The Just-Right Parent

When I was asked to write this column, one of my first challenges was to come up with a good title. It should give a bit of a flavour for what to expect, and should be a little bit snappy or attention grabbing. Hmmmm. How about “How to Raise Children: Love Is All You Need”? Umm. No. Because, with apologies to the Beatles, children need much more than love to grow into the happy and well-balanced young adults we expect.
Okay, how about this one? “Getting Kids to Do Everything They Are Supposed To As Soon As You Ask Them To.” No! That would be false advertising as well! No parenting advice can produce children who are always obedient, always good-tempered, and always working their hardest. In fact, that would be a terrible goal for parents.
Childhood is a time for learning how to cope with life’s challenges, and it takes children some time and practice to learn to do that. No, if our goal is to have our children grow into independent adults who respect themselves and others, then something else is needed.
So this column will have to be called “The Just-Right Parent”. Because most parents know that parenting is a balancing act, and not always a pretty one.
Parents ask themselves if they are too strict or too permissive, too controlling or too lax, too much like their own parents, or not enough like them. The reality is that the most effective parents are those who follow two basic rules of parenting. First, children’s feelings and wishes must always be genuinely respected and acknowledged, not just with words but by listening and showing that you “get it”. And secondly, children do best when firm, fair, and consistent limits are placed on their behaviour. The Just-Right Parent feels more positive and confident, and their families experience more calm and less arguing. Now that doesn’t sound hard, does it?

Dear Dr. Toby,
I heard you on the radio a few weeks ago say that the “naughty step” or other forms of time-out are not always the best way to discipline children. But if you don’t teach them a lesson, how will they ever learn to behave? MT

Dear MT,
It is true that time-out often stops the behaviour for the moment, but it does little to solve the underlying problem. Children need to learn ways of dealing with strong feelings or conflict. There are ways to teach children to behave that are just as quick as time-out, and lead to more harmony and cooperation.
Let’s say 6-year-old Billy hit his sister after she kept pulling his arm when he was trying to make a Lego tower. Obviously we want him to learn not to do that. But what do we want him to learn to do instead? If we put Billy in time-out he will probably not hit his sister for the next few minutes, but he will have no idea what to do next time she annoys him. Not only that, but his feeling of annoyance and being hard-done-by will probably increase. Billy needs to learn alternatives to hitting, and fast! Some ways of helping him learn this are:
Consistently redirect your child away from hitting and get him to practice a more effective way of getting his sister to stop annoying him. “Hitting is not allowed! Tell Amy with words that she is making you mad.”
Children are more likely to cooperate if they feel you understand their point of view first. “Billy, I can see how mad it makes you when Amy keeps pulling on your arm. The rule is, no hitting! Think of another way to let her know you don’t like that.” These are a few approaches to try instead of time-out. Write back and let me know how it goes!

Dr. Toby Sachsenmaier is a Clare based Clinical Child Psychologist with more than 25 years of experience. She offers a six-week course about behaviour, emotions, and self-esteem for parents of school-age children and adolescents.
If you have a question for Dr Toby email [email protected] Questions may be edited for publication and all identifying information, such as names, will be removed. No questions will be responded to privately.


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