The Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Parenting
Dealing with thoughts and feelings:
By paying attention to identify our children’s thoughts and feelings, we can avoid dismissing or ignoring their psychological state, and become able to create an atmosphere where they feel free to express their emotions healthily and begin to explore their own solutions.
When our feelings are brushed aside, we’re not likely to want to continue the conversation. Instead of dismissing thoughts and feelings, put them into words.
After all, it’s much easier to talk to someone who accepts our feelings and give us a chance to come to our own conclusions.
Do’s and Don’ts:
Do not dismiss feeling – No matter how much we want to make them feel better, by dismissing feelings of distress, we only add to them…
Do not fix things for them – We’re not here to make it go away! But, by allowing them to express their thoughts and feelings, they will feel better in moving forward.
Do not be a dictator – With all the best intentions in the world, by criticising their actions, ignoring their concerns and dictating to them, we will only deny them the opportunity to resolve a situation they have created or found themselves in, and therefore much growth.
Be supportive, but facilitate – By using a word or a sound such as: ‘oh’, ‘huh’, ‘mmm’, ‘ahh’, ‘I see’, ‘well’… we can respond in an emotionally aware/empathetic way, sending a message that they are understood, enabling them to concentrate on their own solutions.
Use humour and imagination – Trying to use reason and rationale as armour against them being unreasonable will only add to their frustration and stress. When we humour their ideas and help them fantasise even more, we can help them distinguish better between fantasy and reality, which in turn helps them in coming to terms with their current realities.
Stand your ground – By avoiding confrontation and choosing the easy way out despite our better judgement, we might keep them happy, but we also deny them a very important lesson in life that may save them much suffering in future, which is: ‘YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT IN LIFE’
Empathise but take a back seat – When we acknowledge their feelings and the facts without taking responsibility for them, we allow them the opportunity to experience and learn toleration.
Do not lead – By providing supportive and collaborative interactions, we can create opportunities for much learning and growth towards independence through practice in self-autonomy.
Do not make demands – By issuing orders and dictating to them, we only create hostility and increase resistance. When we illustrate the issue plainly and without emotions, we encourage them to engage in solution finding.
Avoid being hostile – By pouncing on them, attacking, insulting or devaluing them we will only discourage them totally or encourage defensive behaviour, or even get on the offence. When we start by explaining how we feel, we can make it easier for them to hear us clearly and respond in a helpful manner.
Do not dismiss their concerns – By not really listening to their concerns, we will only dismiss their feelings and add to their misery. When we start to listen to them and acknowledge their feelings, we can help them see things more clearly and feel lighter.
Do not accuse or blame – By accusing and blaming them for things, we will only build resistance and get them on the defence. When we provide information without judgement and respectfully, we allow them to act responsibly and use the feedback on their actions effectively.
Do not make threats – By giving orders and making threats, we can easily force them to be confrontational or at best resentfully concede. When we introduce choice into the equation, it is more likely that our suggestions based on considering mutual needs will be met with a more open mind.
Do not lecture – Preaching with long winded lectures on a subject will only make them more dismissive. When we use very few words as a pointers/reminders, we allow them to hear us better by concentrating on the point in question and increase the likelihood of cooperation.
Do not insult – By pointing out a problem in a derogatory manner we may once again induce dismissive behaviour and run the chance of not being heard at all. When we instead, clearly and respectfully make our expectations known, it will become more likely that they will rise up to them and respect and uphold our values.
Do not criticise – By showing disapprovement of their actions through an angry/hostile approach, we will certainly have a negative impact on their sensitive nature and increase resentment and defiance. When we do the unexpected by replacing hostility and criticism with humour and fun, magic happens. When moods are high and everyone is engaged, the spirit of cooperation will help get anything done.
Do not badger – By harassing and badgering them we may easily help them switch off and tune out. When we become creative and use our imagination, it is more likely that we grab their attention and make our goals possibly more attainable.
Dealing with punishment and discipline:
When we hear the word “discipline”, we tend to instantly think of punishment!
Now, why we do that is not a mystery – that is what discipline meant when we were children ourselves, and it was the same for our parents and theirs before them.
