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Thoughts for Perspective Parents

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The following is a discussion of the most important aspects of parenting.  In addition to the text, there are questions in bullet points after each section to facilitate additional consideration and discussion. 

Introduction.  According to the US Census Bureau, eighty two percent, more than 8 out of ten of all high school students will go on to become parents before they reach the age of 45. The children they bring into this world will be totally dependent on adults for some time, not just for basic care such as food clothing and shelter, but for examples on how to manage relationships, solve problems, handle crisis, responsibilities and deal with successes and failures.  In short, children learn every skill they need to become healthy viable adults capable of making good decisions in a complex society from the adults in their life, and the most important and influential adults in a child’s life are not his teachers, social workers, spiritual leaders or politicians, but the care giving parents; who fill the role of mother and father.

Considering all this and the fact that the quality of each generation, and therefore society as a whole, depends on the generation that precedes it, it is easy to see just how important good parenting is.  Yet becoming a parent in our society requires no diploma, no license, no skills whatsoever aside from the physical ability to procreate.

Fortunately our society places a high priority on child rearing and many scientific studies have been conducted and many books have been written that can provide information to help guide us toward the most effective parenting.  The problem is, not enough people take advantage of these resources.  Too many parents rely on unexamined habits; slavishly repeating their own parents’ child rearing techniques, rather than really thinking about what

they are doing and why (Moorman, 2003).   With so much at stake, it seems incongruous that most parents spend less time educating themselves about child rearing and child development than they do learning about their electronic devices.

Parenting is and important responsibility not to be taken lightly or taken for granted.  Contrary to common belief, good parenting skills are not instinctual.  Most parenting skills, good or bad are learned by the child at an early age to be repeated later with their own children.  Studies have shown that children who do not receive adequate parenting in their infancy are less capable of carrying out their own role of parent when they have children of their own making poor parenting generational, much like poverty (NHSA, 2013).  Conversely, children who imprinted good parenting skills have less difficulty adjusting to their new role of parent when they have children of their own.

Here are some questions perspective parents should consider:

•    Do you think you will be a parent one day?

•    If so, why do you want to have children?

•    What sort of things should you do to prepare yourself for this role?

•    Will you do everything the same way your parents did?

•    If not, what will you do differently?

Now that we understand how important good parenting is, we’ll talk about some basic tenants of good parenting.

Understand your role as a parent.  This is more complex than it sounds because as a parent you must provide unconditional love to your child regardless of what he does and yet you must set boundaries for appropriate behavior.  You must be a teacher and yet provide space for your child to discover things on their own.  You must provide structure for your child’s life yet help your child to be adaptable and spontaneous.  You must teach your child how to use their freedom to act and to choose and provide discipline at the same time. As a parent you cannot be your child’s best friend.  Your child is dependent on you for unconditional love, not the other way around.  You have to consider what is best for the child’s development regardless of how it may cause the child to react toward you.  You cannot let your desire to maintain a friendship with your child cause you to avoid correcting improper behavior.  In your role as parent, you cannot afford to let the actions of your child influence your behavior. An angry child requires a calm parent.  Your role as parent goes on twenty four seven.  It does not end when you are not directly interacting with your child.  Every action you take, every failure or success has the potential to affect your child.  Understand that you are a constant role model for your child whether you want to be or not.

•    What are some examples of instances when parents allow their child’s behavior to influence their own behavior and how can this be avoided?

•    What are some ways you can provide your child with freedom of choice and discipline at the same time?

•    What are some actions (positive and negative,) we may take as adults that may indirectly    effect our children?

Empathizing with your child; trying to see the world from your child’s perspective. Knowing that you are a constant role model to your child, try to imagine how your behavior looks though their eyes.  Ask yourself if the behaviors you exhibit are ones you would like your children to emulate.  Try to imagine how it feels to be a child who cannot yet verbalize their fear, discomfort, hunger or frustration.  Remember that empathizing with your child does not mean you have to alleviate every uncomfortable situation for them, it just promotes understanding between you.  It helps you to remember that children are not like little adults, with all the same powers of reason and analysis that adults have.  Their desires and needs are front and center and not prioritized in the same way adults’ are.  A good starting point for empathy is trying to remember when you as a child faced similar situations.  This is not as easy as it sounds.

•    Can you imagine feeling powerless?

•    Can you think of things you have done recently that you would not want your children to do?  How would those things look from a child’s perspective?

•    How do you think you would react to a child in distress who could not verbalize their needs?

Consistency in child rearing.  If a child is to escape anxiety and traumatic stress in their life, they need consistency and stability.  Even poor parenting strategies can be effective if they are applied consistently.  But if a child is neglected one day, cherished the next, and abused on the third, they cannot adjust to the chaos, learn what is expected of them, or feel secure.  Similarly, if the parent is constantly changing rules, expectations, and boundaries; the child will be confused, insecure and anxious, and will exhibit erratic behavior to match the chaos of his surroundings. Consistent application of discipline, consistent quality of relationship, and surroundings all contribute to trust and stability for the child and provide structure the child can rely on.                                                                                            

•    What are some things you think a child should always be able to count on?

•    What are some things that can contribute to consistency in the home?

•    What are some things that can contribute to inconsistency in the home?

