I have a hobby which requires patience, trial and error, and tender loving care: caring for succulents. I love how they can be so very hardy and fragile at the same time. You need to have the right balance between water and sunlight for them to thrive.
Unfortunately, some of my succulents have died under my care. After the leaves have shriveled up, I just think "It's ok, I can buy another succulent… let’s try again!"
Raising a child, on the other hand, cannot be given the same treatment. I can't 'try again' as we only have one life to live!
When I first became a parent, I was preoccupied with learning how to breastfeed my child, how to get her to sleep, how to find time for myself to sleep, how to install that baby seat in the car, and a million other things – the list of to-dos are endless!
It occurred to me one day, that parenting is a reflection of who I am.
Then my child grew up, and I became more concerned with learning how to build character and discipline. We spend years educating ourselves to get ahead in our career, but I feel that most of us do not educate ourselves on how to be a better parent or spouse! I just defaulted to the way I was brought up. The experiences of my life helped me filter which parenting approach I would adopt and which I would reject.
All parents want to raise responsible children that are able to make wise choices in life. Life is really complex and we only have a certain number of years to train these little munchkins.
Some days, I struggle with knowing what is the right thing to do with my child. Do I discipline my child with the rotan (a typical Malaysian rod created to inspire fear) or talk through problems with them hoping they will understand my perspective? When do I go easy on their mistakes, and when do I come down hard?
Honestly, there are days when I wonder "What am I doing wrong as a parent? These little tyrants are taking over the house!"
It occurred to me one day, that parenting is a reflection of who I am. What I say or do reveals everything about my own character. If I want to raise responsible, resilient children, I need to change my parenting style to be responsible and resilient!
There are many books that speak about parenting styles, including Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay, which is where I took some of the following terms from. Awareness is the start to learning how to parent your child better. Your approach to parenting will create different results in your children’s lives.
Here are some different parenting styles that we need to be aware of, starting with the not-so-effective ones.
1. Helicopter / jellyfish parents
These are parents who believe that showing love means revolving their lives around their children. Whenever their child falls, no matter how small the injury, these parents are the first to the rescue. Perhaps their child forgot to bring their lunch box to school. No worries, these parents are there during lunch break. They simply cannot stand to see their child hurting, and so they bail them out.
Helicopter or jellyfish parents love their children so much that they want to protect them from the horrors of the world. The problem with this parenting style is that our world does not work that way. As children grow into adults, they need to learn how to be responsible for their own lives. Their parents cannot always be there to bail them out of real-life problems like debt, bad bosses and broken hearts.
By the way, as a business owner, I have experienced situations where I received a call from a parent to apply for a job for their adult child. This same parent also wanted to attend the interview with me. I said, no, thank you.
2. Turbo-attack helicopter parents
Turbo-Attack Helicopter parents are in danger of always being in protective mode of their children.
These parents are an evolved version of the helicopter parent. They are obsessed with creating a perfect world for their child – one in which their child will never have to face inconvenience, discomfort or disappointment. The child’s mistakes are swept under the carpet while achievements are celebrated, sometimes to the point of exaggeration. These children always look great on paper with excellent results and impressive extracurricular activities.
Meanwhile, anyone who dares question their child is in for a tactical airstrike (they are attack helicopters, after all). Any time there is a playground fight, it must have been the other kid who started it. When the school calls them up to complain about poor behaviour, it’s the system’s fault for not being understanding enough. Turbo-Attack Helicopter parents are in danger of always being in protective mode of their children.
3. Drill sergeant parents
I was born in 1979 and most of my peers grew up with military, drill sergeant-type parents, who barked orders without explaining the reason behind their instructions. We weren’t taught how to think for ourselves, we just needed to obey.
Our thoughts and opinions were disregarded if they contradicted our parents’ decisions. The only voice that mattered came from them. Naturally, when we grew older, external authority shifted from parents to friends through peer pressure. Parents who love controlling situations this way end up with a child that fights to regain control.
Thankfully, my parents gave me a little freedom to talk things through, though I still remember screaming and having tear-filled fights as a teenager about why I should be allowed to go to church camp. I wanted to be heard, but all I received was a court order from the highest authority in my family. The message most drill sergeant parents send to their children is ‘You are fragile and can’t make it without me. You can’t think for yourself. I’ll do the thinking for you.’
