woman staring out window

Honestly, some of those parenting methods need a PhD to explain how it is supposed to work!

A new member to the Parents Anonymous Online Groups once asked me to give her a list of Dos and DON’Ts so she could learn all there was to know about being a good parent. *sigh* She was mandated to be there; I could tell because she did not seem too happy and was in a big hurry. This mom certainly had a lot on her plate with a lot to think about and learn.

Mandated parents are awesome, in my book, because they are sometimes the ones who make such a remarkable turnaround in their parenting skills and attitudes. Why is that? Because once they learn that there are no real shortcuts to parenting and once they master a few simple skills, parenting actually becomes easier. There is no single parenting philosophy or method that works for all children; what worked for one of my children did not work for the other one. My motto: “Do what works.”

Since it is always my goal to help parents with what they ask for I came up with a list of suggestions; this is the first of three parts:

Be a Good Role Model

Being a good role model means treating children the same way we would want them to treat us and acting the way we want them to behave. Kids are watching us all the time; they listen to what we say to them and to others. They also notice when you are not saying something. When someone makes fun of a person with special needs or says something bad about another race and parents do not admonish them – that sends a clear message to kids that what was said is okay. The same goes for forwarding blonde (guilty) and Polish jokes. Sounds like the Golden Rule, doesn’t it? That is why it has remained true after all these years.

Take Care of Yourself

Parents want children to be physically, mentally and financially healthy so they need to get regular preventive checkups and healthcare as needed. Planning for your future also means spending wisely, saving and investing what you have for your future. That may mean different things to different folks and each person is responsible for those decisions that affect their children and their future. Smokers should remember that their smoking impacts their children, even if they only light up outdoors. Just about the time kids need money for college, parents may need that money to pay for medicines and doctors to care for smoking-related illnesses and diseases.

Set Clear Rules and Limits

Setting rules that kids understand actually helps reduce their stress, keeps them safe and teaches life skills. (And you thought it was all about being boss!) “No hitting, spitting or swearing” and “Do homework before you go out” are examples of rules that should be posted for children to read and review. I kept our rules on the refrigerator where they looked them over often.

Be Firm and Consistent

Say what you mean and mean what you say. Parents do themselves and their children a favor by sticking to the rules and following up with consequences if needed. The first time a parent is tired or is not feeling well is the moment those rules are tested. When a parent says “I’ll let it go this time” because they are too busy or “You have been kind to others until today so we’ll just skip it this one time” and all of a sudden all the rules and consequences are in jeopardy. Wishy-washy rules confuse and frustrate children. If the rule needs review, then parents and children can go over the rules together. My motto: “A rule that is not enforced is not a rule.”

Listen as Much as You Talk

Pay attention when children talk and when they are not talking. Ask open-ended questions; avoid questions that can be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ “What would you do if your friend wanted you to help him steal?” “Do you think that kid did the right thing standing up with a friend against the bully?” Kids do enjoy hearing parents talk about their childhoods, though, and about the day they were born but using the “I walked through two feet of snow to go to school,” to make a point and eyes begin to roll. I have learned that kids do listen, especially when we give up the floor and let them talk, too.

Show Children Love and Affection

Love is not measured in dollars and cents. No matter what age, all kids want and need love, even when they pull away so their friends do not see parents hug or kiss them. Parents who are not huggers need not be afraid; love can also be expressed by a warm smile, a pat on the back or a note in their lunch. I never got affection from my parents as a child or an adult and that has been a painful experience for me. When I was a child, though, I heard my father telling his friends how smart and capable I was and that felt wonderful.

Spend as Much Time as Possible

A few years back and the phrase ‘quality time’ was coined, perhaps to make parents feel less guilty. The truth is that quality time is good and any time counts, too: In the car, at mealtime, raking the leaves or watching a movie together. It’s all added up and deposited in the memory banks no matter how small.

Be Human and Admit Mistakes

This is simple; if parent makes a mistake it should be admitted without haste and rectified if possible. Owning up to mistakes is also modeling for kids how to do it with grace. Not admitting mistakes and then trying to cover it up is to assume children are not very bright. Take my word for it – kids are savvier than most parents think. Mr. Ramirez was notorious for never admitting mistakes, then looking foolish while trying to shovel the blame onto someone else. He wanted all of us to think he was perfect but he never understood that accidentally leaving a light on, forgetting to close the gate or not locking the front door are not criminal offences – they are only human mistakes. For this evasive move it always became a “funny Dad story.”

Apologize and Mean It

When parents do something to offend or hurt their child then an immediate apology is in order and it should not be accompanied with an excuse. Mr. Ramirez again provides fodder for this family with a million laughs for his inability to get the entire word out of his mouth, “Sorrooo, sssorrooo, sssoorrrr!” You cannot make this stuff up, folks – he cannot say “I’m sorry” and mean it. Fortunately I and other people have given the example of apologies when needed.

Encourage Without Enabling

Do you remember when you learned to ride a bike for the first time? I do; my heart was racing and I was scared silly but I did it! What a glorious feeling; I could have climbed mountains that day. Encouraging children at all ages is a must. When parents enable children, though, they are telling children they have no faith in them to do things. Parents who do too many things for kids are depriving them from the wonderful feeling of accomplishment. Children learning and doing things for themselves is essential to their growth and development.

Parent Together

Parents who work as a team to bring up and discipline children are the most successful. When parents do not agree (or fight) on parenting issues and discipline methods cause unnecessary anxiety, confusion and stress in children. It can also place a long-term rift between the parents. When Mr. Ramirez insisted on verbally and physically abusing our children I had no choice but to defend the girls and then report him twice to child protective services. Parenting methods were negotiable, abuse was not.

Parenting can be mind-boggling to absorb how easy this is all at once so I will save Part II until next week. Relax Parents, it is just that simple.

Jackie Saulmon Ramirez has served as a volunteer with Parents Anonymous® of New Jersey, Inc. for more than twenty years, giving and getting support. Find her blog here on her contact page.

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