“Dr. Hull, what book can you recommend that will help me in my parenting?”
Many parents ask me if there is a book they can read about what a child really needs in our complicated world, and I reassure them that they don't need a book. “Keep it simple” I say and remind them of the following unshakable truths of what a young person needs.
1) Love and Relationship. Your child's sense of safety and security comes from attachment to you. His or her ability to grow mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually are directly related to being with you and around you. You are the greatest teacher your child will ever have. Our culture tries to minimize our impact (watch Disney channel to see parents portrayed as lazy, stupid, and untrustworthy), making us think that we just need to keep our kids busy. Don't believe this lie: Young people need and want relationship with us. Build it, play with them, and find activities with which to teach values of loyalty, hard work, and persistence.
2) Boundaries. Your child needs to know their place and what is expected of them. He or she needs to know that you are in control and exactly what role they are to play. Remember that this will shift as they grow. This area involves giving chores, expecting your child to help around the house, and doing their best in school and extra-curricular activities. They need to know that what you provide for them comes from hard work and you should teach them about being grateful for good things and appreciating what they have that comes from you.
3) Consequences/Rewards. Good parents give their child a clear knowledge of what will happen if he or she chooses to not follow the rules, and also reminds them that the old adage “Make Good Choices and Good Things Happen” is true as well. Children will work harder for their freedom than being threatened by the fear of being punished. However, when they make a mistake, give them a consequence and stay calm. Use the experience as a teaching tool and let them learn from it but deliver it in love. The website loveandlogic.com has some great ideas for managing unwanted behavior and how to deliver consequences in loving but firm ways. I must say here that you must remember that it is not your job to make your child happy (It's impossible to MAKE someone happy anyway) and that your child will be unhappy with you at some point during the course of their life. Don't let this shake you; your child is programmed to love you and he or she cannot see what you see. Stay calm, demand respect, and use it as an opportunity to model that you are in control. Wise parents don't allow a child's emotional reaction to change the parent's values.
4) Praise and a Chance to Shine. Every child needs to know they are valued and that you notice when they are doing well. Give opportunities for them (this is done through relationship by the way) to show you what they know and what they can do. Model for them the giving and receiving of compliments and remember to praise effort and not necessarily the result.
5) A Channel of Communication. Kids and young people need to talk, have you noticed? Are you listening? Give your young person undivided attention every day and set aside judgments and opinions. Just be. Just listen. The time for teaching comes later. Simply sit and let them get it all out. If you notice, kids and adolescents talk in a loop: They start with a story, give an opinion, and then arrive at a conclusion or idea of what should be done, which is usually pretty insightful and often aligns with the values of the parent. However, most parents jump in during the story part, commenting with opinion, judgment, and a lecture that leaves the young person discouraged and dejected. Just listen, and see what happens. Your kid knows more than you think.
6) Down Time. Kids need time to be kids. Teens need to sleep in. Rest is not bad; being allowed to lie on a bed and stare at the ceiling is not a sin. Model for them how to relax and have fun.
7) Balance. Keep this in the forefront of your mind and you will always give your young person the necessary skills that will serve them well. A time for work, a time for play, a time for rest, a time for relationship and family, a time for friends, a time to learn, a time to show what has been learned. There is a time to spend, a time to save, time to make new friends and a time to let friends go; a time for joy and prosperity and a time for sadness and loss. Wise people and successful people live in a state of balance. Give your children this great gift.
There you have it in a nutshell. All the books out there simply re-arrange these in a slicker package but these are the basics. Keeping things simple will help you stay grounded while the world shakes around you. Remember that children and adolescents look to us for their sense of safety and security: If we are easily swayed and inconsistent, they naturally look elsewhere for something or someone else to ground them.