by Bonnie Harris
My children taught me two important lessons: Each child is completely different and requires different expectations, and neither punishment nor reward teaches anything worthwhile. By watching my children, discovering what helped and what didn’t, I became fascinated with human behavior-why parents and children respond to each other the way they do and how that interaction affects children’s future behavior and well-being.
When I read Louise Kaplan’s Oneness and Separateness: From Infant to Individual in graduate school, I gained enormous empathy for the confusion and frustration of young children and learned the implications of misunderstanding their behavior. My son was only four at the time, but already I was sorry I hadn’t had access to this information earlier. From then on, I devoted my parenting and my teaching to figuring out what children were going through and why they behaved the way they did. I learned to see life through the eyes of the child.
I brought up my children by the principles I write here-not as fully developed as what I teach now-and am pleased to report, first hand, on their effectiveness. My children are now adults and both embody the qualities I hoped they would have, as well as some I never anticipated. They are remarkable young people whom I admire tremendously. They learned to be respectful, responsible, caring people without punishment. They were a joy to live with-most of the time-and we continue to have a mutually loving relationship. If you don’t want your children to leave the nest without so much as a glance backward, now is the time to begin focusing on and nurturing what you admire, respect, and love about them.
As a teacher of parent education over the past twenty years who has worked with parents in different parts of the world, I have learned a lot about what you want. You want to be the best parent you can be, but you get easily frustrated and say and do what you swore you wouldn’t. You don’t want to raise your children the way you were raised, but you’re at a loss as to what to do instead. You want to teach your children right from wrong, but you know that the old ways don’t work for your kids. Maybe you have learned that time-outs and punishment don’t work, but when impatience or guilt gets the best of you, you fluctuate between empty threats and giving in. You are exhausted from daily power struggles and endless arguments and overwhelmed by the effort it takes in the limited time you have. You want your children to have the voice you never had, but when they use it, your button gets pushed, because they say and do what you never dared. You want desperately to do what is right, to have happy, responsible children, but your methods keep backfiring.
The world is different today; you are different. And your children have the advantage. They know you don’t want to use force and fear tactics to raise them. They can speak their minds and be freer spirits. This is the good news. The bad news is that you may not know how to effectively set limits and say no without resorting to those fear tactics. And perhaps you are struggling with your own self-worth. You want your children to love you and are afraid of the reactions you will encounter if you say no. Or you say no but feel worn down when your children don’t listen or do what you say. You want to be in control, but your children bring you to your knees. When parenting methods swing from best buddy to empty threats, your children find leverage. They learn that they will not be held accountable-not really. Hitting, yelling, grounding, and isolating don’t work with most of today’s kids because they won’t stand for it. They are not afraid the way you were. They demand respect. But you misread their demands as acts of defiance and disrespect-because that’s what your parents did.
The key to turning this around-to finding a better way-is a change in perception. Simple, but enormous. But you have to want to change and be committed to practice. It will seem like learning a foreign language. You might think you are letting your kids get away with something. It’s hard at first to believe that fairness and logic can be effective discipline methods. Letting go of old habits is the hard part.
Your children need you to be in charge. That is your responsibility. But being in charge means keeping your cool and staying calm in the face of even the most difficult situations. It’s easy to lose control; it’s hard to stay detached enough to remain in charge. Each success story I hear from a parent includes, “I was able to stay calm” or “I didn’t lose it.” We are not responsible for our children’s feelings and behavior, but we are fully responsible for our own. Their behavior reflects what they experience. When we take responsibility for ourselves and stop trying to get our children to change, we change. When we act like the grownups we are meant to be, our children can act like the children they are-children you’ll love to live with.
The eight principles presented in this book can change your life. They will help you develop your parenting philosophy. Having a core philosophy provides you with a reservoir from which to draw, so that whatever situation may arise or whatever your state of mind, your response is consistent and grounded. We need principles to rely on in times of stress, when we don’t have time to think, when dinner is burning, when the baby is crying, when siblings are fighting, when we are impatient and tired, and when crisis hits. Holding these eight principles means that parenting decisions are consistent no matter what and yours and your children’s needs are ensured and in balance. Add your personal and cultural values to these eight ingredients and your parenting will be a recipe for success.
You will always question and have doubts. You will make plenty of mistakes. You will never be perfect. But knowing you have dependable principles to rely on will inject your parenting with confidence. When doubting friends and relatives question your attitude and decisions, you will have solid ground to stand on. You will be able to explain your decisions, stand up to arguments, and even influence others toward more mindful parenting. Helping your children through their problems will bring you satisfaction and fulfillment. You will be amazed at how much easier it can be-and without reverting to those methods you hate. In fact, you can raise children who are a joy to live with and who will look to you for a safe and nurturing relationship throughout their lives.
Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids is the book you will wish your parents had read. The eight chapters in Part 1 fully describe each of the eight principles, illustrated with true stories throughout. The end of each chapter lists the main points and offers practices to help you apply the principles to your own life. Once you apply them, you will begin to look for and see your children’s qualities and capabilities rather than irritations and inadequacies. You will understand their behavior as clues rather than calamities and learn to be a detective rather than a police officer. You will learn how to connect with your children, even in the toughest times, and teach them to problem solve, take responsibility, and be accountable for their actions-without punishment or blame. And you will regain the authority that your children really do want you to have.
Part 2 takes you through seven aspects of a common, ordinary day in the life of seven families and shows you how the principles are applied. These stories are filled with suggestions for ways to solve daily dilemmas that can be adapted to your own family. Although the stories cover toddlers to preteens, the principles hold true throughout the entire course of your relationship.
Children are cooperative and respectful when there is balance in the family-like a mobile dancing in the breeze. But if one element of the mobile is too heavy, it will not dance. Equalize the weight, and balance is restored. When either your needs or your child’s needs consistently hold more weight, the balance is off.
Learn the dance and find out how much more enjoyable life can be.