The items in the activity blend and combine to suggest what
might be thought of as parenting themes.
The first of these themes relates to the clients knowing what her child
needs and what is important to the child.
This combines with being familiar with and interested in the childs
activities and involvements. The
blending continues with knowing about and helping with the childs problems and
difficulties. In addition, the parent
interest extends to the youngsters ideas and thoughts about things, his
perceptions and point of view. The
principle is that being a good parent means that, as a parent, know your
child is the first order of business.
The second theme combines spending time with the child each
day and being sure that the parent and the child talk with each other
regularly. This is, of course, a minimum
condition for knowing the child. The
principle encourages the parent to Be available to your child.
The third theme blends being someone with whom the child
likes to spend time and being pleased with and proud of the child. These two factors in turn blend with setting
a good example for the youngster into a cluster of parent characteristics to
which the young person can easily relate and with which she may identify. The relationship is with someone with whom
the youngster is comfortable and is a relationship within which the young
person may easily participate. This ease
of participation is facilitated by the parents giving the young person her
space where she is supported in being who she is. The principle is to develop and maintain a
positive and open relationship with the child.
Developing and maintaining an open and positive relationship
with the child where the parent both knows the child and is available to her
incorporates most of what is involved in being a good parent. Within this type of parent/child environment,
getting the child to cooperate will be relatively easy and will happen
relatively spontaneously. Why does the
child cooperate? Because she sees the
parent as someone who reciprocates cooperation and as someone with whom it is
nice to cooperate.
Discipline is still necessary but is, within this context, a
relatively minor part of the parenting task.
Parents need to exercise parental authority as will be discussed in the
next activity. The only requirement is
that the exercise of that authority discipline is reasonable and fair. The consultant will want to encourage the
parent to talk with the youngster about the reasonableness and fairness of
discipline, especially if the young person is of grade school age or
older. In addition, the consultant will
want to review the parents discipline primarily focusing on the extent to
which that discipline is both reasonable and fair.
For example, reasonable discipline is nonviolent,
characterized by gentle firmness, is proportional to the difficulty or
transgression, is reasonably consistent, and takes in to consideration the age
of the child and the specific situation in which the child was involved. Fairness also takes into consideration these
factors and looks at the simple principle of equity among and between siblings,
whether or not any discipline was appropriate on a particular occasion, and the
extent to which discipline is carried out in an even-handed way.
An important point needs emphasis. Negative discipline or punishment should
never be a reaction to something the child did or did not do. Punishment should never be retaliatory or
represent some form of retribution.
Discipline has a simple purpose: to decrease the likelihood of
unacceptable behavior in the future and to increase the likelihood of
appropriate behavior. In this sense,
discipline is always for the sake of the future and is never a response to
things that have happened in the past.
Following from the above thought, discipline is and ought to
be nothing more or less than a significant educational experience for the young
person. It is in the interest of her
learning. As a learning opportunity and
as an educational experience, discipline should always be understood as a
positive intervention in the interest of the childs future behavior and well
being. Forcing children into compliance,
then, is never appropriate. The goal is
to teach them more appropriate, more acceptable, more effective behavior. From this perspective, the teaching tips in
part one of this book apply.
Occasionally, discipline involves the imposition of negative
consequences. The youngsters
environment is adjusted in ways that result in some behavior leading to
unwanted or undesirable consequences.
These negative consequences should be such that they simply encourage
the youngster to adopt more appropriate, more acceptable behavior in the
future. The next activity relates to the
use of authority in relationship to negative consequences.
An additional point about discipline is in order. Parents will get about the same results using
either a permissive or autocratic approach to discipline. The key is being reasonably consistent with
the approach. The worst results will be
found with parents who vacillate between autocratic and permissive approaches:
vacillate between cracking down and giving up.
The problematic effect is compounded when one parent is fairly permissive
while the other is fairly autocratic.
Consistency as noted here also includes both parents being consistent
relative to the approach being used.
The best results will be obtained using what has been called
an authoritative approach to parenting. In this situation, both parents are reasonably
consistent and both have fairly clear rules, fairly clear expectations, and a
fairly clear pattern of dealing with significant variations from expectations. In this sense, the approach is toward the
autocratic end of the continuum. The
additional factor is one of talking with the child about the problem,
explaining the reasons for discipline, and, to the extent possible, being sure
that the child understands what is happening and why. No, it is not necessary that she agrees. It is only important that she
understands. (Note) It is important to
use the same approach with infants and toddlers and with older children, even
though they may not understand the discussions and explanations. Even in these situations, an attitude of
talking, discussing, and explaining is conveyed nonverbally.
The Heart of Parenting
Our own child is special to us. He or she is part of our being. This is true whether the child is our
biological offspring or has become our child as a result of special
circumstances. If we do not hold this
special feeling with sincerity and enthusiasm, the child will know and will
suffer in proportion.
Most interaction with our children has little if anything to
do with encouragement or discouragement, boundaries or limits; rather, we
participate with them in the fun and frustration of being parents and kids
physically, emotionally, and socially.
We want them to love us, to love themselves, to love other people, and
to love the world around them. We
express our love through touching, physical involvement, playing, doing things
together, sharing feelings and fears and frustrations, going places with them
and wanting them to go places with us, and allowing them the freedom to grow
and to experience the world away from us.
Our relationship with them is not exclusive. We want them to have an exciting life of
their own, knowing that their relationship with us is secure and predictable. In addition, we want our children to respect
us, to respect themselves, other people, and the world about them. Much of a childs attitude toward herself and
toward the world about her comes from our attitudes about her.
Fortunately or unfortunately, many children do not turn out
like their parents. Why does this happen? Very simply, it happens because parents are
not the only influence on children, albeit the primary influence. Just as children learn to love by being
loved, they learn respect for self and others by being respected. Our behavior, attitudes, and beliefs will be
reflected in our children. More than we
may ever know, they do as we do.
Children also develop attitudes toward themselves and others
as a response to the attitudes and beliefs others communicate to them about
themselves. In part, children become
what we tell them they will become. We
convey this definition of self through our physical, emotional, and social
interaction with them as well as through the way we relate as parenting adults. Beyond these things, there is a whole world
of influences over which we have little control. Our hope must be that we have encouraged and
discouraged their capacities so they can effectively deal with the multiple
influences of the world. We hope our
loving respect has been strong enough and clear enough to be integrated into
their being as they move out into a world which may not perceive them as
unique. Their sense of being special
comes from us. We can only hope it is
solid enough to last a lifetime.