There is no question about it; parenting is both enormously rewarding and also extremely taxing. Being at the beck and call of children and their emotions, whims, and needs is a bit like being on a roller coaster, complete with the highs, lows, and everything in between. Certainly, most parents can identify with experiencing intense love, joy, and gratitude in one moment while being filled with frustration, exhaustion, and helplessness the next. Despite the ups and downs, parenting is certainly one of the most important and significant roles and tasks one can have.
From the time of birth, little humans are hardwired for attachment, love, and belonging. Research indicates that children who feel this sense of connection to their families, schools and communities are less likely to misbehave. As parents, it is our job to help children experience this sense of belonging, to help them know their worth, to teach them social and life skills, and to help them feel capable and an appropriate sense of autonomy and independence.
We are constantly teaching our children through what we do, how we speak to and about others, how we treat our partner, even how we discipline our pets. The ways in which we treat and talk to our children will impact them for a lifetime. If we treat them with dignity and respect, they in turn will learn to respect others and also will expect respect from others as they grow older.
We also know that children are more motivated to be cooperative when they feel encouraged, loved and a sense of belonging. Certainly, positive discipline is important, but it should be done in a loving, fair, and firm way. The focus should be on behavior, not the child, in order to redirect behavior without instilling shame. When the focus is on the child (i.e. bad boy), it instills a sense of shame, breeding disconnection, hurt, and anger. According to author and shame researcher Brené Brown, children who are raised in a shaming environment are more likely to struggle with things like addiction, depression, violence, bullying, eating disorders, and aggression. We also know from her research that shame does not promote positive behavior change.
It is also extremely helpful for parents to teach children their importance by listening to them and validating their feelings. Even when children want something they can’t have, acknowledging their feelings is extremely helpful for the child in order to feel heard and understood. Additionally, by explaining your decisions to your child, you are teaching them about life, your family values and beliefs, and helping them to know what to expect. For example, a child might be crying because they want to go play with their friend at dinner time. Instead of ignoring or getting angry with the child, or instead of giving into them, the parent might say, “I know you are sad and disappointed because you wanted to go play with your friend. It is time for dinner, though, and it is important to our family that we are all here together to eat. You are welcome to play tomorrow after school.” Teaching children about their feelings and healthy ways to cope with them will hugely benefit them as they navigate life’s challenges.
Ultimately, the most important thing you can do is love your child. Positive Discipline The First Three Years says it best: “Perhaps the greatest parenting skill of all is the ability to feel an unbreakable bond of love and warmth for your children and to be able to listen to the voice of love and wisdom even when your patience has been stretched to the breaking point.”