve at that time. And remember, both “Why?” and “It’s not fair!” are complaints that mean “I don’t like it.” That’s all. It has nothing to do with real fairness.
- Do not rave too easily. In this era of “everyone gets a trophy” children have a misguided notion of what they deserve as well as of their own importance and skill. It may feel good in the moment, but it is not connected to reality. Save your praise for your child’s actions, and offer it sparingly and meaningfully. (And while at, stop saying “Good job!”)
- Nurture your connection to your child. Take time to experience and enjoy life from his perspective, doing with him the things he loves to do. Let him feel his significance to you. Know that his relationship with you is his primary model for his other relationships.