Continuing this week's unintentional theme, I'm going to delve where most people fear to tread because they're a lot wiser than I am. Unfortunately, or fortunately for your sport and entertainment, I've been hit with a stupid stick and have decided to share my philosophies on everything from getting a woman to what it means to be a friend. Why not go one further and piss everyone off and talk about how to raise decent kids?
This is an especially dicey topic since my kids are not even teenagers yet. I haven't run the parenting gauntlet, but that doesn't mean I don't have an opinion. Oh no! I'm a blogger and bloggers have opinions. It's what we do. So here goes my leap into words that will be eaten. These words will come back to haunt me. Hell, they're haunting me now.
The question before us, is how to raise a decent kid. And by decent, I mean a kid who doesn't end up in jail, or on drugs, or is a smorgesboard of STDS or what have you. Before this rather low bar is hurdled in the late teen years and adulthood, the kid is parented, or not, a lot. I happen to believe that what happens in the formative years is, well, formative. Some people don't. I think those people are stupid. It's like saying that you plant a sapling, don't water it, don't feed it, don't stake it, and then wonder why it either dies or if it somehow manages to live, ends up bent in the trunk. Parenting matters.
So here's some thoughts on parenting:
1. Mean what you say and say what you mean. A child needs to believe his parents. A parent who consistently threatens is viewed for what he or she is: an impotent buffoon. The child will push and push, the parents will get frustrated, the child will feel emboldened and in charge, and ultimately, the child will feel insecure. Disrespect for parents translates into disrespect for all authority which translates into pissing off the boss and getting fired. Really, it's not that big of a leap.
2. Make few rules. So many parents have weird and arbitrary whims, really. A child can be defiant and mouthy, but must not, under any circumstances eat a piece of candy at grandma's house. Or, the child must say please and thank you like a robot but he is allowed to have a rotten attitude while doing it. Make your rules make sense. Explain them. Explain why they're important. And explain what will happen should the be broken. This shouldn't have to be a long conversation.
3. Have some standards. Good grief! It isn't cute when your miscreant speaks truth to power at age six. He's six. Yes, children can have their own wisdom. Yes, they can be very interesting. Mostly, they're interesting to you, the parent. Other people think your little Johnny is annoying. They're just too polite to say anything. What standards are a minimum? Respectful communication and behavior is a minimum. A child should not allowed to be surly and miserable. A child's demeanor means a lot. A happy, open attitude can be trained.
4. Reinforce good behavior. It's easy to spot the under performance. It takes more work to find the good work and praise it. When your child does something right, note it. And how you note it is important. Saying, "You're the best kid ever" is vague and actually puts pressure on the kid. Say instead, "I noticed how hard you're working to share with your younger brother" or "Your effort at math paid off! Keep it up!" This praises effort and not end results. The kid will be more inclined to keep trying to be better.
5. Model good behavior. Are your kids screamers? Do they hit? Do they have mean mouths? They learned it somewhere. Oh yes, kids are little parrots or monkeys or whatever screeching animal you prefer. They are paying attention to what you say to dad/mom. Model mature conflict resolution. Model kindness. Model taking turns. Model graceful losing. All those things where you want to stomp your feet and throw a fit like a toddler? Don't do it--unless you want the same thing modeled back at ya.
6. Judiciously use corporal punishment. Back in the day, the whipping was used for everything. Most of our parents would be in jail for child abuse and rightfully so. Excessive seemed to be the modus operandi. I know lots of parents in my generation have gone to the other extreme. They won't touch their child's tushie no matter how deserving it is of some instant messaging. I told a friend of mine that the quickest way to get a message to a boy's brain is through his butt. She didn't like that much. There are rules, though, about all this. And here are mine:
- Never spank in anger.
- Always use a hand. (You need a feedback loop.)
- Never, ever, ever hit, slap, or meanly touch a child's face or head. EVER!
- Only spank the butt or thigh.
- Children under two should not be spanked.
- Rarely, rarely spank.
I want to note here that each of my children have been spanked less than five times in their entire lives. I have a 10 and an 8 year old. I believe the children are too old now to be spanked. Age 8 seems to be a cut-off, for me. The child can reason. He knows right and wrong and other consequences are needed to make a point. To me, the majority of spankings should be given between 2 1/2 and 5. And remember, this is a last resort.
Why spank at all? Well, it's effective. Used sparingly and with purpose, a spanking can give the child the hard boundary he needs to have. Some children need this structure more than others. Some children need few boundaries at all and will be somehow internally guided toward the right way of doing things.
Also, a note on special needs children: I have an autistic son. He has never responded well to spanking. He had a difficult time connecting the punishment with the behavior. The spanking seemed like a random act and would elicit a complete melt-down unrelated to the physical discomfort of a spank. So, he didn't get spanked except for the one time he was four or so and once or twice when he was older and understood. Parents should be very cautious about using spanking with special needs children.
7. Love them. Love means action. It means participating in their lives. It means reading to them. It means exploring their interests and building upon them. Love means being tough and saying "no", but it also means showing kindness and mercy and saying "yes" as often as possible. On the back drop of love, everything else falls into place. A child does not want to disappoint loving parents. A child wants to please mom and dad. A child will forgive all sorts of mistakes if he is loved.
This is not a definitive list. If you have more, add them to the comments. Parenting is absolutely a challenge. In fact, after marriage, I think it's the most challenging task I've undertaken. It is so long-term and the outcomes aren't guaranteed. But the results of good parenting are worth it. Many long-term miseries, much of the suffering adults endure goes back to the formative years. A good parent makes a big difference.