Imagine there is a knock at the door and when you open it, it is your toddler fully grown and 25 years old. What kind of a person do you want to welcome into your home? Most parents say they would like their adult child to be: responsible, self confident, respectful, resilient and self disciplined to name but a few. But how do we get there? Consider how your child is currently learning to develop these valuable life skills. They are in fact learning them from their daily interactions with you and the other significant people in their lives.
Each time we are faced with a parenting challenge such as the ones often presented at times of the day our children are required to eat, sleep or be somewhere on time, then these are the times when the lessons begin. It is our choice in these moments how we respond to our children. Alfie Kohn author of “Unconditional Parenting”, says our main question shouldn’t be “How do I get my child to do what I say? ”But what does my child need – and how can I meet those needs”. Consider which of these questions is the most important to you.
It is all too easy to fall into the controlling methods of punishment or rewards in order to get our children to ‘obey us’, however popular these methods are, they are short term parenting tactics. Research ( see Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting, Jane Nelson, Positive Discipline) has proven that short term parenting strategies such as spanking, time out and using sticker charts and other forms of bribes or rewards can have negative long term consequences on children and prevent us from meeting the long term goals we have for our children.
It is difficult to learn how to be responsible if you are so used to being told what to do. It is difficult to learn to be respectful if you experience punishment that lacks respect for who you are as a person. When we rely on punishment we are using our power and control over our children. They are learning, however they can learn to fear us, or go behind our backs so as not to get caught, or give up as they become ‘beaten into submission’.
Our focus on the need for our children to ‘do what they are told’ can become such an overwhelming focus that we begin to value this more than our child’s problem solving skills, creativity and free expression. How can we raise a self confident and self disciplined adult if we have spent their whole childhood demanding they ‘do what we tell them to or else?’
Discipline means to teach, not to punish. Many parents spend so much time making sure their children experience some form of unpleasant consequence for their ‘misbehaviour’, that they omit putting the time in to work with their child to solve the problem and help them connect with the consequence their actions had on others. Children do better when they feel better. So it just does not make sense to punish a child for doing something they shouldn’t have done in the hope they will not do it again. Overtime there is the fear that this will erode their sense of self.
Long term parenting strategies are needed to help your child learn the life skills they will need as an adult. These require working with your child to focus on strategies to help them fix whatever it is that is not working. One lesson that we really want our children to learn, that will hold them in great stead for their future is that ‘mistakes are opportunities to learn’. It is OK to make a mistake, but see it as that and work towards solutions for righting this wrong. Helping your children work towards solutions is helping them gain the valuable skills you want your toddler to have at 25.
This does not mean that we become permissive parents, standing back allowing our children to ‘misbehave’ instead it means that we become even more fully engaged with them. We need to be firm, yet kind and respectful with it. We need to take the time to work them, rather than doing things to them. Long term parenting strategies, such as giving them more chances to make decisions come naturally when your focus is on loving your children unconditionally.
We want our children to know they don’t have to earn our love or affection or attention. We want our children to learn that we value who they are as a person, with their own set of opinions and dreams. If we place our relationship with our children higher on our priority list than our need to be right, or our need to ‘have our children do what we just told them to no matter what’, then it is more likely that we will fall upon more respectful methods of discipline.