Keys to Successful Parenting
By Elizabeth Pantley, Author of Perfect Parenting and Kid Cooperation
Raising children is a complicated job. There are times when every parent and caregiver can use some help. There are many books available to parents to help you get through the day-to-day issues you face with your children. In the vast assortment of books and articles about parenting, you should be able to find ideas for just about any problem or issue you are currently dealing with. Every child is different, and every parent is different. Because of this, there are no cookie-cutter solutions that will work for everyone. I suggest that you review all the solutions you discover and take a few quiet minutes to think about them. Modify the suggestions to best suit your family, and don't be afraid to try out more than one until you discover your best answer. Keep in mind that following a few important rules will make every situation with your child easier to handle, regardless of which solution you choose to implement. I call these The Perfect Parenting Keys.
Key #1: Take charge.
If your child doesn't clearly understand that YOU are the boss, even minor issues can cause you major headaches. Your first response to this statement may be, "Oh, but my children know who's the boss in our house." You may think they do, but there are many ways we give mixed messages and confuse our kids over this issue. The keys presented here will help you identify the areas where you can make some changes. The first step to taking charge is simply to give yourself permission to be in charge, and begin expecting your children to obey you. With this solid foundation you will build a loving, trusting relationship with your children. And, perhaps even more important, you will be able to lead your children into adulthood with values, wisdom and life skills that only a strong, supportive parent can impart.
Key #2: Tell, don't ask.
One popular mistake parents make is asking instead of telling. The way you phrase your words determines whether your children see your request as optional or required. Banish all wishy-washy phrases from your vocabulary. When you want your child to do something (or stop doing something) make a clear, specific statement that leaves no room for confusion. Take a look at the difference between these two types of requests:
It would be nice if somebody cleaned up this family room.
Steven, please put all the toys back in the playroom. Kyle, please gather the dishes and put them in the dishwasher.
Kids, it's getting late, don't you think it's time to get ready for bed?
It's eight o'clock. Time to shut off the TV and put on your pajamas.
I sure wish you'd get down from there.
That's not a place to climb. Please get down.
Gather up your stuff now, okay?
Please get your backpack, jacket and shoes, and get in the car.
Key #3: When you say it, mean it. The first time.
Some parents are in the habit of repeating a request over and over and over (and over!) before taking any action to see that a child complies with the request. Do you know anyone like this? (Perhaps intimately?) Children have radar that tells them exactly when adults really mean what they say, and when they don't. Some parents really mean it only after repeatedly ignored requests. This is usually highlighted by a red face, a tense body, a child's middle name clenched between gnashing teeth, and a fist pounding the table to the tune of, "…and I mean it young man!" Make yourself a promise to mean what you say - the first time you say it. What this means is that after you've made a clear statement of what is required (see Key #2) you take action. For example, if you call your child in from the yard and he doesn't immediately respond you will have to put forth the extra effort to go out to the yard, take him by the hand and announce, "When I call you I expect you to come." The beauty of this style is that you only have to "prove" yourself once or twice for your child to understand that, indeed, when you say it you mean it. The first time. (For those with older children who have already learned that they can ignore you the first few times with no repercussions, it may take more "proving" before they believe that you have really changed. Your children can learn to believe that when you say it you mean it. Hang in there. Be consistent. It's definitely worth the effort.)
Key #4: Be brief and specific.
There is a disease that is rampant among parents. It's called lecture-babble-itis. The most obvious symptom is an emotional run-on sentence that goes on forever, punctuated by highlights of previous award wining monologues. As an example, you send your children upstairs with a polite request to get ready for bed. Half an hour later you discover that they're having a pillow fight. The parent infected with lecture-babble-itis says, "I sent you kids up here thirty minutes ago to get ready for bed and nobody's even STARTING to get ready and it's after eight o'clock and it's a school night and WHY do we have to go through this EVERY single night couldn't you just ONCE get ready for bed without my getting angry about it and why is this room such a MESS again can't you ever ….." (Is it any wonder why kids roll their eyes?) There is a cure for this dreaded disease. It involves making an effort to talk less, but say more. In other words, be very specific in your description, but use as few words as necessary. Even when the kids have ignored the first polite request, the above disastrous speech can be transformed into something like this, "Kids, it's eight thirty. Pajamas. Now." As you can see, this statement is clear and short. It is easy to understand. The advantages of using this technique are twofold. Your kids will cooperate more frequently with a brief, specific statement than they will with a lengthy tirade. And, it's fun and easy for you to do this!
Key #5: Don't give in to nagging, whining and pressure.
Many parents start out on the right track, but are derailed by an incredibly persistent child. It seems that when children couple their youthful energy with an extraordinary ability to pinpoint their parent's weak spots, the result is disaster. If you're doing your job as a parent there are many times when your decisions won't be popular with your kids. When your child is nagging, whining and pleading with you, it's a sure sign that you've made the right decision. It's also a sign that you need to disengage from your youngster and teach him that you won't be swayed by his persistence. Your most important goal as a parent is NOT to make your children happy on a short-term basis. It's to raise capable, responsible human beings. There are many times when your children will be unhappy with your decisions. Usually, this means you've made the right decision! We have an incredible amount of information and knowledge at our fingertips, more than any other generation of parents in our history. Take advantage of this information. Read. Think. And be confident in your actions.
Key #6: Give choices, ask questions.
