First I am going to start out with a few big disclaimers. I don’t claim to be the best parent in the world. In fact I’m constantly re evaluating the decisions I make for the children, our systems of consequences, and even how I speak. When I make a mistake I’m honest and upfront with the kids so that they know that even adults make mistakes and ask for them to understand what I’m going to do in the future to try to make better choices myself. Parenting is a huge issue. Many people have very many different opinions on how to raise children. I’m here to shine a light on parenting and why most people are horrible at it. Get yourself some popcorn because you’ll be salty soon enough.
I’ve heard that pictures help people understand things easier. Let’s try that!
We need to start back a long time ago. Late 1980’s and early 1990s. I lived in a time where the types of parenting were very polarized. You were usually either an Authoritarian type or a Permissive type. I grew up in the very rare Authoritative household which was strange at the time. I was told how the world worked and I had very open discussions with my family. We knew the consequences of doing good stuff and trying dumb stuff. For example if I wanted to climb a tree I knew that it was high up and very dangerous. No one was there to remind me that climbing to the top of the tree was going to be difficult and not very smart. But for some reason I wanted to challenge myself and climb the tree. When I fell out of said tree on my way down I already knew the consequences of my actions. My parents didn’t have to do anything but give me that look that said a million words. Nothing like a broken bone to remind you that some obstacles have very real consequences for the next few months as it healed. If I saved up money for the brand new Nintendo but I wanted a juice and cookie at the church yard sale I had to be willing to do the work to make up my spent money. I had a basic understanding of how the world worked and what was expected of me in it.
Now we fast forward to my daughter being born. It wasn’t until she was finally out and holding my finger on her mother’s stomach did a huge anxiety come over my entire being. I had no idea how to be a father. I did the reading on how to take care of the essentials for an infant and all that sort of prenatal stuff like playing music to my wife’s stomach or talking to Lilly while she was still growing. However there was a very real anxiety about the lack of knowledge about childhood milestones, growth, how to help my daughter be able to navigate this world effectively and I needed to change that. As part of a very large life change I started researching everything I could get my hands on. Child development, journals on effective parenting, how to place a child’s needs first over yours in an emotionally charged interaction. It took me around 6 months to get to a point where I felt I could take all of the knowledge I had learned and turn it into something workable and sustainable for my daughter. Six months of reading a few hours a day in between chiropractic appointments and aggressive physical therapy.
So I want to start talking about the types of parenting in this blog post. I am a very huge supporter of those who use Authoritative parenting. As an Authoritative parent you have guidelines and rules that are to be followed. However there is usually a discussion about them and there are exceptions to certain rules. You explain to children the reasons for the rules and are much more open to a child’s feelings when setting limits. Authoritative parents use consequences instead of punishments. HERE IS THE FIRST THING YOU NEED TO WALK AWAY WITH: There are both positive and negative consequences to a child’s behavior. You are the arbitrator of a child’s decisions. In my house we call this the “Choice, Decision, Consequence” mentality. By using a reward system, verbal praise, and an understanding of negative consequences a child is able to self regulate both emotions and establish better decision making strategies sooner in life. So how does this actually work? I’ll give you my own personal examples!
In my house we have a large consequence line. It starts all the way in the positive consequences and ends all the way to the right with negative consequences. I drew this terribly in Paint. The goals with this system is to help a child be able to make independent choices more often when they make a poor choice and to highly praise them for making an independent positive choice and therefore positive consequence!
