Ten Tips for Becoming a Stronger Parent – And Less of a Wimp!

When they come out of the womb, all children want and need protection.

So what happens between birth and age five that makes kids think they can rule the universe – or at least the living room?

Whatever the heck happens, parents today are more overwhelmed, more guilt-ridden, more media-influenced than ever before. Maybe it’s time to throw all that negative stuff out the window – and start becoming a stronger, more confident, parent.

So, what is a strong parent, anyway?

Strong parents are detached. Detachment is releasing your ego. Not having your identity and happiness contingent on your children. And seeing your children as separate individuals. Your happiness should not be measured by how well or how poorly your kids do, or what your children happen to like or dislike. The point is, we are not our children. A strong parent realizes her children exist outside of herself. She doesn’t need them to be “mini-me’s.” Neither does a strong parent cave in to every whim and temper tantrum, or become verklempt when a three-year-old sheds a tear. Which relates to the next point…

Strong parents keep an even keel – In other words, they moderate their behavior. Emotionally, they hang out mostly in the middle. Meaning that they don’t act like tyrants – or dish rags. God gave us this amazing range of emotions for a reason. We produce adrenaline when we need to protect ourselves or someone else against a real threat. If we freak out every time a kid spills a glass of milk or gets ketchup on his shirt, it’s kind of like abusing the system. Our minds won’t know what a serious threat is if one hits us over the head. On the other hand, we save our most joyful expressions for occasions that warrant them: everything isn’t “awesome!” So keep daily ups and downs in perspective. It makes you look smarter.

Strong parents are present – They initiate family activities and do things together. They do not spend all their time in front of electronic devices. A present parent supports his children’s play and learning, reads stories, and makes his kids feel welcome to his time. The present parent follows through with morning and nighttime routines for grooming and hygiene. With very young children, the present parent provides playful interaction, physical touch, makes eye contact, and gets down on the child’s level.

Strong parents are decisive This means parents have a right to make decisions in their child’s best interest. Because families are not democracies. Instead, they’re more like benevolent dictatorships. Think of decision-making as a parent’s prerogative. It’s a privilege. And with privilege comes responsibility.

For example: Parents get to make “food” decisions for their children because it’s their responsibility to know about children’s nutritional requirements. And, it’s their responsibility to work for the money to buy food. Not the child’s. However, it is the child’s responsibility to eat the good food you buy and grow up healthy. Your child does not need or have a right to pizza, chicken nuggets and popsicles every night. As kids grow up and take more responsibility for themselves, they get to make more decisions. It’s that simple. If you say eight o’clock is bed time, eight o’clock it is!

Strong parents provide guidance Guidance isn’t the same as discipline. It’s showing the way. So “show,” and don’t simply “tell” your children what you want them to do – and how you want them to do it. Then do it with them several times, until they get the hang of it. Provide additional guidance as needed.

You are helping your child create neurological pathways that establish skills and good habits. One time around doesn’t cut it. Some parents (and teachers, I dare say) will tell kids, “I already told you once, I’m not going to tell you again.” But kids need guidance to build the automatic behaviors parents expect. So if it’s pajama time, stop what you are doing and focus on pajamas. That’s what they’re supposed to be learning from you, day by day, week by week. It’s called consistency.  You will need to stay present to discover just how much a child can do by himself, and what he needs help with.

Strong parents are resilient – “Able to come back quickly from difficult conditions.” Being resilient means parents are mature enough to allow for a change of plans without getting their noses bent out of joint. If something doesn’t work out, they don’t blame. They make the best of it. They don’t carry grudges, or give family members the silent treatment if someone makes them angry – worse yet, if they don’t get their own way. They dig in and help kids find the resources they need, even if they themselves are unable to provide. And they don’t keep bringing up children’s past mistakes. They allow “do-overs,” so their kids can get it right. They move on.

Strong parents are accountable – They do what they say they are going to do. They admit their mistakes – not only to family members, but anyone they have wronged. And they apologize to their children and try not to make the same mistake again. Strong parents make restitution, or fix what needs to be fixed, between them and their kids (and others) to make things right.

Strong parents are not mentally, emotionally, or physically lazy. You can’t chase a toddler around the house if you’re lazy. You can’t take a kid to baseball practice, or wrestle over homework problems if you’re lazy. And you can’t say “no” and really mean it if you’re lazy. If they don’t know something, strong parents try to find out. They ask questions in order to find solutions. And they are never too lazy to step up to the plate and act as their children’s advocate.

Strong parents set positive expectations – Expectations eliminate the need for threats and bribes. Threats and bribes are negative messages. Expectations are positive. When parents threaten, “You won’t get a popsicle unless you eat your green beans,” they are undermining their child’s willingness to do what is right, and the desire to please her parents. Try this instead. “I expect you to take three bites.” No bribes. No threats. Just stop doing it.

In the end, true satisfaction comes from doing and achieving. You will never be able to bribe or threaten your child into success, no matter how much money you have. By expressing your expectations in advance, and providing appropriate guidance, you can help your child succeed. “I’m setting the timer for five minutes. Then I expect you to put away your game.” “After dinner, I will sit here while you do your homework.” Those are verbalized expectations. With competence comes confidence, and with confidence comes the desire to do and achieve more.

Strong parents show empathy – It’s not always possible or desirable to say “yes” to everything. It is possible to show your understanding. If your child is not allowed to have a candy bar, you can say, “I know you want it, but I am not going to buy it.”

Engage with your child about something else, because he probably wants your attention more than the candy bar. By getting into a battle over it – or lecturing him on rotting teeth and diabetes – you’re only reinforcing a bad habit. The less said, the better.

If the kids are disappointed because you can’t go on vacation, share their disappointment. You don’t need to wallow in it. Just tell them you wish you could have gone, too. It would have been a lot of fun.

This is for certain: If you want your children to come to you at 15 and 20 with their disappointments, as well as their joys, don’t shut off their emotions when they’re little. Strong parents are able to “hear” what a child has to say without getting angry, without taking over the problem, and without ignoring it. They show compassion. They listen with empathy.

Wish you could go back and start over? We all do.

So start from where you are. And know that you can become a stronger parent. FFG

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