General Parenting Issues — 08 June 2007
How to develop a wise parenting plan

The major goal of most parents is to help their children have a healthy, happy childhood as they prepare for a successful adulthood. The ways parents undertake to accomplish this essential task vary and may support or detract from successfully achieving their well-intentioned goals.

Cultural influences are, in part, responsible for derailing parents from doing what is within their best intuitive sense. Over the years parenting “norms” have changed from strict, restrictive and punitive styles to permissive, indulgent or child oriented ones. Every era new parenting gurus capture the attention of well meaning parents in guiding them through the parenting maze.

Though research about effective and healthy ways to bring up well-adjusted children is extremely valuable, it rarely gets sufficient exposure. What does get promoted in the media are ‘new’ and often controversial ways to help your child succeed in life.

Television shows have frequent segments about getting your child to sleep, eat, behave, learn, relate to other children and even learn to read by nine months, among many other topics. Though the media is a good source for disseminating information, few of the advice-givers are researchers or even true experts in pediatrics. They may have written a book, have a higher degree or are merely self-labeled experts.

Parents are also influenced by peer practices and competition. In some communities the hysteria about signing their child for the best preschool to jumpstart her march toward an Ivy League college, is contagious. The pressure put on young children is palpable though not understood by the youngsters.

Good parenting must start with good information, love and deep understanding of the child. There are no universal, absolute formulas for best parenting and they cannot truly exist, since the nature of each child is so unique. There are clear research based guidelines about what harms children such as: physical and verbal abuse, criticism, discounting, shaming or neglectful or rejecting behaviors. Beyond these, parents are wise to devise their own parenting plan.

• Discuss with each other the attitudes and behaviors you wish to instill in your children such as: manners, respect for others, work ethics, autonomy, self– esteem, educational aspirations and more.
• Agree on what matters to you the most and the rewards and punishments you will use to enforce your child’s compliance.
• Though your personality styles differ, it is important that you agree to co-parent as a team.
• Gather and share parenting information from sources you respect on an ongoing basis.
• Evaluate media information to determine if it is wise to follow, assuming it is possible. For example, is teaching a 9 month old to read a worthwhile endeavor and for what end?
• Expose your children to variety of extra curricular activities. Abstain from insisting that the child play a specific instrument or sport of your choice.
• Avoid the temptation of having your child live up to your unmet expectations of yourself. It is disrespectful to your child’s individual identity.
• Abstain from becoming influenced by the trend of your peer parents. Question yourself to see if their goals match yours. Parenting is unique to each set of parents and their children’s personalities.
• You are not a better or worse parent if your choices differ from other parents. For example: Your neighbors believe that home schooling is best for securing children’s academic future. If your children are not home schooled, your choice is the best one for them, regardless of your neighbors’ beliefs.
• Honor your talents and willingness to undertake any parenting recommendation.
• Develop a positive parenting esteem as you mutually assess your performance in helping your children prepare for competent adulthood.
• Model the behavior you want your children to acquire. Research by the National SAFE KIDS Campaign and Johnson & Johnson 2005, found that in teaching children about safety, parental compliance with seat belt use of 86% matched the ”near-universal safety belt use among children of 91%”. Conversely, the same study reports that “While 86% of parents say it is extremely or very important their child always wear life jackets, only 39% of parents say they always do so themselves. The result? Only 57% of children say they always wear a life jacket, which may be due to this “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do parenting”.
• Trust yourselves in creating the parenting plan that suits your values and capabilities. When you love your child, listen well and respect his/her uniqueness, you are already a wonderful parent.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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