The most important thing to keep in mind when parenting is making sure the message of love gets through. No matter the age or issue, whatever the looming consequences or agonizing disappointment involved, you are the adult. It’s important to guide your child, more closely for kids in their preteens and younger, but let them make age-appropriate choices. And love them through it all. In order for young people to grow up to be confident, grounded adults, they need to know they are loved unconditionally by family, the first group to which they seek admittance and belonging.
Now, how to ensure your kids know beyond any reasonable doubt that they are lovable and loved? From the early years through those strange teen years, do not engage in power struggles. Resolving a tug-of-war terminates with a winner and a loser; do you want your son or daughter to be a loser or will the parent/child relationship be skewed by you taking a loss? That’s a lose/lose proposition. You don’t have to display and exert power over your children in order to be a successful parent. And how exhausting, for both parties, to engage in continual struggles.
Be on the same team. You’re the coach. You introduce and model decision-making, giving those little ones lots of practice. Do you want apple slices or crackers? Which book shall we read, this or that? The tiny seed of seeing themselves as having the ability to choose for themselves takes root. In the back of your mind, build in opportunities for your kids to make appropriate choices at all ages, starting where you are.
How do choices relieve power struggles? You’re giving them bits of power, allowing them to explore who they are. Additionally, like every good coach, you’re teaching the rules of the game, which change as the young person grows and spends more time on their own and with friends. Again, you’re not setting a limit once and then shouting it at him or her when they cross that line. You’re calmly explaining situations that may arise, because you know they will based on your own experience, and helping them apply critical thinking skills to different options they may face.
The most difficult aspect for me of the parenting verb was the part where you stand back and let them live a lesson. Remind yourself you’ve done your part, giving choices, setting limits with clearly defined consequences both at home and out there in the big world, communicating regularly through words and actions the unconditional love you have for them; now just be there regardless of which way things unfold. Breathe. Do it all over again.
- First: Make sure the message of love gets through no matter what. This does not mean being a pushover or a “yes” person. It also will include allowing your child, knee-high or towering over you, to feel the pain that occurs in life.
- Second: Empower your child by allowing them to make all age-appropriate choices. This is not a free-for-all. The number of choices per day needs to start out small, like the toddler, and grow in number and type as the young person goes through middle and high school. The plan is to give them more and more choices until they’re making them all.
- Third: Avoid power struggles. Clearly teach the limits and outline consequences for violating them, communicating always that these are in place because you love them. Bring to their attention all of the choices they have and explain, unemotionally, that those are balanced with guardrails you set up to keep them out of situations they’re not ready for yet.
I’ll write more about those three tenets in upcoming posts, same title but different dates and pictures. Believe me, parenting is time-consuming and messy if you’re doing it right, no getting around it. If your family is so controlled there are no issues, you’ve got kids who want to express themselves and be accepted. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I have some good ideas to share!
Sara’s education and experience: B.A. Ed; M.S. Counseling; teacher grades K & 2/3, educator for childcare providers, training in Positive Discipline and Growing, parent educator, program director of crisis nursery, including parent support, staff management & training, stay home mom 16 years with two sons born 19 months apart, medical transcription for 10 years in order to stay home, substitute teacher grades K through 12. Home now.