A primary goal of all children is to become independent. Instead of fighting against this very natural process, a wise parent will use it to his advantage. As an example, let's look at the very common problem of a child's messy bedroom. A parent can rightly expect that a child's room be neat and clean. A typical mistake is for the parent to demand that the child clean it - on the parent's time schedule, and to the parent's exact specifications. The typical child responds with a full-blown temper tantrum, which ignites the parent's adult-sized temper tantrum, which results in a lot of anger, and a still-messy room. A better choice is to engage the child's decision-making skills and utilize his desire to be in control of his own room and his own life. A parent might offer several well-thought-out choices, such as, "Would you like to clean your room after school today, or would you prefer to do it after baseball practice tomorrow?" Another choice might be, "What would you like to do first, change your bedding or vacuum your carpet?" Yet another choice would be, "Would you like to clean your room yourself, or shall I help you?" It's clear that a child will respond better to any of these choices than he would to the statement, "Clean your room and do it now." Another way to approach this problem is to ask helpful questions and direct the child into coming up with solutions on his own. Therefore you might ask, "I notice that your homework is scattered all over your room. Do you think it might be easier to keep track of if you create a 'homework place'? How can I help you solve this problem?" Yet another example of this approach is to take the time to discuss the issue with your child and ask for his ideas. "I know the mess in your room doesn't bother you, but I find it difficult to change your bed or put away your clothes. Can you help me come up with some solutions?" As you can see, any of these techniques provide the parent with a variety of ways to encourage the child to become involved in solving the problem.
Key #7: Use rules and routines.
Chores, homework, mealtime, bedtime, getting out the door in the morning. These are the things life is made of. If you have very specific rules and routines you will find that things flow. If you don't - chaos. It's well worth the time to establish family priorities, rules and schedules for the usual daily routines. The first part of this key takes more than a few minutes of thought. You'll need to sit down and take time to ponder your daily activities. You'll need to make some decisions about priorities and what's most important in your family. Once you've done this, create charts to cover the steps involved in each major task, such as the morning routine, the after school routine, or the bedtime routine. Purchase and post a large family calendar to show all the family activities and commitments. (This helps the adults in the family stay organized just as much as it helps the kids!) A second part of this key is to evaluate your expectations for your children. Create a list of rules. These rules should cover expected behavior by clearly identifying two things: what is NOT allowed AND what behavior IS expected. In other words, listing, "No fighting" as a family rule is only the first part of the equation. "Be kind and respectful to each other" clarifies the important concluding concept. When everyone knows what to expect you'll find yourself nagging and complaining much less, and the kids cooperating much more.
Key #8: Build a foundation of love, trust and respect.
Imagine that you've been invited to a friend's home for dinner. Your friend welcomes you at the door and you step inside. Suddenly, your host shouts, "What is the matter with you! Your shoes are all muddy and you're getting my carpet dirty!" Embarrassed you mumble, "Sorry" and remove your shoes. As you do, you notice the hole in your sock, and so does your friend, who announces, "Geez. Don't you think you could have dressed properly for dinner? You look like a slob." As you take your place at the table, your host knocks your elbow off the table with a whispered "tsk, tsk". The dinner conversation is primarily your friend's story about a guest that joined them for dinner last night who had lovely manners and no holes in her socks. The story is sprinkled with your friend's occasional corrections to your table manners. When you finish your meal you stand up only to hear your friend say, "It sure would be nice if somebody helped clear the table." I'm sure you get my drift by now. Many parents treat their children in ways that they would never treat a friend. In their efforts to raise respectable children, they become so focused on the end goal that they don't realize that the primary message coming though to their children is not a pleasant one. Take a close look at your daily interactions with your children. Make sure that the primary message to them is, "I love you, I trust you, and I respect you." Children who are confident that they loved, trusted and respected by the important adults in their lives will respond overall in a much more pleasant way. How do you get this message through to your children? First, by giving them what they want most from you - your time. It's much more effective to give small chunks of time every day than to try to pack in a "quality" experience once a month. Second, give them your ear. Children thrive when they have someone who really listens to them. It's not as important to give advice and solve problems as it is to just plain listen. Third, praise and encourage your children daily. Look for reasons, both big and small, to give your children positive feedback. Fourth, tell them you love them. Tell them you trust them. Tell them you respect them. Use your words, and your actions to convey this most important message of all, "I love you, I trust you, and I respect you."
Key #9: Think first, act second.
The times when you act before you think reflect the worst moments in parenting. Those are the times when you lose your patience; those horrible moments when you screech, bellow, threaten or hit. These moments occur most often to parents who are unprepared for the parenting job. None of us are born knowing how to be parents. We can love our kids with our whole heart and soul, but we aren't born with a gene that gives us an instinctual knowledge of the right consequence to impart when our children misbehave, nor do we automatically know how to solve daily child rearing problems. We won't learn a Perfect Parenting process by chance. It takes research, thought and planning to decide upon the best solution to any problem. I don't think any chef, no matter how skilled, could enter my kitchen and without any direction, recipe or ingredients end up creating a four-course meal with a five-star desert. It would increase the odds of our having a delicious meal if that person had access to my best cookbook, and passage to the local grocery store. In much the same way, you will be a much more successful parent if you have access to ideas and solutions whenever you come across a parenting problem. Whenever you come across a situation that baffles you or creates strife in your family life, take a few minutes to look up ideas in your parenting books, and talk to educated and experienced parents. Contemplate how the ideas fit into your parenting style, how they match up to the personality of your child, and how they might work for you. Then create a plan of action. And, then, keeping the Perfect Parenting Keys in mind, follow through.
Excerpted from Perfect Parenting, The Dictionary of 1,000 Parenting Tips by Elizabeth Pantley, with permission from NTC/Contemporary Publishing, copyright 1999.