4. Laissez-faire / unplugged parents
Some believe that they should be their child’s best friend so relationships are more important than discipline.
Some parents are inundated with so much parenting advice that they decide to just allow the child to govern themselves, believing that the child will somehow grow into responsible adults if they (the parent) stayed out of the way and kept interventions to a minimum.
Some also believe that they should be their child’s best friend so relationships are more important than discipline. Some allow their children to simply run wild because they feel guilty for working too much and not spending enough quality time with the family. To quote the authors of the book, “While children should be able to decide between safe and responsible options, we do not advocate letting them decide everything for themselves.”
So what’s the alternative to these ineffective parenting styles?
5. Consultant / coach parents
Children need thoughtful guidance and firm, enforceable limits. A parent coach must set these limits and help children understand that they are responsible for their actions and will suffer reasonable consequences for actions that are inappropriate. The parent coach guides their children to think about their behaviour and help them feel in control of their actions by giving choices within those limits. There is a balance between love and connection and also rules and structure within a home. Instead of telling their children what to do, they allow the burden of decision-making to lie on their children’s shoulders and establish limits.
So whether you find yourself in situations where your child is a picky eater, throws a tantrum when he can’t buy that toy at the store, or refuses to help out with chores at home, ask yourself:
- What are the rules/limits I would like to enforce around this behaviour?
- How can I communicate this without shouting, lecturing or using empty threats with no follow through of consequences? (rethink statements like, “The police will come and catch you if you don’t finish your dinner!”) How can I show empathy through my words, tone of voice and body language?
- What kind of choices can I offer in this situation?
- What relevant consequence would be appropriate in this situation?
To give you an example, when my son was 5, I faced a problem with online school lessons. He wasn’t interested in the lessons, nor was he keen on doing any of the school work he was tasked with.
If 2020 wasn’t already a tough year, this certainly topped it! I was left frustrated and angry most days. I could have just given up and said, “it’s ok, he’s just 5. Why force him to conform? Just let him do whatever he wants to.” But I knew it was the easy way out, and that deep down, this was not what I really wanted for him. I wanted him to learn that school is important, and he couldn’t just do as he pleased.
So I walked away, took a deep breath and started all over again.This is what I decided to do (after taking multiple deep breaths).
I changed the way I spoke to him
Instead of saying, “You’re not able to concentrate! You are really lousy at Mandarin!” I said “Good effort in trying to understand what the teacher is saying. Your writing is better today than yesterday!”
Instead of praising the child with a generic phrase like "You are so smart!", I encouraged him by being specific about the effort he made in that particular activity. I chose to build his self-worth instead of destroying it with my choice of words.
I used thinking words instead of fighting words
Commands and threats usually invite disobedience because it rallies our kids to battle.
Saying words like “If you don’t finish your homework, you won’t get to watch TV!” makes the child angry. ‘Obedience’ can follow threats but it’s only done grudgingly. Thinking words, however, give them choices, for example, “Feel free to watch TV with your sister once you have completed your work.”
I gave him some freedom to make choices
The basic rule is that work needs to be completed, but he has control over when he wants to actually do it. If he decides to do it after lunch when he is really tired, he’ll soon realise that it is harder to do. If he doesn’t complete the work, I ask him to complete it the next day in addition to the present day’s work. Now he has today’s and yesterday’s work to complete. He soon learnt that he cannot run away from his responsibilities so easily.
I found creative ways to do work
We danced and did jumping jacks before tackling a difficult activity. We treated ourselves to a nice snack between lessons. Children love to play, so how can I make this fun instead of a chore?
Remember that consistency is the key to helping train your child in an area of responsibility. If changing your behaviour is hard, think about how challenging it is for your child.
Mom and dad, you can do this.
Note: I have to add that not all parents would agree to my stand above and that is ok. If you as a parent decide to let your child learn life skills instead of formal education during this season, that’s great because it is a choice that is meaningful to your family.
Reposted with permission on Leaderonomics.com.