How to Really Parent Your Child
Two Roads Diverge
You�ve surely noticed an odd phenomenon in the way different children develop�you have probably seen it within your own family. How can two children be raised similarly yet take different developmental paths?
Let�s begin with Tony. Tony was a joy to guide through childhood. There were times when his parents smiled and thought, �This parenting thing is a piece of cake! We had no idea it could be so easy to raise a well-behaved child. There must be something wrong with Bill and Lola down the street, who have had so much trouble with their little boy.�
Tony was pleasant and easy to handle�never a discipline problem, never embarrassing out in public. He responded to each new stage of development like a champion, and what a joy it was to share him with extended family; to enjoy his easy obedience; to see him excel in his first years of school.
Then, somewhere around the middle school years, something changed. The old Tony seemed to�well, to fade out; and some new, unwelcome Tony took his place. Tony�s mom and dad racked their brains to figure out what could have brought about this change. Could it have been the transition between elementary and middle school? No, because the teachers and environment were excellent in both cases. Could it be something physical? No, the doctors couldn�t find a thing.
The fact remains that Tony somehow became a discontented, angry, defiant, and disagreeable young man. Not only did his A-average plummet in school, but he didn�t seem to care. And he was constantly in rebellion against the parents who had adored him and doted on him. He and his parents hung on to their fracturing relationship through Tony�s high-school days. He even managed to get into college, but he didn�t make it through the first year. By that time he was deeply into drug abuse and got into all kinds of trouble in his dormitory. He left school, got a few dollars from Dad, drove out of town�and no one is certain where he is now.
Then there was the �other� child, Tony�s brother, Rick. Rick was a more free-spirited child than Tony; more active, more spontaneous, more prone to laughter and mischief. When he was little you had to keep an eye on him every minute, but he wasn�t a bad child�just an active and curious one. Aunts and uncles said, �Keep an eye on that one! He�ll be a handful when he hits the teenage years.�
But that�s not what happened. Somehow Rick passed right through puberty and adolescence without any of the familiar turbulence. His parents weren�t pushed away; they remained his friends and partners in growth and development. He never got into trouble at school, nor did he become rebellious or angry. As a matter of fact, Rick�s life and maturity just kept deepening and becoming stronger, right into adulthood.
What made the difference? Is one child just a �bad seed,� doomed from the beginning due to some unknown genetic quirk? If children can vary so widely in their behavior, even within a single family, does it even make a difference what strategies for parenting are used?
Of course it does. Although we must recognize the basic mysteries of the human soul�the unknown variables of personal growth and development for a given child�we know that good parenting makes a tremendous difference. Understanding the individual nature of your child�what makes him Rick or Tony or someone else entirely�then parenting proactively, can make all the difference in the world.
We also know that like any other endeavor, good parenting requires a long-term perspective. Let�s take a closer look at the importance of that concept.
The Long View
It doesn�t matter what part of your life we�re discussing: You will find the greatest wisdom in considering it from the long view. We call that perspective, and perhaps another word for it is wisdom.
Perspective is depth perception. We enjoy a view of the Rocky Mountains or the Grand Canyon because we can see the beauty of distance. But human relationships have perspective, too. There is the gift of looking at a child�s traits and behavior patterns and understanding how he or she moves years into the future.
In all we do, perspective brings wisdom. If you are living simply for today, you are far more likely to eat that extra helping of ice cream or put off the pressing chores. But if you are wise�if you take two steps back and look at things from the long view�you will act not based on what feels good today, but on what is beneficial for tomorrow and forever. As Solomon tells us about the difference in choosing God�s wisdom:
Then you will understand what is right and just
Perspective makes a profound difference. Through many years of counseling families, I have noticed how many mothers and fathers parent only in the present moment, rather than taking that long-term perspective we identify with wisdom. They are so focused on Junior�s irritating behavior in the here and now that they completely miss the greater implications. And the result of that misdirected strategy is that their parenting is based on the child�s actions rather than on his or her needs. Allow me to explain what I mean by actions (or behavior) versus needs.
Jill is very angry and very whiny. She wants to go on that big overnight sleepover at Amanda�s house, but it doesn�t fit into your family plans. It happens to be the same night when Jill needs to be visiting her grandmother with the rest of your family. So you give your daughter a firm no, and the discussion is all over but the whining.
You are tired, your spouse is tired, and the last thing you want to hear is a marathon round of whining. You�re just not in the mood. That�s what you�re thinking right now.
But what is going on in your daughter�s mind? Jill doesn�t hear any whining; to her it sounds like reasoning, like presenting her case. She is emotionally focused on the issue of the sleepover, which to her is presently the world�s most urgent issue.
This doesn�t mean you should give in, but it does mean you stand together at one of those lesser parenting crossroads�and a number of lesser ones add up. Jill is going to come out of this episode either with unresolved anger or a positive (if painful) learning experience.
Parenting in 3-D
If you are focused on the needs of this moment, you�ll simply want to turn the spigot that shuts off the whining. You�ll focus on bottling up her unappealing behavior, and doing it quickly. And the likely course of that action is for this incident to become more fuel for Jill�s fire: frustration over this and other episodes when, to her mind, no one cared about her desires. Frustration then adds up to anger.
But if you are looking at things in more than one flat dimension�if you are focused on the needs of her growth experience, on the lines of perspective that lead to her future and her maturity, you will hear her more clearly�then you will approach the crisis in a very different way.
You will still have to deal with the whining and the impossibility of giving Jill her way; but it will not be simply reacting to her behavior. It will be wise action based on Jill�s needs, and on helping Jill come away with something positive from the experience. Not that this is any easy task (we will look at some ways you can do this later on). The key for right now is the focus on long-term issues rather than on the short-term gratification of cutting out unpleasant behaviors.
Think of it another way. If you deal with your children based completely on their behavior, your children will understand that. They will see you as police officers of the home, concerned only with keeping the peace. They will know their actions determine all that goes on in the home, and they can therefore choose their actions to leverage a certain measure of power. And power is such a huge issue in the home. When your children become angry, they will pay great prices in discipline just to test the limits of that power.
Just like the small child who throws a tantrum simply for the attention it brings, your children will act disruptively right on into adolescence and beyond, using unpleasant behavior to control their environment the only way they can. And of course they will hurt not only you and those around them; they will hurt themselves most of all.
Dealing with your children based on their behavior puts them in control of the home. But dealing with them based on their long-term needs lets the parents set the agenda. It keeps the child�s journey toward maturity on course. Reactive parenting, then, is driven by the child�s actions. Proactive parenting is driven by the child�s needs�and by the constant discovery of new growth opportunities.
Excerpted from HOW TO REALLY PARENT YOUR CHILD by Ross Campbell, M.D.
reprint courtesy of www.parentadvisors.com
Copyright � 2005 W Publishing Group-Thomas Nelson Publishers. All Rights Reserved.