•    What are some things you could always count on when you were growing up?

Practicing Introspection.  This is like empathy that you apply to yourself.  It requires you to take a step back from yourself and examine your actions, attitudes and emotions; to self- assess your own abilities.  This is how we improve as parents and as human beings in general, and besides making us better parents, it is a great skill to impart to your children.  When you examine your behaviors in certain situations with your child, ask yourself if it was a good as it could have been, if so, what was good about it?  If not, what will you do differently in the future?  Are you lacking in some skill that you need to be a more effective parent?  How will you improve this? How can strategies that work well in one situation be applied to others?  You also need to be able to self- assess the emotions you will have about being a parent.  How much of your emotional response stems from your child’s behavior and condition and how much of it originates from unresolved issues of your own?  Practicing introspection can help us to avoid falling into unproductive patterns or blindly applying unsuccessful strategies handed down to us by others.

•    If you don’t know how to change a parenting strategy that you have determined to be     ineffective, where can you go to learn a new one?

•    Can you think of an unresolved issue from your own past that might change the way you     respond to your child?                                      

Understanding the stages of child development.  Children are not little adults and even after they acquire the power of speech this skill is not necessarily matched by the power of reason and understanding.  Children mature in stages and if the parents expectations don’t match those stages there will be a lot of frustration on both sides.  No one would expect a three year old to enter law school, but many would expect a three year old to grasp complex concepts of fairness and consideration.  These are things a child will only come to understand when they reach the appropriate stage of social and physical maturity and even then it will require some instruction.  Yet all the patient instruction in the world will not impart understanding to a child who is not developmentally ready to grasp it.  There are many theories of child development that cover many aspects of development but, for now we’ll use an example created by Jean Piaget and Margaret Cook called cognitive development. In general, it breaks a child’s development up into theses stages:

Stage 1, the sensory motor stage, occurs between in the first two years in which the child learns to manipulate his body and other objects and grasps the concept of object permanence which is the ability to understand that just because an object is out of sight, it does not cease to exist.

Stage 2, the pre-operational stage, takes place between ages 2 and 7.  During this stage the child learns to use language and the representation of objects through words and pictures but during this stage the child is also every egocentric and cannot conceive of someone attaching a different meaning to the things they say and feel.  They also tend to focus on only one thing at a time and become frustrated when interrupted or asked to multitask.  They form conclusions about their world based only on what they can see and feel and are not capable of abstract thought.

Stage 3, the concrete operational stage, occurs from age 7 through 11 and involves children becoming less egocentric, capable of understanding that one thing can have multiple meanings and applications and can think logically about concrete events.  They also tend to be comfortable with trial and error learning.

Stage 4, the formal operational stage, covers ages 12 and up and during this stage the child’s reasoning and logic become more formalized but are expanded to cover abstract events.  Learning becomes more systematic, motivated more by cause and necessity than by curiosity.  Complex moral judgments and codes are solidified during this stage.  

The ages at which these stages occur are only approximate, but for a child to develop into a healthy adult, none of these stages can be skipped entirely.  These stages tend to be the same for all children, regardless of the culture in which they are raised. (Piaget, Cook, 1952).

•    What are some skills you would try to teach your child in the sensory motor stage?

•    How about the concrete operational stage?

•    What kind of behaviors might you prepare yourself to deal with when a child is in the pre-operational stage?

Conflict resolution. Every good relationship requires methods for conflict resolution and parenting is no exception.  No matter how good a parent child relationship is there will always be conflict.  Using the authority and power of the adult verses child, (do it because I said so,”)might be an expedient way to resolve a situation, but it will not resolve the conflict.   This will involve more skill and self-control on the part of the parent but, again, it is an excellent skill to model for the child.  In their book “Calming the Family Storm,” authors Gary D. Mckay and Steven A. Maybell cite lack of time devoted to developing and practicing good family communication skills as a major cause of conflict between parents and children.

  • What do you think constitutes good family communication skills?
  • What are some opportune times to practice these skills in the context of a busy, 21st century family?

     In closing it is important to note that there is a great deal to learn about being a good parent, much more than can be discussed in a single article, and even people with advanced degrees in the subject cannot pre-strategize every situation.  But we can make sure we are as informed as possible by taking advantage of some of the huge amount of information available on parenting.  A good place to start is your local Department of Social Services.  Most will have information on free parenting classes and literature, as well as links to helpful web sites.

Remember; the best way to be the best parent you can be is to become the best person you can be.

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Bibliography

  1. Gary D. Mckay and Steven A. Maybell Calming the Family Storm. Atascadero: Impact Publishers Inc. , 2004.
  2. National Human Services Assembly "“Breaking the Cycle of Poverty in Young Familiesat." Breaking the Cycle of Poverty in Young Families. 1/12/2013. 05/05/2014 <Web >
  3. Moorman, Chick Parent Talk: How to Talk to Your Children in Language that Builds Self-Esteem and Encourages Responsibility. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003.
  4. Jean Piaget and Margaret T. Cook Origins of Intelligence in Children . New York: International University Press, 1952.
  5. U.S. Census Bureau, American Facts. Accessed through the web at: http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml "American Facts." American Facts. 05/05/2014 <Web >

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