Well before becoming a parent, I was fascinated with how parenting style impacts kids and the adults we become. This intrigue led me to write a graduate dissertation on the topic, and later to read many wonderful books on positive parenting strategies that integrate discipline and love.
As the saying goes, "There's no manual for parenting." Even with great resources, we're human beings who experience pushed buttons and triggered feelings. The following 10 lessons are ones I keep learning more about from my son and continue working on, but they're making me a happier, more effective parent and human, and are shaping my son's character.
- Show Self-Regulation: I've learned that as a parent, I can't throw temper tantrums when I'm feeling stressed about work or life. In Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, Dr. Laura Markham says, "Parenting isn't about what our child does, but about how we respond. When a storm brews, a parent's response will either calm it or incite a full-scale tsunami." When we don't regulate our emotional reactions as parents, we have children that don't know how to regulate theirs. We have to model patience, and the careful choice of our words, tone, volume, and behaviors so our kids can do the same.
- Support Strengths: Knowing and using our strengths leads us to live more fulfilling lives. The VIA Institute on Character's website has resources for assessing and reading about the 24 character strengths. We can see which ones we spot in our kids, compliment them on the strengths we see with examples of where we saw them and create ways to encourage their use. Furthermore, in Making Grateful Kids, Dr. Jeffrey Froh and Dr. Giacomo Bono suggest that parents collaboratively brainstorm with their kids ways to use their character strengths to help others.
- Promote Purpose: Children need to understand why they do the things they do and how their actions impact them and the world around them. In The Path to Purpose, Dr. William Damon suggests asking our kids what's important to them, thoughts about movies and news stories, and what they're grateful for. He also encourages supporting children's passions, expressing the sense of purpose we receive from our work, and talking about the importance and realities of pursuing goals.
- Cultivate Curiosity: We must actively listen to our children's thoughts, feelings, and questions. Dr. Markham shares, "Do this when he's a preschooler and he'll still be willing to talk to you when he's a teenager." What do the words of this song mean? Who made trees? Why is that person sleeping on the ground outside? We have to put thought and effort into answering both simple and deeper questions. This is one way we teach kids about the world as we understand it and encourage them to develop their own understanding. Cultivating curiosity fosters love of learning and teaches kids to be adults who can think critically and innovate.
- Grow Gratitude: Growing kids' gratitude diminishes materialism, promotes kindness, and boosts happiness and positivity. Dr. Froh and Dr. Bono suggest that parents "focus children on why good things happen to them and on the people responsible." Modeling and encouraging saying "thank you" to those who provide a service or kindness, and practicing daily gratitude rituals helps grow gratitude. At bedtime, my son and I say at least three things we're thankful for that day. Over time, his list has grown and become less material focused and more spiritual, people, and experience centered.
- Kindle Kindness: Dr. Froh and Dr. Bono share, "The more children are kind to other people, the more they'll learn about what it means to be generous, and they'll also see how others appreciate their kindness." Parents can demonstrate kindness by doing something nice for family, friends, or neighbors. We can also engage kids in assisting around the house, helping a friend, or doing volunteer work. My son and I volunteer together at our local food pantry and I see how much more focused on others' needs he's become.
- Offer Optimism: When a problem arises, we can show our kids we see beyond it. When they encounter a challenge, we can remind them of the ways we've seen them work through problems. We can teach them that challenges and mistakes are part of life and we use what we learn to create a positive future. Furthermore, in Raising Happiness, Dr. Christine Carter shares, "Optimistic thinking also comes from interpreting good events as something we made happen ourselves."
- Stimulate Solutions: I never thought I'd utter the words, "Do it because I said so," but indeed, I have. In Positive Discipline A-Z, Dr. Jane Nelsen, Lynn Lott, and H. Stephen Glenn share, "Too many parents tell children what happened, what caused it to happen, how they should feel about it, and what they should do about it." Explaining our reasoning and brainstorming with kids to stimulate solutions to problems raises resourceful, independent-thinking humans.
- Lavish Love: Love and connection are at the center of all things that really matter. We can't say "I love you" too many times or give too many hugs. Playing and laughing together are precious. Dr. Carter shares, "parental affection can influence kids' outlook on life."
- Praise the Process: In life, we often measure success by outcomes like grades, degrees, and titles. Dr. Froh and Dr. Bono say of kids praised only for great finished products, "They'll believe they're admired and loved for winning but disliked and rejected for losing." We must celebrate all the little steps that happen in between big challenges and big successes. Dr. Froh and Dr. Bono share that when kids raised this way do encounter failure, "rather than break down over it or avoid it to feel positive, they'll confront it, look to see what they did wrong specifically, and -- perhaps -- ask what they can do to improve." Moms and dads, this goes for us too -- let's celebrate our learning and little wins on this parenting journey!