Please do not interpret the title of this article to say that you can follow the guidelines below and produce your idea of the perfect child… your child is who they are and should be loved and accepted on that basis. These strategies are intended to help parents help themselves become better at their most important job… positively parenting!
1. Intentionally listen to your child. All children communicate their needs, emotions, and beliefs through a variety of media. Young and old children communicate expressively through music, play, storytelling, and drawings. These are great tools your child will use to communicate with you. Floor time with your young child that is directed by your young child will allow you a glimpse into your child’s world and mind. Room or car time with your older child that is directed by your older child will have the same effect. If you find your older child is always plugged into a set of headphones, why not allow them to blast their playlist on the family or car stereo? What an opportunity to hear your older child’s choices in song! Older children often use music as a tool to validate their very new, very raging emotions. Your child’s playlist may be a look into their emotions and thoughts. Take an interest in your older child’s book interests, and read some of their choices yourself. They will often choose books with characters with whom they identify. Ask your young child to tell you a story or draw you a picture about how they feel or what they think about any given topic. Rather than relying on your young child’s developing vocabulary, or your older child’s fragile and developing emotional intelligence, you can give them communication tools that will effectively relay their thoughts.
2. Ask your child for interpretation or clarification of their expressions. NOTE! This does not mean to hound your child for every possible psychologically traumatic tumor that may be lurking in their expressive behaviors. It does mean to ask your child before you form an opinion that is based upon an assumption. By asking your child for clarification you are modeling communication tools that will equip your child for lifelong success. Most importantly, when you ask your child for clarification you say to them, “you are valuable enough to me to listen to you twice”. That speaks volumes to a child who is often asked by our rushed schedules and impatient culture to express himself efficiently rather than effectively. You might try asking for clarification in a variety of ways. Asking a child to tell you about a drawing, why they like a certain song more than others, how they feel when they say such and such, are all excellent ways to get the clarification ball rolling. More direct questions can follow up more vague questions once the conversation has been established. Phrasing is key with older kids. They are often accustomed to being assumed as troublemakers. Use phrasing that is non intrusive and non judgmental. Asking questions tells your child that they are valuable enough that their opinion is worth your seeking.
3. Take an interest in your child’s interests. Take up their hobbies. Follow their sport’s team. Listen to their music. Know their friends’ names, favorite foods, and current issues. Read the books they recommend. Watch movies they talk about watching. This is easier with younger kids than older because they require your involvement. Older kids do not, and they are more easily sucked into their own world. Taking an interest in your child’s hobbies tells your children that they have a voice in the family’s activities. It also tells your children that they are valued and interesting.
4. Trust your child. This is the most difficult strategy for most parents. Again, this speaks volumes to your child’s sense of self worth and value. Trusting your children does not mean you are placing them at risk; it means you are equipping them with strength, confidence, and know-how for later life circumstances. As a teacher of “delinquent” youth (as they were so labeled), I saw first hand, over and over again the benefits reaped by the trusted child versus the damage done to the child about whom the worst was always assumed. Trusting your child with household responsibilities, social privileges, money, the car (I know, EEK!), decision making responsibilities, information, and a variety of other milestones equips him with innumerable life skills.
5. Admit it when you are wrong. This is one of the most important steps a parent can take in raising confident, well equipped children. This is something I have done since my children were very young, and it has paid off. My children respect me without my having to demand it. My children trust me. My children and I have excellent communication. I credit these in part to my admitting when I have been wrong to my children… and apologizing to them for it. My children have been shown how to take personal responsibility and modify a mistake. They also know better than to accuse me… which will no doubt come in handy as the teen years approach!
These strategies are by no means a sure fire formula, an exhaustive list, or a promise of reform. But they are practiced prior to being preached, and I can attest to their success. I have tried these strategies on young children and old children. I have had to modify them for each child, as everyone should. I have found that when children know that they are loved, respected, and safe, they respond much more positively than when they are yelled at, berated, and challenged. I have also learned that there is a lot of gray in between all of those points. I have found more than anything that intentional parenting and teaching produces better results than reactive parenting and teaching. Intentional parenting forsees positive potential; reactive parenting is risky and usually requires damage control.