Let’s start with the positive consequence side. If a parent has to help make that choice, with say a verbal prompt, “Hey isn’t it time to make your bed?” and the child completes the task it they should be rewarded according to your own personally crafted reward system that works best for your household. That is coming up next! For this positive consequence in our household we’d give the child some verbal praise and even a hug to celebrate doing such a good job. If the bed is poorly made I’d take the time to help out and maybe show a new way to try to make the bed. Now there are a few morning when I wake up and the 7, 4, and 3 year old children have made their beds without being asked (Independent choice) and are playing nicely together in the bedroom. This is the farthest end of the positive consequence line and not only would I let them know verbally how proud I was but I would end up giving each of them two stickers (instead of just 1) on the reward chart along with maybe doing something fun with them to show them how proud I am of such an independant choice. This is usually something like letting them work out extra with me at the gym, or taking them for a unexpected adventure, or even letting them choose a preferred activity that we can all do later. This by the way is usually a game called, “Let’s all make our own “houses” all over the living room with every toy, blanket, stuffie, and book in our apartment.” On the negative consequence side we have the independent choice to start. This is when a child is making a bad choice like talking back or not using words to express how they feel. Most of the time at my house you will hear a disagreement about the terms of some game of pretend. Who can be a doggy, or an ice queen, or who can have what powers. As long as everyone is using words to explain how they feel without screaming, yelling, or being disruptive to others it is fine. It is when someone decides to push the other or maybe even throw a toy that a negative consequence comes into play. I will usually ask probing questions first like, “Hey what happened here?” or “I hear someone is crying it sounds like they are upset can you tell me what happened?” This allows you to listen to the children as they explain their perspective on the situation. If you’ve never done any reading on conflict resolution you should stop reading this and go buy a book or 100. Because this will help you so much. After listening to the situation I usually either let them resolve the rest of the issue themselves or ask them what they think an appropriate consequence would be. The independent choice is when one of the kids will say, “I’ll give up my next time with the train”, “I’m going to do some corner time to think about my bad choice” or sometimes we have “I’m going to sit on my bed for a few minutes to calm down and try again!”. The negative consequence seems to be reinforced when the child has to own their own choice and also create their own consequence. The last part is the parent guided consequence. For those moments when a child is being a child! Want to say no to me? Want to color on the wall? Decided to hit your sibling but not to say sorry and just do it again? We have a few easy parent guided consequences! One is sitting on your bed with no toys to take a small time out. Another fan favorite around here is losing a preferred toy for a day until you make a good choice to earn it back. There is always the corner where you can stand and think about your choice-decision-consequence quietly until your time is up and afterwards we sit down to discuss how things happened and perhaps how you can make a better choice in the future. There are a few times when you will have to guide them and this is when most parents just fail. Fail and fail everywhere. This is the hard part. You have to take time? You have to think about how to help the child? But I just need to go out the door! I just want to make it to the school on time! If you are focusing on what YOU as the parent need over the child you are DOING. IT. WRONG. When your child is upset and crying most parents don’t step back emotionally to see what the child’s needs are. Yes, they are crying and upset. But ultimately what do they need to learn and know to be able to GROW in this situation? A hug feels great. A hug after learning why we were upset and acknowledging our emotions is even better. I have one of my famous examples right… here!
So the youngest is 3 years old and was struggling with his fine motor skills. At the time it was putting on his shoes by himself. So I started up on a Monday that each day for 10 minutes he was going to work on putting his shoes on by himself with support from us. (This isn’t a consequence but a side story on seeing past emotions to a child’s needs just to be clear) On the third day the usually smiling 3 year old didn’t take a nap that day and by the end of the day was sitting down crying as he tried to put his shoes on by himself. His mother pulled me into the other room and said, “Do we have to do this today? I mean he didn’t take a nap and it is already hard enough for him to work on when he is well rested.” I responded with this, “Tired or not he is going to have to overcome this challenge in life. If we don’t motivate and show him that he CAN do this EVEN when he is tired we are only setting him up for failure. We are going to show him that he can overcome this even if it is difficult.” That night was the first night that the 3 year old after 15 minutes of attempts and in between tears, put on his “big boy” shoes all by himself. That smile man. I wish I could bottle it up. If you could see the smile on his face everyday as now not only can he put on his shoes like a big boy, but he has just overcome the challenge of putting on his own jacket and zipping it up by himself in a few short weeks.
For those of you who wanted to see the Positive Consequences Sticker Reward chart here you go!
The hardest part of authoritative parenting is this. Time. You have to spent time coming up with positive rewards that work for your family. It takes time to be patient when YOU didn’t make sure to get everyone up in time so that your child could practice zipping up his/her coat. It takes time to explain what choice could have been a better one and to try to instil a sense of success, fearlessness, pride, and ownership in their own persons. If you wonder why your kids are a mess, don’t listen, are behind in school here is the answer. It is you. You aren’t putting in the time that THEY need to be successful. You might as well just be just anyone who gives them food, a place to live, and send them out the door at 18 without any skills to become another reason why our society is a mess. Critical thinking, independent self worth, morals and values, being trustworthy and hardworking aren’t usually just given at birth. They are developed and taught by parents who take the time to do so.
Parenting is rough. It takes time, energy, love, and support. This world is insane. If you don’t give your children the tools to be successful, happy, motivated, and inspired what are you doing? Give them endless love and support. Show them the world is crazy but at a safe distance. Explain to them that they can’t just expect anything to be given to them. Take the time to be a good parent to what should be the most important thing in your life, that kid of yours.
Questions? Comments? Concerns? Was my post too mean or real for you? Feel free to email me or write a comment here!