Good teachers review the basics of a subject with their students on a regular basis. It is through review that students become more acutely aware of what they know and what they may have forgotten. Review gives students a chance to brush up on past-learned skills.
Each week The Informed Parent introduces new information and reviews information presented in the past that guides both new and not-so-new parents. In this month’s article, we will review the basics of successful, informed parenting that I believe are necessary in creating and maintaining a healthy and harmonious family. The following five principles, when incorporated into the family, assure that these families become and remain emotionally healthy units that function optimally.
Creating structure in a family means building the scaffolding that everything hangs on. Structure relates to time. It can be creating regular times for going to bed and getting up. It can be setting aside a regular time for homework. For older children it can be setting a curfew. Structure is the schedule a family follows.
Structure also equates with the standards in a family. One standard might be sitting at the table to eat instead of walking around with food. Another might be putting toys on the shelf and dirty clothes in the hamper before going to bed. A third might be that all backpacks, with homework placed inside, go by the door before bed so that in the morning they are ready to be picked up before dashing off to school.
While families have different structures, to be successful each member knows what the structure is and how to follow it.
Consistency means doing the important things the same way each time. It means that as a parent, you can be counted on to assure that family members live within the established structure. When you are consistent, children know what to expect. When children know what to expect, they are more likely to comply with family standards and expectations.
When a parent is consistent about bedtime routine, for example, the child knows that it is meaningless to try and wheedle extra time for play. She knows that if bedtime is 7:30 her mom or dad will work with her so that she is ready by 7:30.
Consistency takes conscientious work on the part of the parent. As a busy parent, you may think it is easier to just let things happen. The secret, though, is that children respond more quickly and more appropriately when you are consistent. If you aim for 100 percent consistency, you will hit about 75-to-80 percent. That is enough to let children know they can count on you to say what you mean and mean what you say.
Follow-through relates to consistency. Parents who follow through assist their children to meet the standards of the home when they do not do it on their own.
Sticking with the bedtime example, if your son’s bedtime is 7:30, at 7:00 you say to him, “You have half an hour before bedtime. You’ll need to brush your teeth, use the toilet, and get your pajamas on by 7:15 if you want me to read you a story.” If he is young, you walk him through each step so that he succeeds. For older children, a reminder half an hour before you plan to join them is sufficient.
When you follow through, you are willing to administer whatever consequences are in place if the child does not comply with the standard. If a child is not ready for bed when it is time for you to read to him, the consequence is that he misses the story. Parents hate to follow-through on consequences. When they do, though, children learn to comply very quickly.
When we acknowledge children, we validate each small step toward success. We use positive words and an enthusiastic voice. “Wow! Look at that. You’re all ready for bed and it’s only 10 minutes after seven. We have five extra minutes for our story tonight!” Children thrive on acknowledgement.
If a child has not quite met a standard but is making steps toward success, acknowledge that. “Oh, I can see you’re really trying to make that 7:15 story time. You’ve brushed your teeth and used the toilet. Now let’s see how quickly you can get your pajamas on.”
Avoid using evaluative words like “good”, “excellent”, “super”. They indicate that at another time the child could be poor or bad. Also, if you say to a child, “What a good job you did”, and she only put out half an effort, she know that is enough to be considered a good job in your eyes.
When we support our children, we make ourselves available to assist. Sometimes parents feel that support is doing something for their child so that they can succeed. An example is the parent who ends up finishing a school project that the child did not complete. This is not in the child‘s best interest. The child does not get full benefit from the project; she does not learn self-discipline, and she understands that someone will rescue her when she is not responsible.
To support a child who is having difficulty with a project, you could say, “I can see that you’re really having trouble finishing that project. Let’s make a plan about how you will complete it.” After making the plan you might continue, “There are lots of directions here. How about if I read the directions to you and you do each of the steps.” This lets the child know that you want her to succeed but that success is up to her. You are there to support and assist her but not to do the work for her.
It may seem like a daunting task to use the principles of structure, consistency, follow-through, acknowledgement, and support. Just as we do not expect our children to be perfect, you will not be perfect either. In parenting, we look for progress, not perfection. When you know the principles and do your best to begin incorporating them into your parenting, you discover that family life runs smoothly. Both you and your children are relaxed and happy. When this happens you feel motivated and it becomes easier to use them consistently.
Sometimes parents think that following the principles leads to rigidity; that structure, consistency and follow-through do not allow for flexibility. Actually, the opposite is true. When parents have a family structure in place and when they support it with consistency and follow-through there is more space for freedom and flexibility. That is because they spend less time nagging which serves no purpose for child or parent.
When you review how you have used the principles in your family, be sure to acknowledge yourself for the progress you have made. Just like all of life, effective parenting is a process. By increasing your knowledge and using what you learn, you will grow into the kind of effective parent you want to be.