Being a parent, and preparing for parenthood, is one or the most joyous experiences in life, and often one of the most difficult and anxiety provoking responsibilities one can have. Yet we come into it almost completely unprepared and showered with advice from family, magazines, books and many other resources that are often contradictory.
Parenting involves constant worry about our children no matter what their age. These fears and worries can interfere in giving our children what they need to flourish. One minute we try too hard to protect them with preaching, scolding, lectures, punishing and advice. The next minute we shower them with love.
As a parent, we are often reactive rather than proactive, correcting a child's behavior, rather than striving to create a positive environment that requires less correction. We lack a vision of what parenting can be like and a strategy for achieving it.
According to research and years of practice by Dr. Gerald Newmark, Ph.D., with the L.A School District and the California State Department of Education, there are five critical needs of children (and parents) that allow children "enough freedom to grow in their ability to make decisions and become self-reliant, self-confident, independent, thinking people. At the same time, provide sufficient structure, guidance and discipline so children don't harm themselves" or become self-indulgent, irresponsible citizens. "It's about parenting as though children really matter."
The first critical need of children at any age, from infancy to adolescence, is the need to feel respected as individuals separate from their parents, with their own ideas, voices and talents. Too often parents try mold their children into thinking and doing like they do, overlooking the children's feelings, and forgetting to say "please" and "thank you" and "excuse me," respectfully to children as they ask children to say to them. Showing children respect, will teach them how to respect others.
The second critical need is to feel important. Often parents try to do it all and children feel left out, seeking attention in negative ways or acting out. Children need to feel they have value, power and usefulness by being part of family decision making, being given things to do and being asked their opinions.
Thirdly, children need to feel accepted for their own uniqueness, feelings and ideas. As parents it is important to listen and avoid conveying that children are wrong for their feelings or ideas. This does not mean always agreeing or being permissive, just showing that children can share and still be loved. Focus on the positive and say "no" compassionately.
Fourth, children need to feel included and "in" on family decisions, activities and discussions. Of course, not all topics are appropriate for children, but plan events and decisions that the family as a whole can do together. Children will learn to better communicate and feel closer to their family.
The fifth critical need of children at any age is to feel secure. Providing stability, consistency, safety, and caring in your child's environment is vital for children to feel protected and that their best interests are at heart. Balancing giving freedom and being in control is the challenge. Parents need to set limits and discipline that are appropriate, reasonable and consistent, and discuss it with children, getting some input from them to increase the likelihood that it works.
In conclusion, happy and confident kids have parents that are acting in ways that say, "I love you," and promote the child's well-being. Acting in ways that ensure your children feel respected, important, accepted, included and secure provides a framework to guide your interactions with children and evaluate how things are going.
Overall, enjoy your children and the experience of being a parent. Don't be too hard on yourself if you lose your cool or make a mistake. Relax and be good to yourself! No parent is expected to be perfect.