But not only are discipline and punishment not synonyms, but they are fundamentally different from one another and produce two very different results.
Let’s take a look ‘punishment’ first…
To punish is to inflict suffering for past behaviour.
In the heat of the moment it is very easy for us parents to fall into the trap of responding to a child’s undesired behaviour by punishing or inflicting some unpleasantness on them.
Punishment is only effective in deterring inappropriate behaviour by provoking fear in children.
These fears can be of:
- Their possessions being taken away
- Their privileges being revoked
- Their preferences being used against them/held hostage
- Even their safety and well being
However, that does not teach a child anything other than to convey the message that it is alright to hurt others.
When being punished, children do not necessarily come to understand why their behaviour was wrong, or how their behaviour negatively impacted others.
Punishment, to put it simply, is designed to teach children that if/when they break the rules they will suffer negative consequences.
Punishment does not necessarily teach children the reason why rules exist, the importance of the rules or how they can be act in accordance to the rules.
Neither does it teach them responsibility or consideration for the thoughts, feelings, needs or experiences of others.
Over the last decades much research has shown the long-term results of punishment to be emphatically negative:
- When children are punished they do not learn self-discipline.
- Punishment provides “external” motivation, whereas self-discipline requires “internal” motivation.
- When children are punished they either comply to avoid the punishment (and may become approval dependant/people pleasers), or they may resort to cheating and deceiving in order to avoid getting caught.
- When regularly punished, children may become blatantly rebellious, resulting in endless power struggles with parents.
- Punishment often fails to stop and can even lead to an increase in the undesired behaviour, by providing highly charged attention which is one of the most potent rewards available, and since it is difficult to punish without paying attention to the offender, punishing may serve as a reward more than as a punishment.
- By creating strong emotional arousal, punishment can induce excessive anxiety, apprehension, guilt and aggression that can be generalised in other directions.
- Punishment can foster in the child a normalisation of self-punishment as a learned behaviour.
- Punishment can very easily become abuse as parents inadvertently but inevitably inflict damage or even injury by losing control and going beyond the boundaries of rationale or reason.
Now, let’s take a look at discipline…
The word discipline is derived from the Latin word disciplina (teaching, learning or instruction), and discipulus (disciple, pupil).
To discipline means to teach, and to teach is to show and explain how to do something.
Discipline therefore, is not only the practice of training someone to behave in accordance with rules or a code of conduct, but it is really a means of teaching children how to better themselves, as it always carries a lesson which helps children to understand what appropriate behaviours are and why/how they have become accepted in our society.
The benefits of discipline on children have long been established as positive.
- Discipline creates clear boundaries which lead to a sense of security.
- Discipline often increases the sense of responsibility and self-confidence in children.
- Discipline helps develop the ability to distinguish appropriate from inappropriate behaviour.
- Discipline provides children with the opportunity to understand our values as well as what is expected of them within the family, school and the wider community.
- Discipline teaches children the concept of delayed gratification.
- Discipline teaches children that good behaviour can have positive consequences.
- Discipline focuses on fostering desirable future behaviour.
So, it is quite clear that we as parents should strive to discipline rather than punish our children if we are to help them grow to be happy, healthy and productive members of not just the family, but society as a whole.
It is by far better to reinforce desirable behaviour through positive discipline than to try negative reinforcement through punishment of undesirable behaviour.
Positive discipline does not promote or condone any form of punishment, punitive time-out/grounding, withdrawal of privileges, yelling, lectures, threatening, spanking or any other form of inducing unpleasantness…
Do’s and Don’ts:
Express feelings clearly – By expressing feelings we highlight the consequences of their actions without directly blaming. By voicing our expectations, we are setting clear boundaries.
Provide choice – By proposing ways to make amends and put things right, we are fostering a sense of responsibility in them. By providing choice, we engage them in problem solving and give them a sense of internal power.
Maintain boundaries – By taking firm action when they fail to learn from a previous misdeed, we are reiterating our established rules of conduct and reinforcing boundaries.
State your expectations – By expressing feelings, we highlight the consequences of their actions without directly blaming. By voicing our expectations, we are setting clear boundaries.
