Every night, there are parents who lie awake wondering if they did the right thing with their children that day. Should I have yelled? Was I too harsh? Did I spend enough time with them? All of these cause parental anxiety; they are the demons we must face as parents. However, there are three very specific questions you can ask yourself that can bring balance and offer insight. They might even help you sleep better!
What behaviors will my child learn from me? Even though children spend a great deal of time with other adults, in school for instance, parents have the greatest effect on them. What you do teaches your kids about what a parent, a partner—an adult—is supposed to be and do. I term this the “Model” perspective. What behaviors are you modeling for your children? Are they positive, or are they negative? Think about what you did today as a parent. Were you trying to get the kids to stop arguing? That’s good. How did you go about it? Did you lose your temper? Did you make threats you couldn’t keep? Were you constructive or destructive? In any case, your actions showed them both how to behave as a parent and who you are as a person. If you were firm and loving, they got the message. If you were rude and out of control, they got that message too.
What can I teach my child? This question embodies the “Mentor” perspective. Of course, you will be teaching your child how to actually do certain things. Cooking and bike riding are just two examples, and you can have fun sharing in these moments.
One of the things that we parents often have a hard time with is letting children learn from their own mistakes and failed attempts. Parents must let this happen when the child’s safety is not at risk. Teaching them about consequences can help with this, even though this can be difficult for parents to swallow. If your son does something you told him not to do, (“Don’t leave your bike out in front of the house”) and the results are painful, (the bike is stolen, or you see it there and take it away for two days) then that pain is the teaching tool. If you shield your child from too much, they won’t know how to handle things later in life. Don’t let them miss these lessons.
What must I ensure that my child learns? This is the “Guide” perspective. In one year, five years or even ten years from now, what do you want your child to know? This could be a skill to get her through life, or it can be a set of values that you hold dear. How are you going to teach your child these things? This question must be put into action in a deliberate way. It embodies what you want to pass on to your child as he or she grows into an adult. What don’t you want your child to miss out on learning? Manners? Work ethic? Spiritual discipline?
Raising your child is too important a task to “fumble” through. These three questions can help guide your efforts and help you gauge your success. Be deliberate, and sleep comfortably knowing that you are doing your best.