My wife and I are preparing to teach a 16-week parenting class at church. Over the past 15 years, I have had the opportunity to consult with parents at every stage of childhood development. Also, my wife and I have been parents for the past 11 years. I would like to point out a few things that I believe all kids need from us as parents.
Understanding the Whole Child:
Children are adults in training. For us to be able to train them, we have to understand them. No matter what curriculum or self-help book you read, there is not a one-size fits all parenting strategy. However, there certainly are some principles to keep in mind in getting to know your child. Consider the following questions for each of your children:
Building Mutual Respect:
I can scare my kids into submission with harsh words and a venomous tone. However, my kids are not going to learn to respect me if I refuse to respect them. There is an ill-conceived notion that children only deserve respect if they give it. If this is the way we think, we need to take a step back. Where do our children learn to be respectful if they do not have a consistent model for it? I ask parents frequently, especially dads, “Would you rather be respected or feared?” Respect and fear do not have the same connotation or meaning.
Please understand that I am fully in support of disciplining children. However, I have found that this is most effective when I ensure that we are both in control of our emotions and I can approach the situation calmly and rationally instead of standing over them, talking-down to them, and shouting until I am hoarse. Also, when I start the discussion by getting on their level physically, giving a hug, and telling them I love them no matter what, my children respond better to me. They know that I am still the authority when I am unwavering with the consequences. They also have a clear understanding that I value them as human beings, and I understand that they are still in training.
Teaching Emotional Regulation Skills:
Big behavior is indicative of big emotions. For younger children, expressing actual feelings is difficult. They don’t have the vocabulary to say what they feel. They are also not emotionally sophisticated enough to distinguish what they are feeling even if they knew the words. As they mature, so does their capacity for expressing emotions without acting out.
As parents, we have to recognize that when a child is acting out, they are doing it from an emotional place. In their most emotionally charged state, they are incapable of comprehending a logical argument, let alone a lecture.
When our children are in crisis, we have to meet them where they are and comfort them before we go any further. Comforting of our child through active listening and empathy communicates that it is okay for them to experience hard feelings. Once they begin to relax, we can talk through the issues and offer more effective strategies to manage personal stress. But parents, we must stay calm.
Fostering Creativity and Personal Interests:
All 3 of my kiddos have different interests and strengths. My oldest son is somewhat of a Renaissance Man in the making. He geeks out about foreign language. He loves animals, and video games, and is really enjoying picking up the clarinet. My daughter is all about anything performance-oriented. She loves to sing, dance, and is learning to play piano. My youngest son loves to figure out how things work. He enjoys building and likewise enjoys destroying.
I encourage you to embrace the individualism of your child. Join him or her in what they enjoy, even if it is not in your wheelhouse. Be interested and allow them to teach you. Enjoy the moments and allow freedom to explore.
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