Tangled- Parents as Disciplinarians
Welcome back to my 5 part series on Parent Involvement called Tangled! (Previous posts in series here). A tricky and often messy subject worthy of controversy. In this series, I’ll try and untangle the common parenting dilemmas related to our roles as disciplinarians, mediators, teachers, coaches and therapists.
I’d like to start this discussion on common ground. It’s far too easy to jump right into the ring and debate parenting techniques, punishments, or how young is too young to leave a child home alone. The list of parenting dilemmas keeps growing as our technological universe expands.
I believe we can, we must, create a home base on stable ground from which we can tweak, turn and twist our methods to adapt to children who spend more time on Facebook and YouTube than they do building forts in the basement. Or playing outside with friends they can actually see.
Regardless of your beliefs about discipline, there are 5 fundamental needs of children that must be met to have a stable home.
1) Children need attention.
When I worked in the child abuse & neglect field as a social worker, I found children who were neglected fared even worse than children who received inappropriate attention (i.e. abuse). We come out of the womb needy. As soon as our parents respond to those needs, the sooner we develop trust. Trust is essential to grow into a responsible, confident person.
Attention goes beyond bottles and diapers. As children become teenagers, they need parents to listen, give advice, and show interest in their pursuits.
2) Children need boundaries.
Allow children room to explore, make mistakes, and even fail. But always set boundaries that come from your own wisdom.
Boundaries are another way of “having their back”. If kids know their parents set rules and limitations because they have their best interests at heart, they are more likely to have the confidence to explore and make mistakes they can learn from.
3) Children need to be normal.
The very need that sounds so cliché is probably the most important need of all! And disregarded by so many clueless parents who don’t understand why their children are driving them crazy! If you expect a toddler to sit for 2 hours in a restaurant and not move or make noise, you don’t understand normal child development. If you get upset because your teenager doesn’t tell you everything, you don’t understand the adolescent path to independence.
Normal doesn’t always mean acceptable. Learn what to expect and then guide and channel behavior as opposed to confusing a normal child by condemning it.
4) Children need role models.
Rarely do I hear a rags to riches story that doesn’t include a “thank you” to someone who positively influenced their life. Be who you want your child to become. Expose your kids to other positive role models. Successful people are not raised in a vacuum. Teach your children how to learn from others. It’s one of the greatest lessons you can teach.
5) Children need adversity.
I know of no one who’s slipped through life unscathed. Protecting our children from failure or rough waters isn’t doing them any favors. You may be well equipped to solve your kids’ problems way more efficiently than they can solve their own. But don’t. Instead, be there. Answer questions. Ask questions. Offer alternative ideas.
There are times to protect and even take over. Choose those times carefully. In doing so, you are teaching your child how you judge urgency, how you react to life’s circumstances.
These 5 needs are universal and do not vacillate with changing times. To discipline effectively, we must meet these needs continuously.
Our foremost job isn’t to punish but to teach, not to dictate but to limit, not to restrain but to protect.
After raising 3 children, here is my top 10 list I would tell a new parent:
- Understand the 5 most important needs of all children stated above.
- A strong marriage is a gift to your children and a gift to yourselves when the children grow up. A strong and happy YOU is a gift to everyone. Don’t make your children the center of your universe.
- Don’t aim for equality. Aim to give each child what he or she needs.
- A roof, basic clothing and food are necessities. Everything else is a privilege and negotiable. Use this to your advantage. Don’t get caught up in current trends as if they were necessary to life.
- Spare the hammer but not the wrench. There’s no place for violence in communication. This isn’t yesteryear. These are times of television, video games, social media, gangs, drugs and war. If your method isn’t appropriate for a 17 year old, it shouldn’t be appropriate for a 2 year old.
- Two against one is the easiest way to win a battle. Make sure the “two” are the mom and the dad, even if divorced. A united front is like a head start.
- They are your kids and not the responsibility of an older sibling, a teacher, or a child care worker to raise. You can have all the help you want as long as you are the lead teacher.
- Don’t have rules you don’t need so the ones you do need are attention-grabbers. If your teenagers come home at reasonable hours, don’t have a random curfew. Give them control that they’ve earned through good choices. The best reward is a long leash!
- Don’t take on the pain or anxiety your child should feel. Children will hand it to you on a silver platter. Better they be upset they have a D in Spanish or be angry their phone is missing. Be sympathetic to their pain instead.
- Don’t strive to be your child’s friend. Be the constant. Be the source. Be the magnet that draws your children near when they are grown.
Most loving mothers and fathers need a pat on the back. We all make mistakes, plenty of them. We all feel guilty and question our use of time and authority. If there’s one thing I know for sure, the only way to parent well is to keep trying.
Someday you’ll have the joy of realizing it’s impossible for everything to go in one ear and out the other. You’ll be pleasantly surprised what lessons called that space in between home.
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