To begin with, parenting has never been a cakewalk, even during the best of times. Therefore, one can jolly well visualize the additional responsibilities and risks it brings in not-so-favourable times. Though globally, parenting is marked by many similarities in terms of nurturing, socializing, educating and training, we find considerable cultural differences in parenting techniques. And there is a reasonably sound logic to each one of them. Consider, for instance, the primitive farm-based cultures (which still exist in some parts of the world), in which kids are taken to be economic rather than emotional assets and are, therefore, treated like that only. Similarly, almost all tribes put great store by individual independence in sharp opposition to non-tribal cultures.
The past few decades have seen a renewed interest in the importance and the effect of various parenting techniques on kids, especially in eastern vs. western cultures. This difference in parenting styles is most clearly visible in terms of a child’s academic performance, self-confidence, emotional development, behaviour and coping mechanisms.
The history and culture of a country or area have a great impact on the prevailing parenting styles there – the Chinese culture, for instance, is significantly influenced by the Confucian philosophy of giving respect to authority, devotion to parents, emotional restraint, and education. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Chinese parenting emphasizes training, governance and love. Similarly, the ancient Indian gurukul system, which is premised on a respect for authority, too emphasizes devotion towards parents and elders, learning and education.
Having said that, this is not to dilute the importance of changing times, cultural diffusion and lateral mobility, which affect parenting methods in a big way. For example, Chinese parents are now becoming more sensitive to their children’s emotions and needs and tend to provide them more independence and autonomy. Similarly, in recent years, Western parents have been having higher expectations of their children in matters of academic achievement and monitor their activities more closely.
Types of Parent-Child Relation
Most parenting styles fall into one of these categories:
- Authoritarian – disciplinarian
- Permissive – indulgent and
Evidently, authoritarian parents are strict disciplinarians, who wield the proverbial stick in parenting quite often. So, punishment here is quite common and the communication mostly happens unilaterally from parents to children. Such a parenting technique involves dictatorial decision-making, with children having absolutely no say in important household matters. Most often, the products of such parenting are rebellious or submissive and docile adults and face problems with authority figures in their adult lives.
My experience with parental counseling tell me that the authoritarian parenting style is quite popular with India’s middle class, with the parents demanding blood, sweat and tears from their children, notably in pursuit of academic excellence. The flourishing private cram schools of Kota, which is a Rs.75,000 crore p.a. industry, is ample proof of the aggressiveness of Indian parents in this regard. On the contrary, such micro-managing of a child’s lives is rarely found in Western cultures, where children don’t bear the crushing burden of parental expectations. Rather, their delicate sensitivities arouse much more debate in the national discourse and on TV channels.
That such authoritarian parenting doesn’t always work is clear from the rising number of the cases of depression and suicides happening among such adolescents. Every child is endowed with some unique talents; therefore, a plain vanilla approach isn’t the done thing as the parents’ job is to provide a conducive environment to allow their children to develop academic and social-emotional skills. Therefore, in an ideal aces scenario, the parenting style should be adapted to suit a child’s unique personality.
However, keeping “right” and “wrong” aside, we need to appreciate that each culture emanates from its unique history and that parents always have good intentions, at least from their viewpoint. However, we can always think of what’s desirable and what’s not, which actions could lead to a happy, secure and independent child and which ones could lead to stubborn, defensive and angry ones.
On the other extreme of the Parent-Child Relation spectrum are permissive parents, who behave more like friends in a liberal parenting manner. Obviously, this parenting style often results in an adulthood characterized by little, if any, respect for prevailing rules and such adults have frequent problems with law.
The authoritative parenting style, in which the parents fix reasonable boundaries and also provide guidance and give the kids the freedom to decide and learn from their mistakes is considered the most beneficial in developing a well-adjusted personality later.
12 Steps to More Effective Parenting
The challenges parenting throws at us may not only be tough, but may also lack a personal precedent to guide you. Such challenges have stayed with us since millennia; it’s only that they have become much more diverse and difficult with time. As a case, you may never have expected your so-polite kids to turn into angry teenagers. So how do you tread the tight rope that both of you can survive and begin liking each other? Here’s my list of Top Tips, based on my personal experience of raising two (fairly successful) daughters, which could render your life a little more peaceful and less horrible.
Though the challenges of parenting posed by the modern generation are slightly different (fewer children, busier couples and an ever-connected world through social media), the basics remain the same. Every parent has their unique stories about how they brought their children up despite tough challenges. But in a way of speaking, “bringing up children” is passé now as it is the time for “bringing up parents” because the focus has to shift to making parents more competent in raising their children. Research on child growth and development points to the fact that parents have been in the wrong about several parenting practices.
Frequently, a first-time parent lacks any idea of the future journey as a nurturer. But luckily, plentiful help is always available from one’s own parents, friends and the media. An important warning here, though- their words of wisdom may work but there cannot be any A-creates-B kind of formula here as children come in all shapes, sizes and colours and behave disparately and unpredictably. So, in my opinion, a parent has to “know” the child before trying out any well-intentioned suggestion. And quite expectedly, it’s a hit-and-trial venture until you discover what’s just the right thing for you and the child. So, remember, constant experimentation is the key here.
Though I could fill a weighty tome on this one, here are some of the best-ever words of parenting wisdom I have learnt bringing up two daughters of mine and watching others do it:
The fact is, listening consumes more labour but it is more important than talking. Listening attentively shows your kids that you respect them and it prepares a positive ground for conversation. In the context of a parent-child relation, while talking,
- Keep your eye contact
- Intersperse the kid’s sentences with “Hmm” and “Yeah” to show you are, in fact, listening.
- Do not interrupt them while they are speaking.
- Get a clarification if you don’t understand what they are saying with “Would you explain again?
Pause to see if you are really getting them. You might as well admit “You seem to be angry as I had lost my temper last night.” There is absolutely no harm in apologizing if you really need to as it not only melts the ice between you but also helps you to create a good example.
Try to know about their friends and your own kid through them. It’s sensible to know the names, addresses and phone numbers of their friends as it can be handy in any emergency. Treat their friends respectfully and don’t use them to “spy” on your kid’s activities as it may create trust issues between them.
Love You, always
This gem of parent-child relationship wisdom has been drilled into our heads for eternity, but sadly, very few practice it in reality. Of course, a parent is supposed to correct and guide their kid but the manner in which they express it can create a big difference.
Well, the idea is – love your kid, regardless of how they look or perform or achieve. Besides, avoid blaming or criticizing them, which can weaken their self-esteem and cause resentment. Instead, encourage them, even when disciplining them. For instance, if your kid gets a B on a test instead of the hoped-for A, fret or yell not nor blame their friends. Simply convey that you are fine with it but they should try to do better the next time. And try to ensure they know that though you expect them to do better next time, you will always love them, regardless. Period.
Questioning your Questions
In my practice as a life coach, I often advise my clients to reframe several questions of life so as to see their problems in a refreshing new light. Ditto for parents. Framing your queries right can avoid unnecessary trouble and yield better results. So be very clear about it instead of leaving it to your teenager’s interpretation. For instance, instead, “Why didn’t you respond to my call? You really should have picked it!” try, “I was really being worried that you didn’t answer my call. Can we think of a way to talk after school to know if you are OK?”
An important lesson I have learnt is that focusing on your kids’ behavior is much better than judging or labelling them. So in place of “You are damn lazy,” say “I am so disappointed you didn’t give the garbage to the trash man though it’s your responsibility.”
So far as possible, do not make any generalization. The moment they hear such blanket statements, they will search for examples to refute them. So instead of “You never keep your room neat and clean,” try “I saw you didn’t tidy up your room this morning.”
And while at it, stick to one topic at a time. Avoid using sentences like “I want to talk about your school performance today. By the way, I hated the way that you were talking to your younger sister yesterday.” Instead, try “I wanna really talk about your school performance. Would this evening be a good time for that?”
Becoming a Role Model
Actions speak louder than words
Experts on child growth and development are of the opinion that in a parent-child relation scenario, the kids never do what they are told to; rather, they tend to do what they see happening around them. They learn a lot from watching their parents and significant other adults in daily life. So before you lash out in the presence of kids, think of it: Is that how you would like your kid to behave? So you need to become a model of the traits you would like them to develop – honesty, truth, mercy, patience or tolerance. My own grown up daughters often tell me that as growing up kids, they always tried copying each single thing I did– habits, manners, activities, hobbies. So, treat your kids the way you expect others to treat you.
Reading stories and sharing the major points with kids was a practice I learnt from Henna Chaplin’s story. Though Ishani and Inayat would sometimes not take to it so kindly in the belief that I was trying to teach them something. But having said that, the values I tried inculcating did seep through their impressionable minds.
Another thing I learnt from her was treating kids as mature adults. Though I never pressurized them into toeing my line, I did guide and counsel them. There was a constant fear of their being misled as there was a general belief about our “decent” financial standing. Of course, no one knew about the sixty crore rupee debt I owed, though!
Though I did give my kids all the information they needed and counseled them about the pros and cons of various career alternatives, the final choice rested on them. Today, it gladdens me to see them taking successful strides in their chosen careers.
Carrot ‘n’ Stick
Spare the rod and spoil the child.
Though the above proverb need not be taken literally, the kids need to learn early in life that discipline holds the key to success in life. Of course, in the context of child growth and development, there is a near-unanimity among experts that the use of physical force to discipline a kid is a no-no. They need to learn acceptable behaviour and self-control by staying within certain limits. Having appropriate rules helps them to understand what you expect and develop self-control. The rules have to be framed in a participative manner and should be clearly communicated the old no-TV-until-homework-is-done, no hitting, no abusing, no teasing rules etc..
I can say confidently that it really works to have a system of giving one warning, followed by consequences like “time out” or losing a preferred activity. The idea works only if
- you apply not occasionally or arbitrarily, but always. You can’t apply it one day and forget about it the next time. Being consistent tells them about your expectations from them.
- the “consequence” is potent enough to prevent the unwanted behavior but is not so intimidating that it creates a fear of the parent. For example, “time out” for a default is fine but locking up a kid in a bathroom or depriving them of meals is certainly NOT.
- you use combine it with the opposite – giving them a reward for meeting the targets
Adjusting Your Parenting Style
Experts on parental counselling believe that if your kid’s behaviour “lets you down”, it may be time to run a check on your expectations, which may be unrealistic. Since the environment decisively affects our behavior, we can change the situation by changing the environment. If you always say “no” to your 2-year-old child and fail in your efforts, you may have to change your surroundings so that fewer things are off-limits to create less frustration for yourself.
You may need to change your parenting style as what works now may not work a year later. Over time, the kids’ mental faculties grow exponentially and they think, reason, argue and hypothesize with much more efficiency. Many parents consider it to be a sign of rebellion, which is not the case. Instead, you need to respect their developmental process and attendant changes in their opinions and change yourself. For example, teenagers look less to their parents and more to their peers but keep on your part, keep giving guidance and encouragement while allowing them to be more and more independent.
Boosting Your Child’s Self-Esteem
As a life coach, I often share with my clients that kids start cultivating a sense of self as babies as they absorb your tone, body language, and facial expressions. Keep in mind that your words and actions affect their self-esteem much more than anything else. So appreciate their achievements, however small, to make them feel self-confident and proud. Let them do things independently to let them feel capable and strong. And always remember (to not apply) the 3 C’s: Comparison, Criticism and Control.
Comparisons are always and comparing a child unfavorably with others makes them feel unwanted and worthless. For instance, “What a foolish idea!” or “Your actions resemble a small baby’s!” can leave immense psychological scars. So, choose the words carefully and show compassion. Let it sink in their minds that everyone makes mistakes and that you still love them, even though you don’t like what they do.
Adolescents need more attention from parents vis a vis younger children. Therefore, you need to do your best to be available for your teenager, when they want to talk to you or be a part of family activities. Going to movies and events with your teenager conveys a friendly attitude and will let you know more about your kid and their friends.
If you are a working parent, this fact need not make you self-blame. After my husband’s untimely death, I had to don the entrepreneurial hat and I have been managing a 100-strong workforce at our plant successfully. Since the plant is located at a place distant from where I live, I always faced a time pressure for my kids. But careful planning and slick execution did help me a lot. Looking back in retrospect, I can assert that the gift of time spent together and the little things we do together — playing carom, window shopping — are cherished much longer by them than the “bigger” and costlier gifts we give them.
To see the desired behavioral changes, you will need to show consistency in discipline, rules and curfews, rewards and punishments. Let your kids understand that everything comes with consequences. Dithering or making an exception may earn you temporary reprieve but things will become more difficult in the days to come. So don’t budge and remember, if you cede an inch, a smart teen will try to take away a metre.
Keeping time thieves away
Make them turn off the monster time stealers – mobiles and tablets and ask them to put them away in your bedroom. Of course, you have to agree about the modalities in writing as putting the things in black and white has a certain value. I can recall that despite multiple engagements and the very limited time at disposal, sometimes just ten minutes, may be while waiting for a flight, I devoured every single word of Henna Chaplin’s life-changing real-life story. How Charlie Chaplin’s poor and sick mother Henna Chaplin successfully raised such exceptionally capable kids in the most trying circumstances is beyond imagination. Charlie had learnt from her mother only the sterling human qualities of sifting the good from the bad and handling failures in life.
Eat Together, Stay Together, Pray Together
There is a big grain of truth in the maxim. Ample research proves the worth of this dictum – a family that eats and prays together, always stays together. But try not to make meal times an after-dinner debate show. Meal times can be great bonding opportunities as you can feed their bodies and their souls at the same time.
Earning Pocket Money
My experience shows that they love it. Since part-time jobs aren’t easily available in our country, let your teenagers “earn” their pocket money. You can allocate them some household tasks – pruning the garden, dusting off the racks etc. Not only will they learn some valuable skills, but will also get a feel of satisfaction over earning some pocket money. Besides, they will learn the importance of hard work and savings in life.
“Bright” is fine but “Fight” is NOT
You cannot have a neat and clean room before they leave for school/ college. Just accept this fact and practice living with it to save yourself great heartburn and keep your sanity. At the most, you can have some basic hygiene rules about bathroom cleanliness and dirty clothes. That’s it! Some battles are not worth fighting.