Parenting is a very complex task. If we're not careful, we will become too focused on one aspect and let the others fall by the wayside. Many times, I see parents who are intently focused on discipline, and I'm talking about the traditional use of the word here with regard to modifying behavior. Sometimes we get very caught up in "What do I do when..." or "How do I get my kid to..." and we lose sight of the bigger picture.
The truth is that there are many things that are more important in shaping our children than the methods and techniques we use to modify their behavior.
Here are 10 things that are more important than any method you choose, in no particular order.
1. Relationship. The relationship that we have with our children is the single biggest influence on them. Our relationship sets an example for how relationships should be throughout the rest of their lives. If we have a healthy relationship based on respect, empathy, and compassion, we have set a standard. They will grow to expect that this is what a relationship looks like and will likely not settle for less. If, however, our relationship is based on control, coercion, and manipulation, well you see where I'm going with this.
In addition to that, our influence comes from a good relationship. Children are more likely to listen to and cooperate with an adult who they are connected to. In other words, if we build trust and open communication when they are small, they will come to us when they are not so small. Our attachment helps wire healthy brains, and our responses set the tone for how they respond to us (they're little mirrors).
2. Your lens. When you look at your child, who do you see? Do you see the positives or the negatives? The way you think about them influences the way you treat them. Your thoughts also influence the way you feel emotionally and physically throughout the day. "He is in the terrible twos" will cause you to look for terrible things, to focus on them, and therefore try to correct them...constantly. Try to turn negative thoughts like this into positive thoughts, like, "He is inquisitive and fun!" Try to start seeing misbehavior as a clue that calls for help rather than something that needs squashed immediately. Correction is not needed nearly as often as you might think.
Also watch your tone and language. "Be mindful of the language you use to describe your children. They will come to see themselves through that filter you design." -Lori Petro, TEACH Through Love. Be careful not to place labels such as "naughty" or "clumsy" on your child. They will come to see themselves the way you see them.
3. Your relationship with your significant other. Your kids are watching and learning. The way you and your partner treat each other again sets a standard. Happy parents make happy kids. Read How Your Marriage Affects Your Kids.
The foundation of a happy family is a strong, loving relationship between the two of you. The single, most important thing that you can do for your children is to do everything in your power to have the best possible relationship with your spouse. If they see the two of you getting along and supporting each other, they will mirror you and will likely get along with each other and their friends. Every single ounce of energy that you put into your relationship will come back to you tenfold through your children.
4. The atmosphere of your home. All of the things mentioned above come together to create the atmosphere in your home. If you have loving and connected relationships, you likely have a warm atmosphere in your home. If there is discord between you and your spouse, or you and your child, or your child and your other child, then the overall atmosphere will suffer. Have you ever gone to someone's home and could just feel a negative atmosphere? You want your home to be a haven, a safe, warm, inviting, and loving place for all family members. Dorothy Parker said, "The best way to keep children home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant--and let the air out of the tires." You don't have to let the air out until they're 16 though. ;-)
5. How you relate to others. How do you treat the bank teller, the store clerk, the telemarketer? What about your parents and your in-laws? They are watching your example. “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means.” -Albert Einstein
6. Community. Are you involved in your community. Aside from setting an example, there are valuable lessons to be learned from volunteering, supporting a local cause, attending church, or donating items. Seeing a bigger picture, how their acts can influence many lives, will give them a sense of responsibility and reinforce good values.
7. School. Whether you choose private school, public school, homeschooling, or unschooling, your choice will have an impact on your child. Choose with care. Peers have a big influence on children, but if our relationship is where it should be, our influence will still be stronger.
8. Your cup. How full is it? You have to take care of you so you can take care of them. If your cup is full, you are more patient, more empathetic, and have more energy. Not only that, but a child who sees his parents respect themselves learns to have self-respect. Put yourself back on your list.
9. Media. Television. Video games. Social media. They are always sending messages to your kids. Now, I let my kids watch TV and play computer games, so I'm not taking a big anti-media stance here, but just be aware of what your kids are getting from what they're watching. My son said something out of character for him a while back that came directly from a cartoon character. I knew where he'd gotten it and we had a talk about the differences between cartoon land and the real world. I'm just glad they don't have a Facebook account yet!
10. Basic needs. Adequate nutrition, sleep, and exercise are not only essential for the well-being of your child but also influence behavior. Dr. Sears addresses nutrition here. Also read this article, Sleep Better for Better Behavior. Finally, Exercise helps children learn to focus their attention, limit anger outburst and improve motor skills. Read more about that here.
“If I had my child to raise all over again, I’d build self-esteem first, and the house later. I’d finger-paint more, and point the finger less. I would do less correcting and more connecting. I’d take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes. I’d take more hikes and fly more kites. I’d stop playing serious, and seriously play. I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars. I’d do more hugging and less tugging.“ - Diane Loomans