Parenting is tough. It is a great challenge and a great investment. And the only return we expect is the health and happiness of our precious beneficiaries- our children.
In “big picture” terms, all parents want the same thing for their children. We want them to live their life to its fullest potential. But what is the purpose of everyday parenting? What is the purpose of our day-to-day decisions and responses as parents? There are several books on parenting that attempt to answer this question and I have read many of them. They make a lot of sense while you are reading them. However, the life of a parent is full of unique and often urgent problems that make it hard to apply what those books teach. Which chapter of which book do you refer to when your toddler is having a meltdown? How about your angst-y teenager?
So what works? Is there research on parenting practices that show the best results? Of course there is! Let us look at the science of parenting and then try to make sense of the art of parenting.
The Styles of Parenting
Diana Baumrind , whose research is known as “Baumrind’s Parenting Typology” found what she considered to be the four basic elements that could help shape successful parenting: high vs low responsiveness and high vs low demand. Based on these elements there are 4 basic parenting styles
Authoritative parents delicately balance the qualities of responsive-ness and demanding-ness. Responsive-ness refers to the warmth and empathy that a parent gives to a child. Responsive parents accept the child’s unique needs, abilities and qualities while staying attuned to their feelings. Demanding-ness, refers to the limits or expectations set by the parent. Such limits are set preemptively, with the rationale explained to the child in age appropriate lingo . Assertion of “parental power” or consequences (never corporal) are used for very specific circumstances and sparingly. This kind of parenting has been shown to produce the best outcome.
7 Things You Can Do Today To Be A Parent With Purpose
1.Be a model for your child: Children learn behavior, social skills and culture by imitating the adults in their life. You cannot expect your child to eat their veggies if you are having grilled cheese. They will not learn honesty if they watch you lie. They will not learn to be calm if they see you lose your temper. I understand that it is hard to keep it together and do the right thing all the time. If you slip, accept your mistake and apologize. They will learn humility through your actions.
2.Be interested in their interests: Try to note when your kids are most chatty- bedtime, at the dinner table, in the car. Strike up a conversation when they are most likely to respond. It helps to start with an anecdote from your day before you ask them about theirs. Learn about your children’s interests — music, sports, books — and try to learn about what they are into. Plan activities with your children that you know they will enjoy. And don’t cancel said plans!
3.Set fair and consistent rules: Make the effort to explain the logic and rationale for your rules. Your kids are more likely to follow them if they think you are using your good judgement for their benefit as opposed to “because I said so”. Be consistent with your rules- and that means all adults in charge of the child should know the rules! Structure gives kids a sense of security and also helps establish good habits.
If there is conflict about following the rules, you have several options based on the specific circumstance. If the rule pertains to safety or other core non-negotiable value then you have to put your parental foot down (If they still don’t agree to follow the rules, refer to #5 below). If the conflict is about something that may not make a big difference, it’s OK to let them have their way, once in a while! For other situations, try to have a discussion and solve the conflict as a team. Come to a compromise that may pertain to a temporary or permanent tweak to the rule.
4.Add the “why” to the “what” and the “how”: Instead of giving instructions to your child, try reasonable and logical rules. Like in mathematics, if you just memorize a formula, it will be both hard to recall and to use. If you, however, understand how it was derived, you are more likely to remember it and apply it. Similarly, it is easier for kids to comply with rules if they know why they are following them.
5.Learn to punish effectively: Hitting, spanking or otherwise physically hurting your child is NEVER the right answer. There is no, I repeat, no benefit to corporal punishment. Just to clarify, please do not hit children. The only thing they learn from physical punishment is that it is OK to use violence. There is an ocean of research that supports these statements. This is not “just my opinion”. This is the fact.
However, consequences to bad behavior are necessary and can be done in a safe, respectful manner. Try not to punish when you have lost your temper- you will probably not make the right decision. Clearly identify the action the child is getting the punishment for. It is not helpful to punish them for “being bad all the time”. Explain in plain words why their behavior is bad- “it is unsafe for you to break curfew and that makes me worried”. Tell them what the punishment is going to be- ” No video games for a week”. Let them know how they should handle a similar circumstance next time- “call me a half hour before end of curfew if you expect to be late”.
6.Listen with respect: When your children are talking to you, stop whatever you are doing and listen. Let them speak and express themselves without interruption. Show them that their thoughts and opinions matter to you. When you respond, try not to be angry or sarcastic- they will shut down. You can disagree without making them feel inferior.
7.Love without restraint: There is no such thing as too much love. And children do not get spoilt by love and affection. Sometimes we mistake permissiveness or material objects for love- and too much of those things can spoil a child. Express love through the time you spend with them- conversing, reading, taking trips, doing arts or crafts, looking at old family pictures…you get the drift. Express your love through touch- giving your baby a massage, hugs and kisses, doing your kid’s hair, giving your toddler a bath. Express your love by showing genuine praise for their efforts. A child raised in an environment replete with love grows up with a strong sense of security and self-esteem.
Being a parent is a delightful responsibility that seems, sometimes, to come with one to many ups and downs. These simple approaches can smooth out a lot of the bumps on this roller-coaster journey.