The happiest day of my life was when I bought my last diaper. Wow, that was a long time ago, but my children are such an important part of my life that I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. Being a parent is the hardest work on the planet–it is only for the brave of heart and those with strong stomachs. When we became parents we felt woefully unequipped. We read lots of books and talked to lots of people, and over the years here are some of the things we have learned. Take what you like, disregard what you don’t, and feel free to leave comments on some of your parenting strategies.
What Is The Goal?
To my mind, this is where the greatest confusion occurs, and by definition, the greatest damage is done in most parent/child relationships. By damage I mean things go askew. Let’s start by stating what the goal is not. The goal is not for a parent to a be a child’s friend or buddy. Adults should have their own friends and children should likewise learn to make friends in the real world. The goal is not to keep a child safe and always out of pain. Overprotective parents (I know, because I am one) often do more psychological harm than good. Learning how to cope with hurt and pain is an important part of growing up.
Then what is the goal? The goal is to produce a thriving member of society who is equipped to face the challenges of life in a dangerous world. That’s the job you are given. When the nurse puts that baby in your arms, the clock begins to tick. You have somewhere between fifteen and sixteen years to accomplish this goal.
Will She/He Ever Go to Sleep?
Some parents like to let their children sleep in the bed with them. I do not. My bed is for me and my wife and the children just kind of muck it all up.
We found it helpful to never use bedtime as a punishment. For that reason, our children have never thought of sleep as a negative event.
When they are little, resist the urge to comfort their crying and give into their audible assault. Shut the door and let them cry it out and he/she will fall asleep.
Lighten up about what the kid eats. She will eat when she gets hungry, and don’t make her eat when she is not. We tend to always put food in front of our children and if they wanted it that was great, if they didn’t, they didn’t have to eat it. We did make them try it, but always let them know that if she didn’t like it, she didn’t have to eat it.
How Much Should an Allowance Be?
Nothing! Never give your child an allowance. Allowances were developed by script writers for television shows in the 1950s so as to create artificial tension in fake households. Allowances are evil because they teach children that they should be paid for contributing to the household work and it establishes a tit for tat relationship based on bargaining instead of responsibility. The usual reason for giving allowances is that it teaches responsibility with money. It does not. It teaches children how to manipulate minimum work for maximum payoff.
Instead of an allowance, we have always given the sprouts money whenever they need it, and usually tell them to keep the change if any is left over. In turn, though, they are expected to wash dishes, do their laundry, vacuum the floors, take care of the trash, clean their bathrooms, keep their bedrooms respectable, and just about anything else we ask them to do. They should do their work because it needs to be done and they are apart of the family, not because we pay them. Capitalism does not breed good family dynamics.
We began giving them age appropriate responsibilities as soon as they could walk and talk.
What About Punishment?
Early and often. Here is what I mean. It has been a very, very, very long time since I have had to punish either one of my sprouts. With both of them, after about the age of 7, punishment was rare. The reason for this is that when they were very young, toddlers and in diapers, we punished them and taught them to respect authority. If you discipline a 2 or 3 year old and keep at it until they are 5 and 6, then as they begin to piece things together you will never really have to do it much.
Punishment needs three attributes to be successful.
- It must be swift. Instant time out or removal of a toy works nicely.
- It must be known. A child should know what the consequences are for certain actions.
- Consistent. That child must know that 100% of the time punishment will come. If a parent is inconsistent then the whole point is lost.
Be creative with your punishment, and try to make the punishment fit the crime. (Oh, you wrote on the wall with a crayon? Now you’re going to clean it up AND I’m taking away the crayons until tomorrow.)
Two key things to remember about punishment. Never punish a child when you are angry. As a parent you must work to remove your personal feelings from the endeavor. The child is not attacking you, the child is simply pushing against boundaries. Anger doesn’t help anything at all. We always found tag teaming it helped. If one of us was angry, then the other parent did the punishing. Second, never hurt your children. I know that spanking is a big debate, but whether you spank or not there is no excuse for a big strong adult to hurt a child.
The key to happy children is for your family to find its own mojo. This doesn’t happen quickly, but your children will help you discover the ebb and flow of life. We found that certain television shows we all enjoyed and foods that made us happy and planning vacation helped us grow stronger. Church, school, books and our friends all provided the dialogue of our lives and it was in sharing these aspects that helped us bond with our children in ways that I think a lot of parents miss.