Every parent’s hope and desire for their child is for him or her to be happy and successful in life. However, the reality is that despite the good intentions of parents, many of today’s children are being neglected and not properly lead that will put them on that path to success. When there is no direction and no program in place, both the parent and child are left wandering aimlessly through a jungle of unknowns that often leads to misery and disaster.
Below is a road map that will give you hope and direction if you follow the guidelines set forth. It will help you to be not just a good parent but a terrific parent! Use it, apply it, and watch what happens. You will begin to see yourself in a different light and feel better about your parenting abilities.
So let’s get you on the right road!
1. Have a discipline system in place and stick with it.
Whether or not children will admit to it, they desire discipline but more importantly direction on how to behave properly. When there is a lack of rules and inconsistency to enforce the rules, children quickly become confused as do the parents. This causes a lot of unnecessary frustration and tension that can easily be solved in two simple steps: One, have a simple system in place that clearly identifies the rules and consequences; and two, be consistent in enforcing the rules. It is important that both the child and parent understand how the system works and how it can benefit both.
When a parent neglects to consistently enforce the rules and carry out the system, he or she sets up false hopes and expectations that don’t carry any value behind it. The child quickly learns that the system is weak, is not executed properly, and therefore begins to exploit those weak gaps. The child also learns how to manipulate to their advantage the inconsistency of both the system and parent and therefore gains more power over the parent. Meanwhile, the parent can’t understand why they are losing the discipline battle with their child and becomes more frustrated and stressed out.
Whatever discipline system you create, make sure it is fair and that you firmly carry it out. Never give in or waiver from it and always be consistent. Once the child and parent understand the rules of the system and how to play by it, there will be less confusion, anxiety, and better communication. You will soon discover that your child’s attitude and behavior will quickly turn around and your relationship with him or her will be happier and healthier.
2. Get Involved and Often.
It’s been said that the greatest investment a parent can ever make in their child’s life is spending quality time with them. When you are a part-time parent you get a part-time child. If you only put in 50 percent, you only get out 50 percent. If you want a strong and lasting relationship with your child, you have to be willing to make personal sacrifices and put in the time and effort with your child. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do it together. Again, it’s about the quality of time you spend together, not the quantity of activities.
Growing up, I played a lot of sports. The one thing I hated more that anything else was sitting on the bench and watching others in the heat of battle. I wanted more than anything to be in the middle of it all and when I wasn’t it tore me up inside. No one likes to sit on the bench or “ride the pine” because it’s lonely and boring. Everyone wants a piece of the action and maybe if their lucky enough, be the hero. When you sit on the bench as a parent, you miss out on some of the most precious moments of your child’s life. Moments that you can never get back and ones that may never come again. Don’t be a spectator parent. Get off the bench and into the middle of the fray. You’ll be glad you did and so will your child.
When at all possible, try to be there for as many activities for your child as you can. And not just show up as I mentioned. Get involved by actively participating. My two oldest boys play baseball and so that I could spend more time with them, I help coach their little league team. It is a blast helping kids learn the great game of baseball but more importantly, I get to be directly involved in my children’s lives while teaching and leading them. I know it makes a big difference to my boys when I am there cheering them on and supporting them at the field level. Even though they may not say it or fully appreciate me being there with them, I see it when my boys smile and high-five me once they round third. It is at that moment when I realize that this is where I need to be.
3. Set and Be a Great Example.
The role model that will have the greatest impact and influence on your child for either good or bad in their lifetime is you – the parent. For girls, that parent is the mother and for the boys, the father. That’s not to say that both parents don’t have a great influence on their child because they do, but studies have shown that same sex gender plays a greater role in how that child is influenced based upon the sex of that child. And from a logical stand point, that makes perfect sense. Females understand females better than a male and vice-versa and for obvious reasons. Nonetheless, both parents need to set and be a great example for their child.
When children are brought into this world, they learn from their parents and siblings within the home how to walk, speak, think, behave and acquire new knowledge and understanding. As time goes on and that child gets older, they begin to learn from others outside of their home environment. That’s when they begin to simulate into society and learn new attitudes, feelings, and behaviors. Their mind and body are trying to formulate all this new knowledge and conceptualize how this information will be processed. In short, they are trying to find their identity and where they fit in the scheme of it all. It can be a very daunting and challenging task.
That’s why it is so critical that your child gets off on the right foot to be better prepared and handle the difficult challenges that await him or her. You as a parent have a tremendous responsibility and duty to ensure that when your child leaves home on their own that they stand a fighting chance of surviving and thriving in a completely new environment that will shape who they are and who they will become. But before society teaches them, you have the distinct advantage to nurture and mold them into success so that when the gale force winds of life attack, their foundation will be strong enough to withstand it.
By setting a positive example right from the get-go, your child will know what pattern of behavior to follow. They will quickly learn what they should and should not do based on effective discipline. They will lean what is acceptable and is not acceptable based on your teachings.
