Calmer ParentingI am a single parent with three daughters, one tween, and two toddlers. My everyday parenting life is full of opportunities to guide my children to becoming the productive members of society that I hope they will grow up to become. To me being a parent means making myself obsolete, my job is to raise my children to be fully independent functional adults. I am raising them to leave home. The foundation I am setting now in parenting my children should serve to give them the inner voice and strength needed to become responsible adults.
Children should know they are loved by their parents, in small ways such as packing their favorite lunch snack, and in larger ways such as being held accountable for their actions. Properly disciplining a child takes strength of character and love for the child. We all know parents who are so concerned with being liked by their children that they cater to the ever changing demands of their young children, only to be surprised later with the problems they enter as their children grow older and become petulant teenagers. Setting boundaries and limits for our children helps them to feel secure about their place in a world far larger then themselves. Imagine that you started a new job and instead of providing you with training, the employer just gave you a desk and said you were free to do as you please. I know some of you are thinking, "sounds like a great job", most of us would be looking over our shoulder wondering whether we were going to be fired, not sure what to expect, constantly uneasy. Children whose parents impose limits on their behavior know when they have stepped out of line. The hope is that this external regulation of behavior will later become internal regulation as your child grows older. The standards we set today for our children form the basis of their internal values and behavior as adults.
Standards and limits are only as good as the enforcement of those limits. Children are going to do wrong, it is inevitable. Good loving parents see discipline as a way to reinforce their standards and a way to help children develop their inner regulation of their own behavior. With my youngest daughter, who is 2 1/2 years old, discipline is mostly a correction such as "no hitting", and an apology to the wronged party, showing her (1) the limit "no hitting", and (2) how to right her wrong "the apology". My middle daughter is 4, while there is still some correction, I try to give her time to resolve the conflict with her sisters or her friends on her own, only intervening if the situation escalates. As they get older, my children are held to ever higher reaching standards of conduct. For example, last week my little two were playing upstairs with some plastic shopping carts, full of play food. I could hear my 4 year old telling the 2 1/2 year old to "go ahead, just do it, do it." Shortly thereafter a grocery cart came flying down the stairs, spilling food everywhere, followed by the second cart a few seconds later. I peeked up the stairs and told the girls to come downstairs and clean up their mess, that was not how we were to play with the carts. My 4 year old looked at me and said "I didn't make that mess, my sister did." Technically true I told her but I heard you telling your sister to go on and do it, meaning that you knew it was wrong so you made her do it so you wouldn't get in trouble. Because she egged her little sister on, and because she is old enough to know better, she had to clean up the lion's share of the mess, with some assistance from the little sister.
With my 11 year old my approach to discipline is more hands off. I recognize that physically we are about evenly matched, and she is likely to be taller than me this time next year. My ability to "force" her to behave is slim, so instead I tell her every choice has a consequence or cost associated with her. If she makes good choices and acts responsibly in manner consistent with our family standards then her reward is the freedom she so desires, such as going trick or treating with her girlfriends without mom tagging along. If she is trustworthy and does what she needs to without me hovering over her, her reward is the privacy she craves, mom won't micromanage your actions or your friendships. However, if she behaves in a manner that is inconsistent with our family standards then mom gets involved in her life and KABOOM! Fear of being unliked freezes some parents into inactivity so that when their children act inappropriately the parents are at a loss to know what to do. I hear quite often from my 11 year old how much she hates me and wishes I would just leave her alone. The KABOOM! is not filled with yelling and screaming, though that does happy in my house sometimes, it is a carefully thought out consequence that causes my daughter such pain that she decides that poor behavior is not worth the cost. The consequence usually has something to do with restricting her freedom and/or costing her privacy. It could be something as simple as being grounded for a weekend, or one day she could find her cell phone service has been temporarily disconnected, her TV has disappeared from her room, or something as drastic as having her entire electronic life frozen for a period of time. The phases we use in my house are "Responsibility = Freedom" and "Trustworthiness = Privacy."
Parents should not be afraid to be disliked by their children, instead parents should understand that being a great leader often means making unpopular decisions. All children deserve to have parents who are the leaders of their families, who have the courage to have high standards of conduct for their children, and who hold them accountable for their actions.