Friday, March 19, 2010

Parenting Tips from a Pre-Parent

"You are around people with kids so much; have you learned any good parenting tips?" my friend asked yesterday.

So I thought I'd share the things my friends are trying as parents. These are the things that work well, seem to have a lot of intention towards building character, not just producing the desired behavior.

  • Consistency: Have the same rules as much as possible, and make a big deal about changes or exceptions, and say why. Apply the same rules to everyone, even yourself (or explain the difference). Follow through with predictable consequences. Be persistent, even if the child disobeys again immediately after receiving punishment. Think about associations you're making for your child, for example, that taking a nap is a punishment - but then the next day the child is confused when you try to make a nap sound like a good and necessary part of your day, to which he should look forward. Be consistent: is a nap pleasant or unwanted?
  • Correction: Instead of just saying, "don't do that" or "bad!", tell the child the desired virtue, like kindness, self-control, respect, or denying self. There is a time for "no, because I said so" in order that a child may learn to submit to authority. But parents are really trying to raise children whose character is strong and who will make good decisions on their own in the future (even the near future, like later that day).
  • Communication: Spend time with your child and treat them like a person, not a trial. Look them in the eye when they are speaking to you. Use their name.
  • Contrition: Model apologies by apologizing to your children when you mess up (when you forget to keep a promise, don't listen well, lose your temper). Include what you ought to have been or done, and ask for forgiveness. Talk about mistakes you made in your past, and how even though God is gracious and forgiving, there are real consequences.
  • Congratulate: Take time to notice when your child is behaving well. Praise him for excellence, or for controlling himself. When a child is very young, he will respond to a positive note in your voice, especially during otherwise unpleasant things like diaper changes or accidental falls.
  • Compassion: Sometimes life is sad. Tears are ok. Be a comfort to your child, and treat his emotions like they are valuable. A child may want you to fix his problem, offer advice that he can use to fix his own problem, or just give a good hug and sound "I know."
  • Choices: (based on Love and Logic) Give your child choices, and enforce their decision. Break down larger tasks into small options: "clean up the blocks or the stuffed animals first" rather than "clean your room" (then offer another choice; the whole room must still be cleaned). Point out choices your child makes even when they weren't verbally offered, and identify those choices as having good consequences or undesired. Teach natural consequences.
  • Courage: Let your child do risky things. Let him get hurt. Don't let him get run over by a truck, cut off his hand, or break his neck. But let your child learn that getting off the couch head first might be painful. Or let him learn how to maneuver himself on a ladder. Don't wait until high school and college to let your child make his own mistakes. Teach him that fear is to be overcome, but balanced with rational observation. If something is difficult for him, don't always come to the rescue, even if he gets frustrated.
  • Complete: Teach personal responsibility by having your child complete one task or activity before continuing to another. When done with breakfast, clear the table before going to play. Clean up one type of toy before getting out another.
  • Compliance: Insist on first time obedience. If you know that he heard you, and if your instruction was not exasperating, expect the child to comply before he does anything else (including throwing a fit). Don't count to three. Don't give warnings. Don't say an instruction, repeat it, yell it, scream it, and only have the child start to move when you stand up to move towards them. As soon as the disobedience occurs, announce a punishment and carry it out, even if the behavior changes after you announce the punishment. This sounds very strict, but only takes a few applications before the child gets the hang of things and will listen closely for instructions to do them right away.
  • Commitment: If you promise to do something, do it. Especially if it is a consequence/punishment. Mercy is acceptable from parents, but consider: what is your motive for mercy? Are you lazy? Is your child too cute? Or will your child truly learn a lesson and grow in godliness because you show him mercy? Children feel safe in stable boundaries, in reliable statements from their parents. If you say they will get timeout if they take their brother's toy again, and then when he does it, you merely repeat your threat, your child still doesn't know where the boundaries are; he wants to find out. What do you think the child will do to discover the boundaries?
  • Cooperate: Do things with your child. Do things the slow way so he can help. Include him in some "adult" activities, and let him know you think he can behave well - but don't be disappointed at first if he can't (think Pygmalion, Miss Doolittle at the Horse Races). Ask for your child's input or ideas. Let him ask you "Why?"
  • Contact: Sometimes your hand must contact a resilient part of your child's body with some speed and force. This should not be done in anger or to satisfy your frustration. Try to administer discipline before you get frustrated. Recognize that your child is sinful and needs to understand that a behavior is wrong. Don't punish for accidents; punish for choices. I believe that "contact" is useful even at young ages when a choice is evident: 6 month old arches his back when you pick him up. Especially before age 1, the child needs to feel more firmness than pain, so be careful. Don't underestimate your children; they understand and learn much more than many people think. The Bible instructs parents to use a "rod" for discipline. Some parents today say that this does not work, that the child's behavior does not change. But this form of punishment is a deterrent, not a natural consequence. It demonstrates authority. Behavior change is not the goal for the present; "contact" is administered because the child needs to know that pain is a result of sinfulness. (If your 2-10 year old child can smile through "contact", you may need to use a small wooden spoon.) Their character is being shaped. Absolutely, seek out and use other forms of discipline - but do not spare the "rod."
  • Caress: Physical touch should not be reserved for discipline. Give your child a squeeze now and then (and don't stop even as he gets older and seems to like it less). Comb hair. Pat backs. Hold hands on a fun walk because you want to be close (not only when in the street for safety reasons).
To God be all glory.

No comments: