A parent-child relationship is the foundation of all humanity. Right from the stone ages to the modern Internet age, this is one relationship institution that has stood the test of time and is so vitally important that, in fact, one cannot even imagine our civilization progressing without it. Though all animals (we too, are!) practice varying degrees of parenting skills to bring up their progeny, nowhere is the bond as intense and long-lasting as in case of humans, who often spend a lifetime of nurturing, care and concern bringing up children.
Bringing up a little, helpless soul into a walking, talking, sensitive and productive human has never been a cakewalk, even in the best of times. Therefore, we can easily visualize the additional liabilities and risks it creates in not-so-good times. Though parenting everywhere is marked by similarities in the ways of nurturing, socializing, educating and training, there are major cultural differences in parenting techniques. And that’s not without sound logic. The fact is, every culture practices parenting styles to raise children, who would turn into what the culture needs, respects and values. Consider, for instance, primitive farm-based cultures (which are still there in some parts), in which kids hold more economic rather than emotional value. Obviously, in such cultures, kids are, treated like that only i.e. economically productive tools. Similarly, all tribes put great value on individual independence as opposed to other, non-tribal cultures.
In fact, the history and culture of an area impacts the prevailing parenting styles – the Chinese culture, for instance, is shaped by the Confucian philosophy of deference authority, devotion to parents, emotional restraint, and education. Thus, it’s not surprising that Chinese parenting put great emphasis on training, governance and love. Ditto for the ancient Indian gurukul system, premised on great respect for authority, which puts great stock in devotion towards one’s parents and elders, learning and education.
However, it cannot dilute the importance of changing times, cultural diffusion and lateral mobility, which have brought about perceptible changes in parenting styles worldwide. Of late, Chinese parents are becoming more attuned to children’s emotional needs and now give them independence and autonomy in a greater measure than before. Similarly, the parents in Western nations have developed higher expectations of their children in terms of academic achievement and keep a closer watch on their activities now.
Parenting Techniques- Types
Most psychologists and life coaches recognize three major categories of parenting techniques:
- Authoritarian – disciplinarian
- Permissive – indulgent and
Authoritarian parents, strict disciplinarians that they are, wield the proverbial stick quite often. So, punishment is quite common and communication mostly happens one-way from parents to children. This technique involves dictatorial decision-making, with the kids having no say in matters concerning them and the household. Quite expectedly, such parenting techniques create rebellious or submissive and docile adults, who often encounter problems with authority figures later.
As a life coach, my experience with parent counselling services so far reveals that the authoritarian parenting style is popular with the Indian middle class, especially with those living in semi-urban and rural areas. This parenting style creates a lot of performance pressure on kids, with the parents demanding blood, sweat and tears from their children, especially in pursuit of academic excellence. Kota’s private Rs.75,000 crore coaching industry, is ample proof of the Indian parents’ aggression in this regard. Contrarily, this micro-managing of children’s lives is rarely seen in Western cultures, where the kids are free from the crushing burden of parental expectations. Instead, their delicate sensitivities are a matter of debate in the national discourse, media and on TV channels.
Authoritarian parenting doesn’t always work. This is amply clear from the rising number of cases of depression and suicides among such adolescents. Every child has the gift of some unique talents; therefore, a one-size-fits-all, plain vanilla approach isn’t quite the done thing as a parent’s job is providing a conducive environment to let the kids inculcate academic, social and emotional skills. Therefore, the parenting style needs to be adapted to suit a child’s unique personality so as to let it reach its full potential. However, keeping the “right” and the “wrong” aside, we have to appreciate that every culture is a product of its unique history and that while parenting, parents always the good of their children at heart.
Directly opposed to this extreme on the Parent-Child Relation spectrum are permissive parenting techniques, which treat kids more like friends in a liberal parenting atmosphere. Such a parenting style often results in adults marked by little respect for discipline and rules, with the result that such adults face frequent problems with law.
Lying in the middle between these two parenting extremes is the authoritative parenting style, wherein the parents create reasonable boundaries and alongside, give the kids the guidance and freedom to decide on their own and learn from their mistakes. This style has been proven to be the most beneficial in creating a well-adjusted personality in later life.
12 Steps to More Effective Parenting
The challenges thrown by parenting may not have a personal precedent to guide you. But they have been with us since ages; it’s just that they have gotten more diverse and difficult over time. Then, how do you walk the tight rope so that you can survive it and better still, begin liking each other? Well, here’re my Top Tips, rooted in my personal experience of bringing up two (fairly successful) daughters, which may make your parenting a little more peaceful and manageable.
With fewer children, busier, double-income couples and a hyper-connected world, the parenting challenges posed by this generation are slightly different but the basic ideas stay the same. Every parent you meet has their unique stories about how they managed to bring up their kids in the face of tough challenges. But from a different perspective, “bringing up children” is old hat now as it’s time for “bringing up parents” as the focus needs to be shifted to making parents more competent in terms of upbringing. There is sufficient research on child growth and development to indicate that parents have been in the wrong about many parenting practices.
Quite often, first-time parents don’t have any clue to their future journey as nurturers and providers. But thankfully, plenty of help is always available from parents, friends and the media. A word of caution, though- their pearls of wisdom may work but you shouldn’t expect a X-creates-Y type of scenario as children come in all shapes, sizes and colours and may behave quite disparately and unpredictably. So, I am firmly convinced that a parent must “know” the child before trying out any of the well-intentioned ideas. It’s a hit-and-trial thing until you find just the right thing for yourself and your child. So, constant experimentation here is the key.
Here is on to the best-ever words of parenting wisdom I have learnt bringing up two daughters of mine and by watching others:
Walk the Talk
In a parent-child scenario, the kids almost never do what they are told to; rather, they tend to copy what they see around them. Kids are quick learners and absorb much from watching their parents and other adults in day to day living. So before you yell at any one with your kids around, think of it: Would you like your kid to behave like that? NO. Therefore, you need to model the traits you would like them to cultivate – be it honesty, truth, mercy, patience or tolerance. My now-grown up daughters tell me that as kids, they always tried to copy every single thing that I used to do then– habits, manners, activities and hobbies. The idea is clear: Treat your kids the way you expect others to do to you.
Children learn not only unconsciously always; learning happens consciously, too. In this regard, reading them stories and sharing their major points with them paid me rich dividends. The story of Henna Chaplin, Charlie Chaplin’ mother, was particularly telling in this regard. Though my daughters Ishani and Inayat would sometimes resent that I was trying to teach them something but the values I tried inculcating did seep through their impressionable minds. And I can see that in their personas today.
Another valuable thing I learnt from her example was treating kids like mature adults. As a conscious practice, I never pressurized them into following my line, but I did guide and counsel them whenever needed, especially because there was this constant fear of their being misled. There was a general belief about our “decent” financial standing but no one knew about the sixty crore rupee debt I owed!
Though I counselled them about the pros and cons of various career alternatives, the final choice rested on them. It’s satisfying to see them make successful strides in their careers.
Giving an earful
Talk to a life coach and they will tell you that the cat of listening may take more labour but it is more important than talking. Listening to your kids attentively shows them that you respect them and prepares a positive ground for a conversation. While talking,
- Maintain eye contact
- Interpose your kid’s conversation with a “Hmm” and “Yeah” to show that you are really listening to them.
- Avoid interrupting them while they speak.
- Try to clarify if you don’t get what they say with a “Can you explain that again?
Watch This Video to Learn Advanced Parenting Skills
Take a pause to check whether you are really getting what they say. There is no harm apologizing if you really need to as it melts the ice and creates a good example for them to follow.
Know their friends and your own kid through them. Keep the names, addresses and phone numbers of their friends handy. Treat their friends respectfully and don’t use them as “spies” to track your kid’s activities as it will create mistrust between them.
Spare the rod but……
Spare the rod and spoil the child.
Though we need not take this proverb literally, the kids have to learn early in life that discipline holds the key to success. Of course, there is a near-consensus among psychologists dealing with parent counselling services that using physical force to discipline kids is a strict no-no. Rather, they need to learn acceptable behaviour and self-control by staying within certain limits. Appropriate rules help them understand your expectations and develop self-control. Such rules must be made in a participative manner and should be clearly communicated – the no-TV-until-homework-is-done, no hitting or abusing, no teasing rules etc..
I can say with confidence that giving one warning, followed by consequences like “time out” or losing a preferred activity always works. But be careful as it works only if
- you apply it always, not occasionally or arbitrarily,. You can’t use it one day and forget it the next time. Consistency in your behavior tells them about you expect of them.
- the “consequence” is strong enough to prevent the unwanted behavior. But it should not be so intimidating that it creates a fear of the parent. “Time out” for a default is okay but locking up a kid or depriving them of meals is a NO-NO.
- you pair it with just the opposite – reward them for meeting the targets
Love You, always
This gem of wisdom has been drilled into our heads for eternity, but very few practice it. Undoubtedly, the parents are expected to correct and guide their kids but the manner in which they do so makes a big difference.
The idea is fairly simple – Your kid is inherently, intrinsically valuable and deserving of your love. Love your kid, regardless of how they look or perform or achieve and avoid blaming or criticizing them, which can weaken their self-esteem. Instead, encourage them, even while disciplining them. For instance, if your kid scores a C on a test instead of the expected A, do not fret or yell or blame their friends. Just convey the idea that you are fine with it but they ought to try harder the next time. And ensure that they know despite your expectations, you will always love them. Period.
As a life coach, I often advise my clients to reframe their questions so that they can see their problems in a new light. Ditto here. Framing your queries in the right way can help you avoid unnecessary trouble and yield better results. So you need to be very clear about it instead of leaving it to your teenager’s interpretation. For example, instead of saying, “You didn’t you respond to my call. You really should have picked it!” try, “I was getting really worried that you didn’t answer my call. Can we devise a way to talk after school to know if you are okay.”
An important takeaway I have learnt is that a focus on your kids’ behavior is much better than passing judgments or putting labels on them. So instead of “You are so lazy,” try “I am so disappointed you didn’t give the garbage to the trash man though it’s your responsibility.”
Avoid making any generalizations, as far as possible. The moment one hears any such blanket statement, they will try to refute them with examples. So instead of “You never clean up your room,” say “You didn’t clean up your room this morning.”
Stick to one topic at a time. Avoid sentences like “I want to talk about your school performance today. By the way, I hated the way that you were speaking to your little sister yesterday.” Instead, say “I wanna really talk about your school performance. Would the evening be good time for that?”
Kids begin to cultivate a sense of self as babies by absorbing your tone, body language, and facial expressions. Your words and actions affect their self-esteem much more than all else. So try to appreciate their achievements, howsoever small, to make them feel competent, confident and proud. Let them do things independently to let them feel capable and strong.
Remember to not use the 3 C’s: Comparison, Criticism and Control.
Comparisons are always bad and comparing a child unfavorably with others makes them feel incompetent and worthless. Comments like “What a stupid thing!” or “Your actions are like a little baby’s!” leave lasting psychological scars. So, choose your words carefully and show compassion. Let it sink that everyone commits mistakes and that you still love them, though you dislike what they do.
Adolescents need more attention from parents than younger children. Therefore, try to do your best to become available for your teenager. Going to movies and events with your teenager indicates a friendly attitude and enables you to know more about your kid and their friends.
If you are a working parent, it need not make you indulge in self-pitying or self-blaming. After my husband’s untimely death, I had to take charge of his business and since then, I have been managing the plant successfully. Since it is located at a place distant from where I live, I always had a time pressure for my kids. But careful planning and slick execution did help me a lot. Looking back, I can say that they cherish much more the gift of time spent together and the little things we did together — playing cards, window shopping, taking strolls — than the “bigger” and costlier gifts they get.
Tweaking Parenting Style
If your kid’s behaviour “lets you down”, you may need to check your expectations, which may be unrealistic. Since the environment affects our behavior, we can change the situation by changing the environment. If you have always been saying “no” to your 2-year-old child and have been failing in your efforts, you may need to change your surroundings so that fewer things are off-limits to create lesser frustration for yourself.
You may have to make changes in your parenting style as what works now may not work a year hence. The kids’ mental faculties grow exponentially with time and they begin to think, reason, argue and hypothesize much more efficiently. Many parents call it rebellion, which is just not true. Instead, you need to respect their developmental process and the accompanying changes in their opinions and change yourself accordingly. For example, over time, teenagers look less to their parents and more to their peers but play your part, keep giving guidance and encouragement and at the same time, allowing them to become more independent.
You need to be consistent in discipline, rules and curfews, rewards and punishments to have the desired behavioral changes. Let your kids know that everything comes with consequences. Dithering or making an exception in some cases may get you a temporary reprieve but things are going to be difficult in the future. So don’t budge and know for sure that if you cede an inch, a smart teen will take away a metre.
Staying off time stealers
Make them turn off the biggest time stealers of all – mobiles and tablets and ask them to put them away in your bedroom. You may have to agree on the modalities in writing as the things in black and white carry a certain value. I can recall that despite multiple engagements and the limited time available, sometimes just ten minutes, may be while waiting for a flight, I devoured every single word of Henna Chaplin’s life-changing story. Charlie had learnt from her mother only the sterling human qualities of sifting the good from the bad and handling failures in life. How Charlie Chaplin’s poor and sick mother could raise such exceptionally capable kids in trying circumstances is beyond our imagination.
Eat Together, Stay Together, Pray Together
This one carries a big grain of truth. There is ample research to prove the worth of this dictum – a family that eats and prays together, always stays together. But avoid making meal times an after-dinner debate show. Instead, try to make them great opportunities for bonding as you can feed their bodies and their souls at the same time.
Earning Pocket Money
Trust me, they’ll just love it. Let your teenagers “earn” their weekly pocket money. Assign them some household tasks like pruning the garden, dusting off the racks, tidying up the house etc. They will learn some valuable skills, besides getting the satisfaction of making some pocket money. In addition, they get to learn the importance of hard work and savings.
Keep “Bright” but “Fight” NOT
Unless and until they leave for school/college, you cannot have a neat and clean room. Just admit it, grudgingly maybe, and live with it to save yourself heartburn and maintain your sanity. At best, you can have some hygiene rules about bathroom cleanliness and dirty clothes. Period! Remember, some battles are not worth fighting.