Helping an adolescent child grow up to be a happy, successful, and independent adult has never been easy. Try doing it without a spouse. Or both parents having to work a full-time job. Or the disturbing influences of rapidly innovating technology with its shiny objects that distract kids from everything of value. In times like these, it’s a joy to have the task of parenting distilled to three high-priority imperatives. This guest post from Elisabeth Stitt, parenting coach of Joyful Parenting Coaching, shares her wisdom based on decades of coaching parents and kids.
Looking to up your parenting game? If I had to narrow it down, effective parenting keeps coming back to the same three concepts:
Who is the adult you want to raise in the long run? That’s your end goal. In education, we phrase that as “By the end of this unit, the student will be able to…” As a parent, you might phrase it as, “When my child moves out of my house, I want to have raised an adult who…” What comes to mind when you complete that sentence in your head? How much are your ideas in agreement with your spouse? Do you have 2-3 in common? Let those be the foundation of your parenting decisions.
Now ask yourself, what am I doing right now to develop the characteristics I want to see in my adult child?
Let me offer a little food for thought here: In a recent survey, 90+% of parents surveyed said that having a child grow up to be caring is a top priority. At the same time 81% of the children said their parents value achievement and happiness over caring.
Wow! That’s quite the disconnect. Clearly, the choices parents are making and what they are emphasizing on a day-to-day are sending a different message than the hope in parents’ hearts.
Are your parenting decisions out of sync with your core values? If so, how can you shift that?
Connection is key. When children begin to act out, we do a quick mental check: Are they tired? Are they hungry? Are they too hot or cold? To that, we should always add the question: Is my child feeling disconnected? A disconnected child is almost always an uncooperative one.
Connection is key to a child feeling safe. Children can feel disconnected because they are away from you physically but they can also feel disconnected because you are distracted–lost in your own thoughts, running your own agenda, or absorbed by your phone.
A child who is feeling unsafe (maybe a friend was mean to him at school today) uses his parent to feel grounded again. Even the transition from sleep to wakefulness or from wakefulness to sleep can bring up a child’s insecurities. Slowing down and really connecting with your child (physical affection, gazing warmly, active listening) at the first sign of dysregulation is often the silver bullet which gets things back on track before a real meltdown.
Another big need for children is power and control. When we set up consistent systems, routines and expectations, children can move through their day with much more autonomy. They are not so dependent on us from moment to moment. If every day after dinner they just know that they are to take their dishes to the sink before going to play, they don’t have the interruption (not to mention the shame) of having a parent call them back to do it.
More importantly, in consistent households children can predict their parents’ reactions. Like connection, this adds to children’s sense of security. They know what will will please their parent and what will make him angry. They know what is likely to happen in each part of the day. This trust helps kids regulate themselves. For example, it is easier to wait patiently for dinner if you can be confident that dinner is going to come soon and that when it comes, sitting down at the table will be a friendly and happy part of the day. Likewise, children with a consistent bedtime routine know they are going to have their parents’ attention at the end of the day when they can unburden themselves of the day’s troubles. Consistency frees children up from worry.
If you can keep clarity, connection and consistency in mind as you reflect on your parenting from day to day, chances are you will find yourself being effective both now and in the long run.
More from Elisabeth:
Parenting As a Second Language
“10 Things Kids Need to Be Able to Do on Their Own by Middle School”