The old saying, “Monkey see monkey do” is so applicable to parenting because children do exactly what their parents do. So, set the correct example from the beginning and then practice what you preach thereafter. Refuse to be the kind of parent who says, “Don’t watch what I’m doing, only listen to what I say.” What? Not only is that confusing but that’s poor teaching. In essence, you are saying to your child, “Only learn the good and not the bad from me.” I’m sorry but it doesn’t work that way. You have to teach your child the good from the bad and then model the correct behavior in what is appropriate. When you do so, your child will understand much easier and quicker the next time he or she encounters a similar situation and know exactly what he or she must do to be successful.
4. Listen More, Talk Less.
Nobody likes to hear other people talk, especially when they drone on about themselves or have to hear an ear full for something they did wrong. Instead, take the more effective route and listen rather than talk. The rule of thumb is in any conversation, listen 80 percent and talk only 20 percent of the time. That can be especially tough for a parent since we always want to teach but here’s the lesson: you can do more good by listening then you can by talking.
Stephen R. Covey coined the phrase: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” If you want people to really “hear” or understand you, you must first listen to them. Allow them to share their thoughts and feelings without interruption. In most cases when you do, you learn a few things:
1. You tend to be less judgmental
2. You become less selfish because you’re not trying to impose your will
3. You learn that most people figure the answer out themselves
4. You gather more insight and information from that person’s point of view that you would otherwise
5. You become more sympathetic and learn patience
6. You build trust and respect
7. You are open to other alternatives or solutions that are not possible if you are the one dominating the conversation
Through the act of listening, you gain a better perspective of the whole scenario and can more clearly communicate your thoughts that best connect with the receiver. So the next time you go to talk, don’t. Listen, learn, and then listen some more.
5. Be Gentle yet Firm.
It’s always a fine balance of having just the right amount of gentleness mixed with firmness. There are times when you need to be firm, especially when it comes to rules and reprimand but there are also times when you must be gentle and offer a warm hug and comforting words.
There is a time and place for everything and you will have to learn when the right time is to use either or both simultaneously. When you are firm, be consistent and don’t waiver from it. Don’t be afraid to be so as well as be afraid of how your child will react. Do not be belligerent, overbearing, or intimidating. Not only is this bullying and abusive but manipulative. You will never win any battle by behaving in this manner. Instead, be calm, think calmly, and speak calmly. If need be, step back from the situation, collect your thoughts, regain your composure, and try again. Never act out in aggression or have emotion involved. Always defuse the situation by first removing emotion or yourself from the equation. When you do, reasonable heads will prevail and a solution will be reached sooner with little to no damage.
6. One-On-One Time is Gold.
Everyone wants to feel valued and feel like they are the only ones in the world. This is so true particularly with children. When a parent goes out of their way to make their child feel like they are a king or queen and show it through actions and not just words alone, that is worth more than all the riches in the world and 10 trips to Disney land.
If you ask your child what their fondest memory is as a family or with you, they won’t necessarily say the time we went to so- and- so but will say the time you spent with him or her listening, teaching, and helping them. He or she will remember the camping trips and how you taught them to chop wood or set up a tent or the campfire songs. He or she will remember you teaching them how to throw a curve ball or a spiral or the time you took off work to be at their music recital or ballet. He or she will remember you staying up late and helping them with math or a science project that’s due the next morning. Those are the small big moments that last and make a difference. Those are the golden moments that define who you are as a parent and what kind of parent your child will be. Look and focus on the gold mine and you will reap bountifully.
7. Love and Lift Always.
Children crave attention and in particular their parent’s attention. Even as adults, we want to always please our parent’s and make them proud of us. By virtue of being born, everyone should automatically be loved without strings attached. Love is the single greatest power that can literally change lives.
Over the years, there have been numerous psychology studies on the effect that love has on a newborn. What psychologists learned is that babies, who were coddled, loved, given a lot of affection and tension from an early age grew up “normal” with little to know side effects. In contrast, babies who were given less coddling, attention, and affection developed severe mental, psychological, and social issues. And in rare cases, a few of the babies literally died of a broken heart.
Without love, there is no life. And when we withhold our love from our children or make it conditional, we are slowing killing the life out of those precious individuals. Always give and receive of your love freely and let it grow in your children. Love has and always will endure forever.
One of the primary characteristics of love is support. When we love others, we should lift them as well. We should never belittle or put others down, especially our children. If we want to lift someone up we have to be standing on higher ground. Much like lifting someone out of a ditch, we can’t if they are leveled or below us.
To lift up our children, we should always say kind and encouraging words that are genuine. Phrases such as, “You’re a great kid!” or “I’m proud of you!” or “I knew you could do it!” are simple yet powerful ways to build self-confidence and self-esteem in a child or adolescent struggling emotionally to survive. Always build up your children and never tear them down.