Provide clarity and transfer responsibility – When we state the facts, point out the choices and consequences, we help them make their own decisions. By providing choice and transferring responsibility, we provide them with problem solving and decision making opportunities.
The way we talk to each other…
Living in a family as individuals has its ups and downs, and it’s mainly due to the fact that we are all different and no two individuals are the same.
We are all unique, with different personalities, temperaments, needs, tastes, interests, likes and dislikes.
At times, it is almost inevitable for our differences to make us clash and conflict with each other, and just to make things more interesting, the teen years, during which we as parents are even more concerned and hypervigilant in keeping our teenagers safe from the dangers in the world outside in this turbulent time, is also the time period in which many differences begin to develop, with teenager’s curiosity to explore the outside world and everything within it at its highest levels.
This is also the time when external influences from friends and peers play a big role in keeping them conflicted between our values and all that is out there in the big wide world…
Furthermore, we have never been busier or more under all types of pressures in life both as parents as well as teenagers.
Simply put, it is quite understandable to see individuals in a family who love and support each other and would do anything to protect any member of their family, at times also annoy, irritate, upset and anger one another.
Whether the arguments are about someone being cold when everyone else wants the heating off, one person wanting to watch Netflix when others want the TV or what mum should cook for dinner… The differences exist! The pain is real! The potential for suffering is there!
In our opinion, the only magical solution to help us navigate through this sometimes difficult journey, is again, effective communication.
Do’s and Don’ts:
Do not lose your temper, walk away and take a moment to compose yourself – At times it is easy for us to be angered by our teenager, leaving us feeling annoyed, agitated and even hostile… When we state our feelings and desires instead of reacting with hostility, we are more likely to be heard and understood.
Dealing with praises…
When it comes to praising our teenagers, other than a natural response due to parental delight, we should generally use it to motivate a change in behaviour, reinforce positive behaviours, increase self-esteem and most important of all, to motivate and inspire them to grow and improve.
The way to achieve all three goals is to praise specific behaviour instead of praising personal qualities and attributes.
- We can praise their persistence, rather than the quality they achieve: “I like that you keep trying”.
- We can praise their self-discipline: “You came home and did your entire homework without a single reminder, well done”.
- We can praise their effort: “Your relationship with your sister is getting better every day, keep it up.”
- We can praise their skills: “You ironed your own shirt like a pro. That’s excellent.”
Avoid praising personal qualities such as: being beautiful, tall, strong… as these qualities are externally provided and do not depend on any personal effort, because when/if they don’t agree with your remarks (in their head), our praises could easily conflict with their own self-perception (right or wrong) and that can lead to dismissal of any praising words offered, and at best they may foster false vanity or an overblown sense self-worth/importance.
Do’s and Don’ts:
Don’t evaluate them – By assessing and evaluating them with our remarks, we may conflict with their self-perception. When instead, we describe the action/effort that we appreciate and commend, we make it more likely for the praise to register.
Praise their efforts and actions – They might not view themselves as we see them, but they can’t argue with just praises and factual feedback. When instead, we praise their actions and their efforts, it’s more believable and motivating.
Negotiating where all else fails…
Clashes, disagreements and struggles are an inevitable part of life for us parents and our teenagers as they grow up, but whether these encounters result in bitterness and resentment or deepened relationships over time is entirely in our hands.
These disagreements can sometimes get quite confrontational and hostile, and can entail yelling, screaming, storming out of rooms, slamming of doors and more.
However, we can go a long way in avoiding much of the turmoil, by utilising the emotional awareness that we have gained so far and by putting our newly mastered skills into practice.
In order for us to maintain as much peace and harmony in the family, we need to relinquish our roles as masters of the universe and the all powerful in the house and recognise our teenagers as equals in a transactional relationship – a give and take kind of deal.
We need to be prepared to negotiate with our teenagers (things have changed a lot since we were kids ourselves).
Living in an open society that has impacted and changed the way children think, their rights and their expectations, we must adapt and respond with parenting to fit.
In our most crucial and longest lasting transactional relationship, we would be wise to master the skill of negotiating in order to be more effective parents (and survive our children’s adolescence!).
Successful negotiations will deepen our relationship with and understanding of our teenagers, whilst transferring these skills to our adolescents for success in navigating life.
