I have been asked to teach a parenting class at a preschool after 6 years of retirement. I agreed to do it because I could really use a diversion and I love teaching young parents.
Parenting practices have changed since Bernie and I raised our children. (Actually, they were in the process of change, which was a little confusing for us.) There have been great breakthroughs in the psychology of children and a new understanding of how they experience the world. For a while, parenting methods took a pendulum swing from severely strict to overly permissive. As it turns out, neither extreme is good for children. Each has unfortunate outcomes for the adults that come later.
Today, the words “strict” and “rules” have been replaced by the concepts of “consistency” and “boundaries”. Children making mistakes is a given. They don’t come into the world knowing boundaries – these have to be taught. Attentive parents consider boundaries carefully. Some boundaries are vital – no hitting. Some are convenient – no eating in the living room. Boundaries should teach children to respect others and to put first things first. The example of parents is important. “Do as I say, not as I do,” is no longer acceptable. Consistency is vital. If parents are inconsistent, children won’t take the rules seriously.
“Consequences” is the word we use today instead of punishment. A consequence can feel like punishment but there is a definite difference. A consequence flows from one’s actions; it is the outcome of the action. A parent’s job is to provide the link, to make the connection. “You might have done better on the test if you had studied the night before instead of watching TV.” “You did well on the test because you worked hard.” Some consequences are natural, others parents have to impose. I used to tell the parents in my classes, “The more an imposed consequence looks like real life, the better.” If a bike is left out, put it away for a while so a child can experience the possible consequence of having to do without it if it were stolen.
Some people complain that children today have too many choices. The role of parents is to provide choices while the children are under their care so that they can teach them how to make choices. It begins early – which shirt to wear – and progresses to more important things – which elective to take in school – to vital decisions like career choices or whether to marry. But in teaching about choices, consequences have to be considered and we need to learn that the choices we make effect others and have an impact on the world around us.
What I love most about modern parenting is that it is more respectful to children. Children are no longer to be “seen and not heard”. What they are thinking and feeling is important. That doesn’t mean they always get their way, but it does mean that they are a part of the community. Their input is as important as that of the adults around them. They have a right to be heard. Children don’t always know how to express themselves, but teaching them how to express themselves is part of a parent’s job, too.
I can’t wait to get started.