By Donna Goss, MA, LPC
I have been a mom (and later a grandparent) for over four decades now, and I would like to think over that amount of time I have learned some things about being a parent. Through these experiences and from working with children, teens, and families at Anchorpoint, I want to share some of my own personal tips on parenting.
1. Bond with your newborn child from day one.
Cuddle, snuggle, kiss and provide comfort for them. A child wants to feel, above everything else, safe and secure. Emotional attachment is very important because it provides a child a safe haven to explore their world. Parents or other primary caregivers can provide this secure base by giving appropriate hugs, kisses, and emotional support.
2. Do not expect perfection!
There is no such thing as a “perfect” parent or child. Getting advice from experts is great; however, remain flexible in knowing what will be best for your child. Sometimes we just need to “trust our gut.”
3. Allow the child to explore his/her world in a safe, secure setting.
As a child grows and matures, allow them to make age-appropriate decisions and choices – even if you might not like or agree with their choice. Again, choices must be suitable for their age and not cause any harm or adverse consequences to the child.
As our own son grew up, we allowed him make a lot of decisions for himself. He did not always make the best or right one, but he knew that no matter what he was loved and accepted by his parents.
4. Encourage individuality in your child(ren).
While your child does have your DNA, he/she is also different from you. Through imagination and creative play, children discover their world – they learn who they are and who they want to be.
Our son was not “into” sports as I had been. I grew up on basketball and softball. My husband was very much a spectator sports fan, but our son was more creative. He enjoyed learning how to play the guitar and drawing. Once we recognized that his gifts were in different areas, it was much easier to appreciate his individual talents and support him.
5. Make time for “self.”
If you are married, make time for your spouse or significant other. Taking care of you will help you take care of your child’s needs. Plan date nights with your spouse. If you are single, it is even more important that you find a way to take a break. The MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) program can be a wonderful resource and support group for young moms. Typically this group provides childcare on site. Ask a parent or grandparent to babysit while you take a walk, take a ride in the car, or something else enjoyable. When you’re raising a child, your self-care affects more than just you.
6. Establish healthy boundaries with your child.
Boundaries are simply emotional lines that protect you both mentally and emotionally (and sometimes physically) from others. Boundaries set limits for what is acceptable in your environment and personal space. I recommend the book, Boundaries with Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. It is okay to say “no” to your child(ren). Children need to learn early that they cannot always have their way, and boundaries help them learn this concept. Establishing boundaries (limits) does not equate to ultimatums, but rather choices and consequences.
I wish I had the “Boundaries” book when I was raising our son! I had to learn the hard way that it is important to set boundaries both for you and for your child(ren).
7. Provide structure & routine in your home
Children need structure and rules to survive in society. Rules are made to protect us (most of the time) and provide order and structure in our world. When we establish rules in our family, it helps children learn this concept in a gradual process.
8. Allow for natural consequences to teach your child(ren).
Do not be the one that always fixes the problem for your child; you are not doing him/her any favors. It is totally okay for your child to fail at something periodically – it teaches and builds character and resilience.
9. Pick your battles
When children grow older (pre-teen, teen), decide what your non-negotiables are and stick with them. If your child decides he doesn’t want to put away his clean clothes even though it is important to you, is this “the hill you want to die on”? Will his decision to be disorganized and messy impact his life at this point? Probably not.
My teenage son was a slob! He never hung up or put away his clothes. I used a laundry basket most of the time. It used to make me crazy! So, I would just close his door; it was his mess to live in, not mine! Once he was out on his own, he changed.
10. Get involved with your child’s life & friends.
This is really important during the teenage years! Your teen might not want it or like it, but I guarantee that it will be the best thing you can do for him/her. This sends the message to your fickle teenager that you care and want to be involved. Teens also need space and time away from mom and dad, but overall be involved in your child’s life. Get to know their friends’ parents too. Do you see “red flags” with who they are hanging out with? Establish ground rules with your teens – this will help them feel they are part of the process.
Looking back now, I did not do this enough. If I could change ONE thing this would be it. I did volunteer and was involved some in our son’s activities, but I wish I had been more actively involved with his marching band events and church youth group activities.
As parents, we have a responsibility to our children. After all, they are a gift from God. Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
Additional reading suggestion: For Parents Only by Lisa Rice & Shaunti Feldhahn
If you would like more tips on parenting your child or need to talk with someone about your parenting challenges, please feel free to reach out to Anchorpoint Counseling Ministry at 412-366-1300 or fill out an online intake. We are here to help, always.