These are just some effective negotiating requirements:
- Patient and active listening – what is he/she saying? What point is she/he making?
- Ability to recognise the validity of their point of view – maybe I didn’t quite have the full picture. Maybe my facts were wrong.
- Insight to perceive the importance of the issue at hand to our teenager – rate it on a scale of 1 to 10.
- Clarity to determine which issues are non-negotiable.
- Courage and confidence to say: “I’ve changed my mind” if, either our adolescent makes a persuasive argument and we respect his/her point of view, or in the face of presented new information that significantly alters the situation. Or we appreciate that this is much more important to our child than it is to us.
Do’s and Don’ts:
- Express your concerns…
- Hear their point of view…
- Express your point of view…
- Put heads and ideas together…
- Make a list of all ideas put forward, silly or not, without judgement…
- Go through the list and confirm the ones that you both agree on and come up with best strategies to put them in to action.
Dealing with sex, drugs and alcohol…
It’s natural to feel uneasy when it comes to talking to our teenagers about sex, drugs and alcohol.
But, with the huge amount of external influences and peer pressure on our young adolescents, it is paramount that we get to have our say and be heard clearly on these matters.
Teenagers begin to think about sex from very early adolescence and they’re extremely nervous about it, most likely due to much misinformation about sex, and as a result, they may resort to drinking or taking drugs in order to feel less nervous.
By providing accurate information in a non judgemental way, we can become the main trusted source of information they can rely on and resort to, as beyond what teenagers learn in class, they probably have lots of questions about drugs, pregnancy, condoms, abstinence, oral sex and more.
When we begin talking early and talking often about sex and answering all their questions regardless of how shocking they may seem, we can create an atmosphere of safety for exploration and knowledge, taking the mystery out of it all.
Since adolescents brains aren’t quite wired for consequential thinking and impulse control yet, it’s important to have frank discussions with our teenagers about the consequences of unprotected sex and the importance of using condoms to prevent the spread of STDs, HIV and unwanted pregnancy.
By choosing our timing well, picking the right moments such as their favourite TV shows, movies, commercials, magazine ads and the news, and asking questions such as: “What did you think about that?”, “What did you notice about how these characters interacted?”, “What did you think about the decisions they made?”, we can approach and discuss a number of heavy topics and share ideas and information with our teenagers without confrontation.
It is also important that our teenagers hear our rationale and understand why we feel the way we do in relation to sex, drugs and alcohol in the context of our family’s values and beliefs.
Our teenagers may not want to talk, they may shrug their shoulders and walk away, but make no mistake, inside what they’re really thinking is:
- Keep talking to me about this.
- I need to know what you think.
- I’m trying to figure this out for myself as a teenager and if I don’t get messages from you, then I’m not going to know how to do this.
Do’s and Don’ts:
Approach the subject indirectly – By directly approaching the topic, we may easily make it too awkward for them to focus on anything else.
Choose your moments – It’s important to take advantage of the right moments and opportunities to discuss things:
- Books, magazines, papers…
- Movies, sitcoms…
- Social situations…
- Reading a newspaper…
- Watching an ad…
- Setting an example…
- Commenting on a radio show…
- Commenting on things in public…
- Commenting on a topic in a magazine…
The following tips were designed to make parenting more effective:
- Training our teenagers to distinguish between stress and pressure at a young age encourages them to not make a big deal out of things and stay more relaxed and positive, instead of treating every stressful situation as a “do or die” moment, which is basically being on high alert and hypervigilant 24/7.
- Helping our teenagers to learn to evaluate their situation in a positive and internal way enables them to maximise their ability to focus on the task at hand and persist, rather than crumble under pressure – when we look at a test as an opportunity to shine, we are focused on delivering, whereas when we look at the test as a threat to our goals, we’re more likely to be consumed by fear and anxiety.
- Teaching our teenagers to downplay the important things such as, tests, exams and interviews may sound illogical, unreasonable and feel counterintuitive, but there is a very good reason why top athletes and great performers of our time treat the biggest games and performances of the year as just another game/another act, just another day at the office. It’s because the more important they perceive a test or task to be, the more pressure they experience and the more likely they are to perform below their abilities.
