Parents Need To “Shape” Up
If a parenting manual came with every newborn, I’m not sure it would be that helpful. Written directions telling me how to raise the perfect kid. Heck, I don’t have enough patience to read directions on a help screen! I’m more of a “click it until I get it” kinda gal. I always find exceptions in instructions, something missing, or “I already made the wrong turn so what do I do now?!”
Some of us need cause and effect scenarios in plain sight. Kids are perfect teachers. Their feedback is instant, in your face, relentless and uncensored.
I prefer to talk guidelines and strategies when it comes to raising our offspring. Leaves you room for interpretation and adaptation. Every family is unique. Every child is different. But we all want them out of diapers and paying their own bills eventually.
Here’s a principle that may help you transition from wiping snotty noses to handing over car keys.
Think of a triangle. Now flip it upside down. This is the way to visualize the parenting timeline from infancy to young adulthood.
Maintain the tightest grip when they are babies.
There is no substitution for supervision when children are little. You can preach and teach all you want about stranger danger and crossing streets but young children are trusting and oblivious much of the time. Small children need firm boundaries with safety insurance. We cover outlets and keep matches out of reach because it is our job to control their environment when curiosity trumps inhibition.
Release, don’t tighten, the grip as they get older.
Think of gripping a rope and letting your fingers loosen so the rope slides out a bit further. This goes against our instinct. It’s normal to grip the rope until your hands bleed because their pull for independence is strong. The harder we grip, the harder it is to hold on.
Expect the behaviors you want.
Tell your kids openly that you trust them to make good choices. When children feel their parents trust their ability to make decisions, they are more likely to choose to live up to those expectations.
Teens want control more than they want to rebel.
If you maintain all the control, their only choice is to rebel to get the control. And they certainly will. If your children are challenging you at every turn, ask not how you should tighten your grip, but how you might loosen it.
Give power to independent thinking.
Teenagers get attention by fitting in or standing out. Acknowledge when they choose to stand out. Even if it’s inappropriate. Say your daughter wants to wear something outrageous to school which would get her attention. You may yell, “How can you think of wearing such a thing? Go change your clothes now!”
Dictate without seizing control.
“Wow, I like how you’re willing to put yourself out there and show your unique style in front of your friends at school, but unfortunately that outfit ain’t gonna fly. Bet you can do better.”
This type of response confuses teenagers. You’re setting a boundary yet acknowledging her intent which isn’t inherently bad. Rolling of the eyes is better than a power struggle. [Remember, it really isn’t about the outfit. It’s about a result she wants from wearing the outfit.]
Freedom is the greatest incentive.
So state it out in the open. It’s as if we feel some power in keeping that fact a secret. It’s a simple lecture and here it is:
“John, you’re on a long leash and I trust you can make good choices. The best thing for you is to have me off your back. The best thing for me is to stay off your back. Your choices determine your freedoms. That means keeping up your grades and having a mind of your own. Make it happen and good things will happen for you.”
Nearly everything we give our children is a privilege, not a right.
Parents struggle with “consequences” because they have forgotten the difference between privileges and rights. All children have rights. No child should be demeaned verbally or hit physically. But cell phones, computers, new clothes, dinner out, outings with friends, etc.— all privileges.
Privileges need to be earned to be enjoyed. “Good things happen to those who behave nicely.”
Make it rare and random but surprise your kids with a special outing or gift just to acknowledge how well they’ve been handling their “independence.”
Give your children the gift of their own pain.
Loosen the grip to save your hands while your heart bleeds with guilt. We can’t help ourselves. We’re parents. Allowing our children to feel pain we can prevent is gut wrenching.
Your first grader forgets his lunch. Maybe the first time it happens you run it up to school. It happens again. “Oh, sorry Billy, guess no lunch today. Maybe you can ask the lunch lady if they have extra bread and peanut butter so you can get by.” [He is not going to starve to death. Bet he won’t forget his lunch again anytime soon.]
Fixing What’s Broken
Your middle school-age daughter hasn’t been turning in her homework and you received an e-mail from her teacher. “Rita, here is the e-mail I received from your teacher. What is your plan to deal with it? As soon as you have that ready, please show it to me. Make sure and include checkpoints for me over the next month so I can see your follow-through.” [If you take on the stress and control the remedy, your daughter won’t feel the pain of her poor choices. Let her figure out a plan. No arguing. No privileges until such plan is presented. By giving her all the power, you remain in total control. When you get the plan, privileges re-instated until checkpoint arrives. TIGHTEN AND RELEASE over and over again as long as necessary.]
Your high schooler stays out past curfew and doesn’t call. When he does come home he apologizes for being late. “You know, Brian, I don’t like to worry about you. It’s painful for me. So since you didn’t call and therefore I worried, you need to make that up to me. If you’d like to use the car again, you will need to find the time to clean it inside and out before you do. Then I think I can put this episode behind me.” [No anger expressed. He can choose to not clean the car but then he can’t drive it. You stayed up worrying about him. Now he can do something to make up for it.]
Misbehavior is almost always a form of rebellion. When you eliminate the need to rebel, your children can actually choose to please you.
Invert the triangle. Loosen your grip on the rope. Your children don’t know that you’re really holding a lasso— to use as a gentle reminder that you can wrangle them in when their choices lead them astray.