If you asked me which guidelines lay the foundation of my parenting philosophy, I would point you to these 14 principles.
You’ll often hear me mention them throughout many of the posts, and for good reason: when we keep these principles in mind, they’ll often help steer us towards the general goals we want for ourselves and our children.
1. Honor the impulse
Coined by Laura Davis in the book Becoming the Parent You Want to Be, “honoring the impulse” reminds us to examine the initial reason why our kids behave or misbehave. More often than not, kids don’t know that they’re doing something wrong. Before we jump to conclusions or accuse them of wrongdoing, take a look at why they did what they did. Was your toddler a bit too rough with his baby sister? Start off by honoring the impulse: “Looks like you wanted to give her a big hug,” before laying down the restrictions and instructions: “She’s still so small, so we have to pat her gently, like this.”
2. Respect your kids
Because kids function on a level so different from us, complete with needless demands and out-of-the-blue tantrums with hardly any social etiquette whatsoever, feeling frustrated can be difficult to stymie. That still doesn’t mean that they deserve less respect that you would give any other adult.
3. Embrace your child’s temperament
You may have similar personalities to your kid or you may not; either way, accept their temperament and learn the best ways to tap into it rather than trying to change it. For instance, consider strong-willed kids’ gumption as a sign of their budding independence and their desire to assert themselves even in the face of adults (who aren’t always good or right). With introverted kids, you can introduce new people and experiences gradually.
4. Discuss emotions
Unlike you and me who know just what jealousy, fear, anxiety, surprise, and most other emotions feel like, kids aren’t born with such understanding. Not only do they not know what these strange feelings coursing through their minds and bodies are, they don’t even know what they’re called. As parents, we can offer much-needed help by discussing emotions at appropriate times, complete with names: “Looks like you feel mad because we had to stop playing.”
5. Don’t compare your kids to others
Or rather, don’t let comparisons get you too riled up. After a measly four years of parenting, I can already tell you that it’s pretty natural to compare; it’s almost our innate way of seeing if anything seriously wrong is going on with our kids. We also feel proud of our kids when we see them excel in certain ways. That said, comparisons should simply be noted and moved aside. When we try to keep up with the Jones’ kids too much, we’ll often cause ourselves more unneeded grief and worry, especially since kids develop at different times and almost always turn up just fine in the end.
6. Pick your battles
I am all about standing your ground and staying consistent with rules, but sometimes—especially when you’re about to go crazy—it’s okay to be flexible here and there, especially when the issue at hand isn’t all that dire. Some battles aren’t worth inadvertently saying or doing something we later regret, or driving ourselves mad just because our kid won’t take a bath this one time.
7. Understand their developmental stage
One of the best ways I keep myself from losing my cool is remembering that kids develop certain skills at different stages. That way, when I’ve just about had it with my toddler testing me or not wanting me out of his sight, I tell myself that he’s grappling with assertion and separation anxiety, for instance.
8. Praise effort
When praising kids, praise the effort (“You tried so hard during that game!”), not necessarily an innate trait that they can’t always change (“You’re so good at soccer!”). When kids get praised for something they can control and work towards, such as studying for an exam, not giving up on a puzzle or practicing over and over, they’re more likely to have confidence in themselves and work harder than if they felt like they’re just smart or athletic.
9. Let kids struggle
When we butt in and solve our kids’ problems, we deny them the opportunity to create solutions. Yes, watching kids struggle often proves difficult and even awkward, like you just want to wash away any impending frustrations. But when given the chance to figure out problems for themselves, they’ll not only learn the skill much better, but feel all the more prouder of themselves.
10. Express empathy
One of the best parenting tools, expressing empathy can yield amazing results. Your child can learn to recognize and label emotions, allowing him to better relate to others, including his peers. He’ll understand that you’re on his side, even if you disagree. And for yourself, you’ll have more patience when you put yourself in his shoes. These are just a few of the many benefits of empathy.
11. Promote concentration and focus
When kids are focused on a project or playtime, they’re much more able to dig deep into problem-solving skills in ways that short attention spans don’t often allow. Kids will also reap much more personal satisfaction after having submerged themselves with little distraction and plenty of time to play and work.
12. Teach by example
One of the best ways to instill anything—values, habits, language, you name it—is by doing it yourself. For instance, if you want your kid to lessen computer time, be the example who will pick up a book, game or project in lieu of the screen. They’ll learn that your set of values and habits is a family affair—they’re so important that everyone, not just kids, abide by them.
13. Do what works for you
For every bit of advice you get, whether from me, other moms or your family and friends, tailor those words of wisdom to suit you and your family. No one cares more about your kids or knows them better than you do. Parenting isn’t a one-size-fits-all manual.
14. Discipline without anger
This one is the newest addition, and something I learned simply from its effectiveness. Anger is often reactive and one of the most difficult emotions to go through, but I found that disciplining my four-year-old with consequences was much more effective than involving my own personal frustrations. Kids’ misbehavior should follow with “matter-of-fact” consequences based on reasonable rules, not on our own anger. They’ll learn that their “punishments” ensued completely because of their actions, and not because “mommy was being mean.”
Happy 2014, SSBE readers!
2013 has been an awesome year for me. I welcomed my twin boys and am amazed at how much their big brother loves them. I’ve impressed myself with just how much I can accomplish, from taking all three kids out on an outing alone, to disciplining without anger or frustration, to making copious amounts of baby food fit for two.
These 14 principles will hopefully guide me when times are tough and remind me of the bigger picture, even when I’m in survival mode. I hope they can be helpful to you as well.
What are some of your parenting principles? What goals would you like to tackle in 2014?