I was 23 years old when I found out I was pregnant. It was in that moment that I realized my baby would be the first baby whose diaper I would ever change. Needless to say, I knew nothing about parenting or kids, so I read all the books and sought all the advice.
Before that first kid, I was 100 percent honest with myself in that I knew that I had no idea what I was doing and I needed guidance. When it was time for us to leave the hospital and take our first baby home, I remember saying to my husband, “they’re actually letting us take him?”
While I was pregnant, I sought advice from an older mom who had six kids. She was a home schooling mom, and I grew up with her older children. I soaked up all her advice. For a while after having my first born, I was completely open to advice from anyone.
But then something changed.
I reached the point of thinking that I had everything under control and that I knew what I was doing or should know what I was doing with this whole parenting thing. That feeling would grow even stronger as children two and three came along. I was less open to receiving advice, or received it with an “I already know that” attitude.
The truth is, most of us don’t want someone else telling us how to raise our children, even if we know deep down that we could use some help.
We usually know we need help because the things we are doing aren’t producing the behaviors or the change in behaviors we want to see.
I have led quite a few parenting classes, and I counsel kids of all age ranges plus their parents. Among the parents I speak with, I have found one common desire. They all seem to ask, “how can you help me change my child?” And they typically don’t think they, the parents, need to change. No matter what the situation is, the tools I teach the parents are not directly linked to changing their child, but instead address things the parent can do differently. Usually the tools involve how to communicate with their child more effectively, how to praise their child for the good they see, how to show empathy, and how to discipline and reward consistently.
So, hence the title, let me tell you how to parent your child.
First, I need to share with you the one thing in which I have to remind myself: There is no such thing as the perfect parent.
You are incapable of responding the right way to your child in every single situation. It’s just not going to happen.
When you get pregnant one of the first symptoms you notice is fatigue. Throughout your pregnancy you will feel tired and exhausted. I got pregnant for the first time over 11 years ago, and I have been exhausted ever since. For those of you who have or are adopting or fostering a child, exhaustion comes in the planning process and the day when that child is placed in your arms or home. I believe the feeling of being a parent never goes away no matter how old we get, so the exhaustion will remain, it just takes different shapes and forms.
Truth is: It’s hard to always make the best decisions when you are exhausted.
So you are not going to be the perfect parent.
Secondly, you can’t force your child to change.
Stop trying. The good news is, you have control over yourself. You can change things you do to help model the behavior you want to see in your child. Change doesn’t happen overnight. There are no magic wands to wave; it will take time, but it will happen.
Here’s a list of small changes you the parent can make. This advice is simple, the hard part is in the consistency. If you can do some of these things on a daily basis, your child will pick up on it.
- Healthy Communication
Actively listen to what your child is trying to tell you. Listen to understand them, not just to solve their problem or give your view. Use a calm tone of voice. If they are angry and speaking disrespectfully, you remain respectful toward them. Remember to practice self-control as the adult.
- Praise Your Child
Make yourself aware of the good things your child does. If that seems hard for you, try to find the smallest thing he or she did that was good. Even if — and especially if — it is something that is expected of them. Acknowledge it and tell your child you are proud of him or her.
- Show Empathy
Your child doesn’t always need to feel like you agree with him or her; sometimes they just want to know you understand how they feel about something or why they did what they did.
- Consistent Rewards and Consequences
Set clear expectations and boundaries. If they already did something to earn a reward, that reward should not be taken away. Remember that the point of consequences is for the child to learn from his or her bad choice and be motivated to make a better choice later. Follow through on consequences, but don’t overdo it.
- Ask for help when you know you need it.
With all the changes and stages of life our children will go through, there are bound to be times when we have no idea what we are supposed to do. You are not alone. There are millions of parents who have gone through it. Ask for help and guidance. Asking for help doesn’t make you a weak parent; it makes you a better parent.