Parenting isn’t an easy task. It’s not something we learned at school and it’s not something that we really took the time to study before we were thrown into the job. The only real lessons we learned about parenting were the ones our own parents taught us through their own parenting — and they weren’t always the best.
So what do we do when our kids aren’t cooperating or when they are unruly and have strayed off the path we want to see them on? How do we set them straight and ensure they grow up to be decent human beings?
Here are a few parenting guidelines that will help you steer the ship when the waters get rough.
1. It’s Called Parenting for a Reason
What is parenting really about? The parent! That’s why it’s called parenting. If it were about the child, it would be called childing.
What am I really getting at here?
Simple. Awesome parenting is about self-management. In other words, parents who do an incredible job raising their kids spend a whole lot of time managing their own behavior rather than that of their children.
Let’s take a closer look…
Our kids were not born into this world to follow all of our rules and live up to our expectations. They were born to explore this life and turn it into an experience that brings them joy and satisfaction. And as they explore, they will do and try all kinds of things that may leave you rattled.
Our job is to manage our own emotional state as they do their exploring. When our toddler crawls toward a staircase, our job is to calmly help them up or down the stairs and/or redirect them to a safer spot. Our toddler did not aim for the stairs to freak us out — they were just being a toddler who was exploring their environment.
This applies to our teens as well. They may explore friendships with people who we feel are not the best influences. They may experiment with drinking, drugs and late nights (among other things). Why do they do these things? Not to piss us off, but rather to figure out who they are and what they mean in the world.
Understanding this premise is important for the purpose of understanding our role as a parent and lays a foundation for self-management when our kids do not behave as we might want them to.
2. Our Actions Speak Louder than our Words
Our kids watch every move we make and model our behavior at every opportunity.
From a very young age, our kids observe absolutely everything we do. They watch how we talk to people, how we treat others, how we react to difficult situations and they absorb how we think about every subject. They know how we manage our money, they know how we feel about our jobs and they know how we greet our guests when they walk through our door. They learn from us and they mimic everything we do.
When we become angry because someone isn’t behaving the way they ought to, they learn that it’s okay to rant and rave when others aren’t cooperating. When we swear at the driver who cuts us off, they learn to swear as well when other people do dumb things.
When we belittle our spouse for not putting the dishes in the dishwasher properly, they learn to speak to their siblings the same way. And when we ignore someone who is talking to us because we are busy responding to an email, they learn about our priorities and take their cues from us.
Our actions are integral to how our kids behave. When we don’t like what we see in front of us, the first thing we need to do is look in the mirror. If we want our kids to manage themselves effectively, we need to ask ourselves if we are modelling that behavior. Are we managing ourselves effectively even when they are not able to manage themselves? Do we stay calm when they are distraught or do we yell back when they are yelling at us?
Do we demonstrate resilience after a fall or a failure or do we sulk for a while believing that life is hard? Do we behave in a kind and generous manner to others or do we feel like we need to protect our assets? What about moods — are we joyful and warm or are we broody and sarcastic? The bottom line is that our kids learn from us. Are we teaching them what we want them to learn?
3. Our Kids Want Our Approval
Believe it or not, our kids want a good, harmonious relationship with us.
As a general rule, kids want their parents to love them. In fact, kids want their parents to like them and approve of them too!
What does that mean? It means that many kids will go to great lengths to build a positive, harmonious relationship with their parents, including hiding and lying.
Many adults I have spoken to have shared how lying is the worst thing their kids could do — worse than the crime itself. They share how they can handle anything their kids throw at them, but lying is utterly unacceptable. When I explain that kids use lying as a tactic to preserve their relationship with their parents, they begin to understand the role that they have played in designing a relationship where the child feels a need to lie in order to feel safe.
Parents unknowingly build the kind of relationship with their kids where there is harmony when their child obeys and does what the parent wants. They reward their kids with treats or positive affirmations when their child performs accordingly, and discipline them when the behavior is less than appropriate.
Kids learn early on what they need to do to please their parents. As such, they hide or lie about the things they know will be less pleasing to their parents. Unintentionally, parents build conditional relationships with their kids that are dependent on their approval.
Interestingly, as parents, most of us want our kids to be independent thinkers who are able to use their judgement to make wise decisions as they become adults. Unfortunately, this model of parenting forces kids to either acquiesce to the preferences of their parents, or face their disapproval. Bit of a trap, don’t you think?
What’s the alternative? We need to help our kids learn naturally from their experiences, not from the approval or disapproval that we inflict. We need to allow them to make mistakes, and we need to help them learn to pick themselves up and move on.
4. What You Focus On Grows
When we look at our kids, what do we notice?
Do we notice the good? The strengths? The potential? Or do we notice the messy room, the broodiness and the poor marks? What are we paying attention to, and what do we communicate? How much of our time do we spend saying “Don’t”? “Don’t hit your sister.” “Don’t make a mess.” “Don’t leave your dishes in the sink.” “Don’t be disrespectful.”
The bottom line in this parenting lesson is that when we focus on the things that are good and awesome about our kids, they expand. When we focus on what needs to be fixed and what they are doing wrong, the relationship becomes strained and difficult. When we see our kids in their best light, they shine! When we see their flaws, they dim and they hide.
When we tell our kids what we do want instead of what we don’t, life becomes a whole lot easier. Focus on what you want.