I recently had lunch with one of my mentors, who’s a seasoned child, adolescent and family psychologist with a local practice. As we began discussing the roller coaster of parenting, I conveyed some of the challenges I was experiencing in my own journey as a parent. He said something that struck me. “Parenting is never a smooth or easy process; it’s usually very messy, convoluted and misguided.” This made an impression on me in part because it normalized my struggles. In retrospect, I believe that there is a great deal of truth to this. Parenting is a learning process. As parents, we are destined to fall short, disappoint and make mistakes. As time goes on, if we remain open to learning and growing along with our children, the hope is that we learn how best to support them, connect with them and meet their needs.
I frequently encounter employees who share their own struggles associated with parenting. Like me, most of them are looking for methods they can employ to be more effective. In his recent book, The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting, Dr. Laurence Steinberg, an expert on adolescent and teenage development asserts, “Although most parents do a pretty good job of raising their kids, truly effective parenting means not just relying on natural instincts but also on knowing what works and why.” From his perspective, Dr. Steinberg, author of approximately 400 articles and essays on development during the teenage years and the author or editor of 17 books, outlines the 10 most important considerations of parenting and discusses these concepts in depth. Below you will find a few that resonated with me as I reflected on my role as a parent and in my work with children and families over the years.
What you do matters. What you do makes a difference. “Your kids are watching you. Don’t just react on the spur of the moment. Ask yourself, ‘What do I want to accomplish, and is this likely to produce that result?’” Human beings are hardwired to pay more attention to behavior than language. Keep in mind that as a parent, one of your roles is to serve as a model for your kids. You are constantly contributing to the formation of their relational blueprint, and they will both consciously and unconsciously imitate what you do.
You cannot be too loving. It is simply not possible to spoil a child with love. “What we often think of as the product of spoiling a child is never the result of showing a child too much love. It is usually the consequence of giving a child things in place of love — things like leniency, lowered expectations or material possessions.” Because you are balancing the demands of a career (i.e., shiftwork, overtime and being drafted) in addition to being a parent, the temptation may be to supplement affection with monetary or material items. Simply put, they are not comparable and there is no substitute for the real thing. Ten minutes during which you are dialed in to your child’s world and providing them with a sense of emotional comfort and connection is more valuable than anything you could buy for them.
Establish and set rules. “If you don’t manage your child’s behavior when he is young, he will have a hard time learning how to manage himself when he is older and you aren’t around. Any time of the day or night, you should always be able to answer these three questions: Where is my child? Who is my child with? What is my child doing? The rules your child has learned from you are going to shape the rules he applies to himself.” This is crucial to the success of your child. There is a developmental window of time between early childhood and adolescence where kids will be open to adopting rules, values and expectations. During the teenage years, their peer group may take priority in terms of what is most important, relevant or acceptable; if not previously established, the structure and accountability you attempt to impose may be rejected. Early on, get to know your child’s peers, as well as their parents.
Explain your rules and decisions. “Good parents have expectations they want their child to live up to. Generally, parents overexplain to young children and underexplain to adolescents. What is obvious to you may not be evident to a 12-year-old. He doesn’t have the priorities, judgment or experience that you have.” The old adage of “because I said so” is probably outdated. Offering an explanation about your rationale for a decision makes your child feel included in the process. It will also likely contribute to their perceptions of personal esteem, as they may attach a sense of worth and importance to your willingness to explain things.
While the list above is not exhaustive, it does represent foundational principles any parent can abide by to be more effective. If you would like to obtain further assistance improving your parenting skills, contact Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500 for a confidential consultation or appointment. You can also obtain additional information by visiting our intranet site at http://intranet/intranet/ESS/Index.htm. Be well.