Being a decent parent involves three basics — love, physical needs and discipline. But what does it take to be a great parent?
1. Your unconditional love should be an absolute given. The effectiveness of every parenting choice is predicated onthis fact. Remind them of it often. “You can’t do anything to make me love you more. You can’t do anything to make me love you less. I love you for you.” Then try to really love them for who they are — even if they’re very different from you or a little too much like you!
2. Let them face disappointments. It is really tempting and we can often feel pressured to “fix” things for our kids, but clearing away their disappointments teaches them that we don’t believe in them; that we don’t think they can handle life’s difficulties. When children face their disappointments (even unfair ones), they develop perseverance, courage and the confidence to know they can get through hard times.
3. Be sure your child has chores to do every day. Chores should increase in responsibility as they get older, paced so they are truly ready to live on their own by the end of the teen years. A 3-year-old can help wash dishes, an 11-year-old can do their own laundry, and a 14-year-old can fix dinner for the whole family. These are necessary even if you are a stay-at-home mom; they won’t have your services forever and your house is a community where everyone should pitch in! Meaningful routine chores teach responsibility, ownership, practical life skills, confidence (they can do more than they thought), and chase away entitlement.
4. Discipline with logical, proportionate consequences. Talk less, act more. Try to avoid yelling and shaming, and let the consequences do the work for you. Arguing in the car? Put them in a “talking time out.” Throwing a fit about doing their chores? Give them another chore. Slam the door to his room? Take the door off the hinges. Be creative! Good consequences will be inconvenient for you at times, but the results will be well worth it.
5. Remind yourself and your children the difference between a right and a privilege in your home. They have the right to safety, shelter, food and school. Video games, cell phones, TV, playtime, and name brand clothesare privileges, and you should know how and when you think they should have them and how they can lose them. What guidelines do you want to teach them about handling those privileges with integrity?
6. Some decisions are yours, some should be theirs, and some should be made together. Decide which are which and discuss it with them.
7. Your kids need your hugs and your support even when they tell you they don’t. As children get older, go through various dramas and try on different identities, as is inevitable, rise above the hurt of their apparent rejection. Continue to show affection, go to their games and performances, and tell them you love them. When they lash out at you over frustrations in their life, it means they feel safe in your love. They’ll work through it.
8. Meet them on their ground and make their interests yours. Read the books they love (find out why teens loved “The Hunger Games” so much). Play the videos games they like with them (how does Minecraft work, anyway?). We do this pretty naturally when they’re young, but it takes a more conscious effort as they approach adolescence and beyond.
9. Don’t forget to pass on your values, opinions, and wisdom through life’s everyday situations. Use events on the news (a controversial political vote, a zoning issue that affects your family), circumstances that friends and family experience (a divorce, addictions, a death), and situations that come up on TV shows or in movies (the glamorization of sex, violence, or sassy kids) to discuss topics that may be awkward or difficult, but that your children need to process. If you pass up these opportunities, you are handing the honor of influence off to your child’s peers, Hollywood, or the culture at large.
10. Remember that there is no way to be the perfect parent, but a million ways to be a great one.