The easiest way to map out your parenting strategies is to think seriously about the values that you want your child to have as an adult and then create an environment that reinforces these values. Create a few rules that are consistent with those values.
For example, you may decide that you want your child to be:
1. an honest person
2. a respectful person of others feelings and possessions
3. a responsible person with their school work
Once you have established your position, then do three crucial things:
1. Reserve your strongest reaction and consequences for violations of these values
2. Reinforce the positive things your child does with these values
3. Do not get side tracked by small, less important issues.
This may sound overly simple, but in fact it works because it is simple. You look at the big picture of parenting, pick out the essential values and then reinforce them for the next 18 years. It really is a parenting plan
You frequently hear people in speeches and graduation addresses talk about the core values that they learned at home ― honesty, kindness, industriousness ― and the way these values have stayed with them. This is because every day was reinforcement in some way of these values, while less important behavior was ignored
My daughter had a friend in grade school who told her that she could never figure out what was important to do because her parents got equally as furious if she spilled juice as they did when she told a lie. If you want your child to equate a clumsy lurch at the orange juice with a deceitful act – then scream on. As parents we get sidetracked by less important issues. The best example is the clean bedroom scenario. Perfectly rational parents have been known to abandon all notions of an honest polite, studious child to have a child who keeps a clean room. My father was a child psychiatrist and he never told parents that a clean room was a predictor of future emotional health and success. In fact, growing up our rooms were ours to do with as we liked. There were a few rules – when the room was messy the door needed to be closed and a path had to exist from the bed to the door in case of an emergency. One of my three brothers had a room where no one ever went since it was such a wreck. I’m sure my mother ventured in from time to time, but I really can’t recall many forays there myself. His door was closed most of the time, and despite that he grew into a fine, professional man with yes, a very neat house. I do however remember the thunderous reaction and punishment for lies. As a result, in adulthood I value a clean bedroom little and honesty greatly. Think hard about what you want your children to value in the future – then act accordingly
The same principle applied to the firestorm over long hair on boys in the 60’s and the equally fierce adult reaction to tattoo’s and pierced body parts today. In fact, for a number of years as a school counselor, I worked with delinquent boys who told me that their parents got so distracted yelling about their appearance, that they could get away with drinking and drugs, serious offenses that went unnoticed in the parental quest for a good look over a good act
Parenting is a matter of picking your battles. A purple tattoo may annoy you, but a cruel child will devastate you. Put your energy and strongest reaction where your values are and reinforce good behavior at every opportunity. This does not mean that you don’t get angry and frustrated about lesser offenses, but it does mean that you need a clear agenda of what you expect of your children and they know it.
This is an excerpt from “You’re It! Successful Single Mothering after Divorce.” Chapter Three, Part Two
Article by Jeanne L. Ward