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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Three Most Important Parts of Parenting By Sarah MacLaughlin

The Three Most Important Parts of Parenting By Sarah MacLaughlin, LSW, Parenting Coach for Moms and Dads 

Let me start by saying that every parent knows their own children best. YOU are the expert on your own child. I aim to not so much give advice, as ask the right questions and offer guidance along the roads that parents travel. So the guidance I will offer is guideposts, actually. Here are three of what I consider to be the most important aspects of good parenting: Respect, relationship, and repair.

First and foremost: respect. This makes sense; we want and need our children to respect us, right? Right. I think the tricky piece here is staying mindful that respect must be a two-way street. This also makes sense; intellectually anyway. Practically speaking, it isn't always easy to respect a small child who needs your near constant supervision and care. It's even harder to hold in high esteem a small person who may not be behaving rationally, managing their emotions, or have all their teeth yet. Let's face it, our culture is not one in which the weak, emotionally volatile, and unreasonable command respect. Along these same lines, we mainly parent within a paradigm where kids are the sponges and we are our child's first teacher. But this is only one side of a much more complex story. As adults we may have more information, knowledge, and common sense than a child. But we forget our duality, and easily dismiss children's inherent gifts of connectedness, creativity, humor, and emotional honesty.

Next: relationship. This is what parenting is all about! Ah, but we are so easily side-tracked into control and behavior management. Rebecca Thompson, executive director of The Consciously Parenting Project, notes that behavioral approaches (consequences, etc.) all stem from the research of B.F. Skinner - you may recall that he worked with laboratory animals? Animals are not people, and although many have proposed that training techniques do work to change conduct in children, often this is not the case, and the result ends up being even more escalated behavior. Ms. Thompson suggests addressing the underlying emotion first, before discussing behavior, or what might be done differently next time. Keep in mind that it's hard to receive feedback on your actions while you are having strong feelings (and brain research confirms this), no matter what your age!

 And finally: repair. I'll be honest; sometimes I just don't get it right. We are all human and prone to messing up. Part of repair is being accountable for our actions. Apologize if you've made a mistake. This is a skill all people need; modeling it for your child is incredibly valuable. When we approach a problem, error, or offense of ours or theirs with true curiosity about what can be done to amend, fix, repair, or make restitution, we are on track for learning, making things right, and better behavior in the future. Punishment, criticism, and negative consequences all use fear as a motivator. Ultimately, I'd rather maintain love, not fear, in my connection with my child; repair helps with this.

So keep doing what you're doing! Love your kids, treat them with respect, and remember that your relationship will long outlast the phase where you are parenting them. Hopefully you will have a much longer adult-adult relationship with them than you will have adult-child. Model self-control, kindness, humility, and other qualities you WANT to see in your child. The good news and the bad news is that your children are usually paying very close attention to your behavior. Try to make sure it's desirable.

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