Present parenting can build patterns in children that will continue long past childhood. In fact, children are learning things about life and how to relate that will help them for the rest of their lives. Effective parenting requires a thoughtful strategic approach, but many parents don’t have a plan. They just react to life situations as they come up. This book is designed to help you form a plan for parenting at any age. Companion books are available for each developmental stage to further help you form your strategy. The alternative to having a long-term strategic plan is to engage in what we call Reactive Parenting.
Reactive Parenting often gets the job done, at least for a while, but it has a high price tag. Yelling at kids, for example, works to get kids in the car or get the dishes off the table, but in the end it doesn’t teach kids the long-term skills and character they need. In fact, when parents yell at kids three things happen. First, the child hears a message that I’m unloved, unworthy, and unacceptable. Second, the parent/child relationship develops distance. And third, the parent feels bad knowing that anger was an inappropriate parenting strategy and negative long-term effects are likely.
The alternative is a heart-based approach to parenting, looking deeper into a child’s heart and thinking strategically about the future. The heart contains beliefs, convictions, and forms the tendencies a child has when faced with the same situation over and over again. For example, when a child reacts to frustration with an angry outburst, that’s a heart issue. When a child steals some food and hides it in his room, that’s a heart issue. As daily situations provide opportunities for parenting, you can help your children develop the character they’ll need to be successful in life. The parent who thinks long-term approaches parenting problems with a different strategy and is much more effective. It’s a matter of perspective.
When you stop to think about it, the problems children face now are the same ones they’ll face when they get older. For example, a lot of adults whine, complain, have bad attitudes, and can’t follow a simple instruction without an argument. So why not develop adult solutions for children’s problems, break them down to their developmental level, and practice the right response?
For example, Bill is thirteen years old and whines and complains about all kinds of things in life. Mom often gets irritated with Bill and, in exasperation, sends him out of the room. After a while Mom realizes that Bill’s problem is that he communicates misery when he doesn’t get what he wants. Instead of just getting angry with Bill now, Mom sees Bill’s whining as a symptom of a child who focuses on a problem instead of a solution. “Bill, there are two kinds of people in the world, whiners and solvers. At the moment it looks like you’re choosing to be a whiner. You need to go sit in the hall until you can think of something you’re grateful for.” After just two weeks of this firm approach with Bill, Mom saw significant improvement in her son.
Many children grow up to be adults with Bill’s problem. They express their misery to others whenever they don’t get what they want. A heart-based approach to parenting recognizes that behavior comes from the heart and changes made now will produce lasting character later on.
One way to think long-term is to continually ask yourself the following question: How is my approach to a particular problem helping my child to develop the maturity needed for adulthood? Be careful of the quick fix in parenting. It might get fast results but what are you teaching your kids in the end?
Mary makes the mistake of thinking short-term and uses reverse psychology on her three-year-old. “Don’t eat your vegetables,” she says playfully while she turns her back and walks into the kitchen and her son quickly gobbles them up. She thinks she’s winning the game with her son to get him to eat right but in the end she’s encouraging disobedience. “Don’t clean up the cars while I’m gone,” she says and her son quickly plays the game. Mary is simply looking at the moment and believes she was successful because her son cleaned up the mess. Unfortunately, she’s encouraging her son to disobey her. Too many parents are like Mary, content with immediate solutions that have a high price tag for the future.
Roberto told us this story. “Sometimes I’d use sarcasm or tease my son when he made a mistake. I’d also yell at him and demonstrate my disgust at his immaturity. And it worked. My son would respond to my challenges and make changes, but I began to see some side effects to my off-handed remarks. I realized that my son wasn’t feeling like I loved him and distance was developing in our relationship. It became clear that I was focusing more on the situation than on building confidence and maturity. I needed to think more carefully about the way I was motivating my son to do the right thing. That realization changed the way I relate. I’m much more careful with my responses, measuring their long-term impact.”
Even something as simple as learning to follow instructions teaches maturity. God has hidden within obedience the secret ingredients for success in life. When kids obey, they learn how to set aside their agenda for someone else, how to complete a job without Mom or Dad reminding them, how to report back when they’re done, and how to be responsible when no one is watching.
Most importantly, while learning to follow instructions from Mom and Dad children develop the necessary character to obey God as they grow older.
Parenting is a lot of work, but the time you invest now has benefits that will last a lifetime. After all, some of the most important qualities of life are learned in childhood like humility, obedience, respect, a good attitude, responsibility, cooperation, and honor. The daily interaction you have with children today can impact them for the rest of their lives.
The book of Proverbs reminds us that our present work as parents has long-term ramifications. It says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) Your kids are in training now for the future. You are the coach. As you think about the future of your child, the daily interactions of your family take on greater significance.