- Validating our teenager’s self-worth by letting them know that we love them regardless of how well they do at school will help detach their self-esteem from external factors, and by validating their efforts instead of their results, we are protecting their self-esteem as well as making it easier for them to bounce back from a setback.
- Aiding our teenagers in recognising that whatever the pressure they may be facing in the moment, other opportunities will always come along. This will help them stay calm, relaxed and more effective by reminding them that other opportunities will always come along.
- Reinforcing the idea in our teenagers that learning new material takes time and effort will ease academic tension and teaches them to set reasonable expectations. It sends the message that it is okay to allow themselves to learn, and fail, and it gives them the courage to admit when they don’t know something. According to some renowned psychologists, one of the most common drivers of student stress and anxiety, leading to resistance to academic challenges and a lack of effort by students, is due to their lack of belief in their intellectual ability to succeed and a fear of failure. While it is crucial for us parents to provide academic support and encourage academic success, setting unrealistic goals like earning straight A’s or getting a perfect test score can backfire and achieve the very opposite to our desired goals.
- Setting examples for our teenagers for everything that we want to promote and foster in them is by far the most fail safe way of ensuring success – children don’t hear us, they mimic us!
At the top of the list of important thing you can do is: remember to text them with a big smiley every day: “May you opt for treasure by smashing through all pressure!”
One thing above all others, is now recognised more and more in human psychology and witnessed daily by educators as one of most important attribute that helps our children endure the course and press on to pursue their goals.
Without it, our young are likely to give up when the road gets bumpy and rough, and a setback or defeat is likely to derail them.
On the other hand, if we help our children develop ‘it’ well, they will be more likely to drive themselves through the bumps and hurdles and develop resilience to aid them in bouncing back from any set back or defeat quickly.
So, what is this ‘one thing’?
Well, it may be one thing, but it has many names:
Courage/Bravery/Pluck/Mettle/Resolve/Strength of character/Backbone/Spirit
Strength of Will/Moral fibre/Steel/Nerve/Gameness/Valour/Fortitude/Toughness/Hardiness
Let’s for ease of typing call it, ‘Resilience’.
It is resilience that enables us to keep long-term goals in mind, be comfortable with being uncomfortable and view setbacks and failure as part of the process.
It helps us learn from our strengths in order to grow in any area we want to develop and it helps promote an optimistic outlook in life for when we do not meet our desired success at times.
The most powerful tool we can develop in our teenager’s toolbox…
In order for us parents, to promote and foster resilience in our young teengers, we must teach them the following, well:
- Not to take failure or lack of success personally when they come up short at times, it is their actions/what they did that failed, and not their person – they can learn from their actions, improve and change the results – but they can’t change who they are.
- Instead of putting themselves down when they make mistakes, to look at their mistakes and errors as sign posts that will direct them and get them a step closer to their goals, put more effort in and ask teachers, friends or family for support and assistance.
- To have varied interests and not to be overly focused on just one goal – most people are not made to excel at everything, and allowing them to apply themselves to various interests can help find and nurture their passion.
- To pick a goal that is meaningful to them, plan for obstacles along the way and see it through.
- To see ‘challenges’ as ‘enablers of growth’ and ‘mistakes, errors and failure’ as ‘mothers of learning’, as the neurons in our brains actually grow stronger when we engage in challenging tasks, and grow weaker when our brains are unchallenged and bored – as a rule, the harder the task, the more learning and growth…
- To have their own voice, plan their own goals and dream their own dreams – who wouldn’t feel engaged and want to accomplish their important goals, when they are so involved?
- To find a purpose by showing them how others can benefit from their efforts, guiding them and setting examples as parents.
- To develop independence in finding ways of using their strengths, passion and personal skills to address problems in their community, society or the world.
- To know that they can build resilience in any area that they feel they need improvement, and that nothing or no subject is beyond their reach.
- To recognise that growth, strength and excellence are not destinations, but paths – we can never grow wise, clever, strong, resilient and excellent enough that we cannot benefit more – it is by forming habits through persistence that they can stay firmly on the path of excellence, no matter what the goal.