“Leave me Alone!” your 7 year old shouts at you as he runs to his bedroom and slams the door, angry that you’re not giving him what he wants even though he knows he has to do his chores first.
You turn around and there is your 12 year old not doing homework, sprawled in front of a video game. You remind him to do his homework and he won’t.
You are worried about your teenage daughter who is being heavily influenced by friends to do things you know will lead her down a path of pain. Sigh.
Some days it just feels so overwhelming, and you feel you have no influence over your children. How can you inspire and love them so they will be confident in themselves, learn to work, study, and have good relationships with you and others? How can you help them become well-functioning, happy adults when they won’t even listen to you?
In search of answers, you go to the library or to Amazon.com and look at parenting books. The choices are overwhelming. Online reviews contradict each other. How can you know what book or program will be the most helpful? I’ve read many parenting books, and some of them backfired as I began to use their advice. In my 21 years of being a parent, I’ve learned a lot, and want to share with you some ideas of what to look for in a successful parenting book or program.
Five things to look for in a parenting program:
1. Find a program that encourages you to treat your child as a person not an object. A child is a little person with a heart, with feelings, desires, wants, and needs. Sometimes parents overlook that and see their children as little (or big) objects who get in their way, make their lives difficult, or annoy them. A parent with this attitude will have whiny children constantly trying to get their attention because they don’t feel loved or secure. They can feel that their parent sees them as annoying and a problem, so they become more of a problem by trying to make their parents acknowledge and love them. My favorite book/program that helped me solve this problem is “Positive discipline” by Jane Nelson (www.positivediscipline.com). Positive Discipline teaches parents how to ask good questions of their children, to listen and encourage responses, to have the consequences and rewards all explained and set out so the child knows what to expect and can make decisions accordingly, it uses “time out” as a tool to help children calm down so they can resolve the issue rather than a disciplinary tactic that gets the child out of the way. Positive Discipline is the best, most well rounded parenting program I have encountered, and there is much more than I can describe in a few sentences. Every concept and instruction reminds you that your child is a wonderful little person, who needs boundaries and rules to guide them, and encouragement, challenge, and a listening ear to motivate and inspire them.
2. One that teaches you not only how important it is to acknowledge your child’s emotions, but also helps you teach your children to manage and work through their emotions. Children need to know that it’s ok for them to experience emotional reactions, and here’s how to recognize, solve, and move through those feelings. Some parenting methods suggest ways to communicate and enforce discipline that completely undermines the child’s emotions in favor of the parent’s emotions. But picture for a moment, a child who is aware of being frustrated and angry and knows how to appropriately respond to those feelings that are welling up inside. Imagine how successful that child will be as an adult when they understand their emotions and know how to work through them and resolve the problems they’re feeling. Most adults I know would benefit from knowing how to control and resolve their emotional frustrations, as well!. You are giving your kids a great gift and power when you teach them to recognize and move through their emotions. I recommend the book “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child” by Dr. John Gottman.
Recognize, enjoy, and celebrate each child’s differences
3. A program that helps you understand that each child is different, and different is good! Sometimes we want our children to be just like us. If the parent is more of a silent type of person, and their child is constantly moving, talking, and being loud, the child is told over and over to sit down and be quiet. Stop jumping around! Just be calm! This may lead to the child wanting to shut down their gift of vibrant life in order to please their parents. Or, the opposite can happen. If a parent is naturally social, vivacious and talkative and they have a silent, observant child, the parent could get impatient at the child’s unwillingness to participate socially and be talkative. Either way, it’s damaging to the child. There are many different personality profiles in our world. I recommend one specifically for parenting. It’s a book called “The Child Whisperer” by Carol Tuttle. This book defines 4 different types of children, points out their strengths and challenges at different ages, and gives very specific ideas of what a child of each “type” needs from a parent. The author even gives specific verbiage for each type of child that will fill their love bucket, motivate them, and give them confidence in the gift of who they are. This concept has been a game changer for our family.
Food as a reward or punishment?
4. Do not listen if the program uses food as a manipulation tool. There is a very popular parenting book and program by an author in my area who is known in various countries around the world, and many families use her program successfully. However, I haven’t used it much because of its one glaring flaw: it uses food as a consequence and reward by taking away snack privileges. Much of the epidemic of overweight issues is caused by false beliefs about and emotional responses to food. If you use food as a manipulation tool (consequence or reward), it can cause serious problems for children as they get older. They may want to sneak more food, emotionally eat, and overeat at mealtimes. Find a program that leaves food out of the discipline equation.
Show Love no matter what!
5. Find a program that teaches love for your children, even if they are misbehaving or make a mistake. One particular father was anticipating an upcoming dinner date with his daughter. However, the weekend before the date, his daughter seriously broke some family rules and did some things that were not good for her. Conventional thought says that the best thing to do here is to take away the dinner date so this daughter knows how wrong her choices were. But that’s not what this dad did. He enforced discipline that had already been discussed for a situation like this, and kept his dinner date with his daughter. You see, that date was for both of them-it was to nourish their relationship and let his daughter know that no matter what she DOES, he still loves her. And I’ll bet that was more of a motivation for this girl to make better choices than any inflicted discipline could have been. Sometimes it’s our nature as parents to withdraw love from our children by getting angry with them, putting them in time out, “grounding” them, or rejecting them when they make a mistake. This results in the child feeling rejected and not good enough, as well as breaks down the parent-child relationship. Think of it this way: how would it feel if we as adults were yelled at or rejected by our boss, our spouse, or even a sibling every time we made a mistake? That would not feel good or motivate us to do better. The same applies to our children. The message that is sent when we withdraw our love and attention from our children is conditional: “I will love you when you behave. When you do as you’re told, you deserve my love. When I like what you DO, I love you.” Showing love to your children even through their growing pains and weaknesses is vital to their emerging as healthy adults. Read this short article about “Living Love” for more understanding about this, then read “Unconditional Parenting” by parenting guru Alfie Kohn. You will see parenting in a whole different light.
If all this feels a little overwhelming because there are so many options and you don’t know where to begin, don’t despair. Go back and skim this list quickly. Slow down when you feel that prick letting you know that you need help in that particular area. Then check out the recommended book from your library (or if you’re like me, go buy your own copy and read it with a pen in hand so you can take notes in the book), and begin reading and implementing. Any one of these programs has the potential to bring more love and joy to your family.