Last week, pediatrician Brianna Vargas walked us through the differences between various parenting styles, laying out the cold hard evidence for the authoritative style. Ultimately, being friends with your kids shouldn't be the goal, as they need a strong hand to help them figure life out.
Now, she shares tips for actually making it happen.
Here are some concrete ways you can implement authoritative parenting tools:
- Reward positive behavior with positive reinforcement. Make an effort to notice, really notice them doing things well. For example, when they are sitting quietly and playing nicely, make sure to let them know that you see them playing nicely and that they are behaving like a “big boy or big girl” and how proud you are of them for playing so nicely. This goes for sharing a toy, giving a hug to a friend, asking for something politely, etc. Praise their efforts at every chance you can. I used to applaud my children’s efforts so frequently that my kids begin to clap for themselves when they did things right. This then leads to them wanting to continue these behaviors, creating a cycle of reward for good behaviors.
- Get down physically to their level when you speak with them and maintain eye contact the whole conversation. This lets them feel that their voice and opinion matter, that they are equal and can be heard. Your tone will let them know that you are making the rules, but this lets them feel they have a voice in the conversation. It is a simple action that can yield a great benefit and response from your child. Make sure you sustain eye contact and keep closed loop communication with them, asking “do you understand what I am saying?” And making them answer with “yes or no”. Don’t forget to always give your reason why.
- When disciplining, focus on the action of the child, not the child himself. Make sure your body language matches what you are saying. If they feel ashamed, reinforce that you love them, but that you don’t love the action they just chose. Remember to provide your reasoning, which should always include encouraging empathy. Instead of “I didn’t like what you did because it was wrong,” use “ I didn’t like that you threw the toy at your brother, because you could have hurt him and you hurt his feelings. Do you like it when he throws toys at you?” Children as young as 18 months can understand reasoning, so while it seems difficult, keep at it and you will see the benefits down the road. Punishing your child involves little or no communication- discipline creates a dialogue and educates them.
- Encourage empathy at every chance you can. For me, it is important to focus on the emotion behind and consequences of your child’s actions. When my son speaks back to me in a negative tone, or screams as threenagers often do, I make sure to let him know that I don’t like the way he spoke to me, and it hurt my feelings. Teaching them empathy is critical for assisting with self control in the future. If your toddler hits you, you might exaggerate slightly, saying “ow!” and stop playing immediately, appearing to have a sad expression on your face. Then offer them a way to help you and say “Please give it a kiss or give me a hug and I will feel better.” That way they feel a sense of accomplishment in righting their wrong. This is one way you can begin teaching empathy at a young age.
- Make your rules clear, abide by them consistently, and don’t feel guilty for having them. Each parent’s rules and boundaries will be different, INDIVIDUAL to each parent, and the earlier you can establish them with your child, the better. What is important for my family might not be as important to another family, and vice versa. They can be molded to fit your family. Teaching your child to abide by the rules allows for easier entry into society where rules and regulations are expected to be followed. In a permissive household there may be few rules in the household, but the consequences are always negotiable. A lack of rules can lead to impulsive behavior, and an egocentric child. When having the discussion about rules in your house, make sure you discuss the rules AND the consequences at the same time. This allows for a greater understanding of WHY the rules need to be followed.
- Do not ever let your children get away with bad behavior. Make your consequences for breaking the rules consistent and swift. Young children’s consequences need to be more immediate. Time out is an appropriate form of discipline, depending on the child, using 1 minute per year of life and providing no attention or positive reinforcement while they are in the time out area. Older children will understand consequences that happen shortly after, when you can speak with them in a private setting to avoid embarrassing them in front of their friends. Discipline with an audience can border on shaming, and that can have negative consequences for the child’s self esteem later on in life.
- Place a high value on independence, and for the concept that they need to figure out their own solutions to their problems. As easy as it may be to rush in when they need help with something, give them time to figure it out for themselves. Allow them to make mistakes, but if it affects their safety or morality, you need to be the ultimate authority (there is no negotiating). Ex. I urged my son daily to buckle his own car seat straps from a young age. He struggled with the straps and I would assist slightly when needed, then give giant applause for when he was able to complete the task. In performing this task, he felt a greater sense of independence and pride than if I were to have done it for him. Now, he hops into his car seat and is able to strap himself in completely. Early independence gives children the confidence to make their own decisions, and later will translate into a more liberal freedom of expression.
Navigating the delicate balance of parenting is difficult for EVERYONE. There is no one perfect parent, or perfect child. Adjusting based on your individual child’s needs is key, and these may change over time. The most important thing is to keep trying, because ultimately, all we can do is our best.