8. Be Forgiving and Less Critical.
It is so easy to “fly of the handle” by yelling and screaming then it is by using self-restraint and mannerisms. How many of us have been guilty (far too often I imagine) of tearing a strip off our child in the heat of the moment only to feel guilt and remorse afterwards? The sad thing is that in most cases, the incident that your child was involved in was insignificant but yet, as a parent, we want to “teach our child a lesson” and to “get our point across” so that he or she will never do it again. So what do you do? You holler in a loud voice and threaten the child with severe punishment hoping to scare fear into him or her so that they will never do it again. Guess what? The chances of them repeating that same act or behaving in a similar manner are great. Why? Because we as humans don’t learn things just once. Otherwise, we would all be virtuosos and be fluent in 10 languages. Years later, the kid may not remember what exactly he did but he will remember how his Mom or Dad reacted and the feelings he felt as a result. As humans, we tend to forget certain events but rarely do we forget feelings.
I recall a story someone told me years ago that stuck in my head. He said, “If you want to teach a child not to touch the stove, put his or her hand on the stove and see what happens. I guarantee he or she will never touch the stove again.”
I said to him, “How do you know this?”
He responded, “You see this scar (pointing to his hand). My Dad did that to me when I was a kid and I have never forgotten it.”
I’m sorry but I don’t need to “touch the stove” to know that it will burn me if I do. Just like I don’t need to walk on the moon to know that it exists. I can learn from other people’s mistakes and more importantly, from correct principles and teachings then by actually participating.
As a parent, you need to be less critical and more forgiving. You make mistakes as well and so why do you expect your child to be perfect? After all, they too are learning and trying to create their own identity and part of that learning comes through trial and error. That is a good thing, not bad. So don’t belittle him or her for learning and not always knowing what the right thing is that he or she should do. Be patience, be supportive, and see these opportunities as teaching moments to expound the correct methods of carrying out an activity.
9. Be There.
One of my biggest pet peeves in life is people who say that will do something and then don’t. Where I come from, we call it integrity – something that has been forgotten over the years.
Not too long ago, we needed our roof repaired. My wife and I had called around to a dozen roofing companies leaving voice mail and email messages. Only two out of the twelve actually called us back and of those two, one of them didn’t email me until eight days later. If you have ever tried to hire tradespeople, you know what I am talking about.
So, we finally tracked down what seemed like the only roofing company in town and after pleading and prodding for them to come, they did after three weeks of our initial call. By then, the monsoons had come and were causing considerable damage to our home. When they showed up to our home, one of the tradesmen got his ladder out, climbed on top of the roof, went from one end to the other and then came back down and said, “Yep, it’s damaged, we’ll have to fix it.” He then said, “We’ll be back.”
Oh he came back alright, four weeks later! And when he did, he only did a partial job and then left again. These shenanigans continued on for weeks. I wanted desperately to fire him but I had no one else who would come and the roof needed to be fixed. After being polite and patient the first few times (I didn’t want to tick him off and have him leave for good) I finally had enough. I called him up and left a terse message. I even wrote him a flaming email that got his attention. Sure enough, he came the next day and finished the job. In the end, we got our roof completed. What should have only taken a day, took over ten long and painful weeks. When you say you are going to be there or do something, do it. Don’t lie and don’t procrastinate. If you can’t do it, then be honest enough to say so and don’t commit to it. And if you do commit to something and a situation arises, have the decency to let the other person know. They will understand and forgive you. Don’t leave them hanging and coward off. It makes you look bad and puts a black mark on your good family name.
When you tell your child you will be there for his or her school play or sporting event or pick them up from work, be there! If you don’t, your child quickly learns that your word doesn’t mean anything and three things happen: one, your child loses trust and confidence in you; two, your child internalizes your “mishap” or “lie” as them not being important enough for you to be there; and three; your child learns from your poor example and pretty soon, guess what starts to happen? Instead of your child coming home on time, he or she begins to come home later and later and uses the excuse, “I forgot” or “I was busy.” Hum… does this sound familiar? It should. You taught them this, remember? And you didn’t even realize it! Be there and your kids will be there for you.
10. Teach and Lead.
Every single day presents new learning opportunities, not only for you as a parent but for your child. Always seek to teach and lead whether the situation is good or bad. As parents, we are quick to point out the bad and teach the right but seldom to we praise the good moments and reinforce good decisions that are children make.
As a parent, learn to have faith and trust in your child. Allow them to make mistakes and to learn on their own from those mistakes. Guide your children through situations and have them discover for themselves what the correct choices or decisions they should have made. Point out to your child what would have happened had they made a better choice or decision so that they can visualize the outcome at their own level.
As you teach, always remember to lead. Lead by example and through encouragement. Learn to walk-the-walk and talk-the -talk. Children would much rather follow your actions and behaviours than what you say. Talk is cheap but actions speak volume. Lead by good example and your children will follow the leader. Lead by bad example and your children will still follow the leader.
Always be thinking, “How can I better lead my children and be a better parent?” In most cases, your children will teach you without you even knowing it. The secret is to listen and observe, ask questions and take genuine interest in them and their lives. When you do so, you will grow as a parent and as a leader and so will your children. Learn from each other and you will learn to be better.