There’s a story that I like to tell parents who approach me for help parenting their children:
A young couple approached a well-known, respected educator in their community for advice on parenting their young son. The educator rubbed his cheek thoughtfully, and then asked, “How old is your son?” The couple answered hastily, “He’s only 5 and a half.” The educator shook his head sorrowfully and replied, “Then you’re about 5 and a half years too late.”
You would think that after thousands and thousands of years, people would have this parenting thing down pat. Granted every child is different, but they are, after all children. How hard could it be?
Well the answer is that if success in parenting depended only on understanding your child, you’d be more than halfway to home base. The problem though, is that parenting is as much about who you are as it is about who your child is.
Let me give an example. Think about your offspring. If you have one child, think about the thing that he does that annoys you the most. If you have more than one child, think about which child gets on your nerves the most. Now ask yourself what exactly it is that annoys you about them.
Have an answer? Now ask yourself, is it really something to get so upset about? Probably, you’ll answer, not. The reason it upsets you so much is because this is an area you need to work on within yourself.
The first step in learning how to parent children effectively has to start from you. That’s why I like to call it parenting from the inside-out. Here are 3 tips you can follow that will help you parent your children from the inside-out:
1. Choose a character trait that you’re weak in, and work on it.
You don’t need to be perfect to be a parent, but you should at least be trying to get there. How would you react if your daughter said, “Mom, I’m only trying for a 75 because it’s impossible to get an A in that class anyway?”
Instead of berating your child for inconsideration, laziness, or willful disobedience, imagine the effect on your child when she sees you clamping down on sarcasm. The example you set will be more powerful and longer-lasting than a 2 minute tongue lashing.
2. Decide what you stand for, and stick to it.
You know you need to set boundaries for your children. But setting boundaries that are arbitrarily based or nitpicky details often doesn’t work. Your children need to see the “big picture” of what your family believes in. Being clear about what your values are (and I don’t care who or what you are, you’ve got to believe in something, whether it’s PC or not) will help your children act responsibly even when you’re not there to tell them what to do.
And one more thing: no gray areas. Children up until the age of 9 are quite concrete. They just don’t handle gray areas well. State your values simply and clearly, and don’t wimp out when the going gets rough.
3. Start young.
Why wait until your child is a teenager to start sharing your values with them? This is probably the only chance you’ll have to say what you stand for without having to face the teenage equivalent of the Appeals Court.
Some people have this bizarre notion of waiting until their children are older so they can “understand things logically” or even better, “make their own decisions about what is right.”
Interestingly enough, these are the same people who zealously ban Twinkies and playground trees (the overhanging branches could be dangerous), and who forbid their children from playdates, trips to the park, or other excursions for fear of molesters, kidnappers, and other such folk.
So, ready to start? Leave a comment, and let me know what you plan to work on first.