Tuesday, October 11, 2011

October, 2011-- Parenting best practices

Do you have a parenting best practice?

I work at a Fortune 100 company, and one of the phrases tossed about quite a bit is “best practice.” Different departments or plants within the company look at others doing similar work and determine what is the most effective strategy for completing the work with better results, lower cost or less waste.

Parents have best practices as well. While every family operates a bit differently, there are ways of handling common childhood situations that are more effective than others. As in business, the best practices of parenting produce better results— kids who live up to their God-given potential. The lower cost is rarely a financial one—usually a best parenting practice saves sanity, not money. And less waste in parenting won’t necessarily prevent materials from entering a landfill. Instead, less waste refers to less wasted time and energy.  It’s rare that one parent would naturally stumble upon all the best practices of parenting—just as managers need to travel and meet with others in their field to learn best practices, so do parents need to talk to one another and learn. Knowing that amid the daily shuttle to soccer practice and dance lessons, meeting time with other parents might not come often enough for most of us, I emailed some of the most capable parents I know and asked them to share their best practices. Here are their words:

Best Practice: Building self-esteem:

Maurita and Mike, parents of two girls adopted as preschoolers, sometimes worry about their ability to build a healthy sense of self-esteem for their daughters. “I think adopted kids often have a little hole to dig themselves out in regard to self-esteem,” Maurita said. “We all know how crucial it is for girls to have self-confidence and self-esteem,” She explained that she heard a celebrity mother commenting on the suicide of her son, and the mother explained that parents cannot give their children self-esteem, that it must come from within the child. Maurita said the words stuck with her, and when her daughters achieve something, she uses the words, “Aren’t you proud of yourself?” She then re-states what they did to achieve the honor. “I tell them that I’m proud of them as well, but only after I lead with asking if they’re proud of themselves.”

Best Practices: Communication

Maribeth, mother of five children ranging from kindergarten to high school, said that taming adolescent “snippiness” is easier when she responds to an ungrateful remark by saying, “I think what you mean to say to me is. . .” and then modeling the correct response (‘thanks for cooking dinner, Mom’) to the child.

Nikki, mother of two, finds that strong communication doesn’t always need to involve actual talking. She just purchased a journal that she and her nine-year-old daughter share. One person writes her thoughts and feelings and then leaves it on the other’s pillow for a response. “The idea is that sometimes things are hard to talk about face to face and it's easier to write our feelings,” she said.  “Sometimes, it's easier not to look someone in the eye and to say what we really think when we can carefully choose our words.”

Amy, mother of three, has found success in whispering. “Rather than yell, I whisper,” she said. “It intrigues them. It pulls them closer to me and I can get them to cooperate better. Plus, I feel better about myself than when I yell.” 

Carolee, a family therapist, has this suggestion for parents: “When a parent makes a request of a child, the only appropriate response is either ‘Yes, Mom,’ or ‘Yes, Dad,’” she said, noting that many moments of talking back, whining and defiance could be eliminated if parents would hold to this. “If you ask your child to do something and he or she talks back, take time to practice the ‘Yes, Mom,’ response. Re-state your request five times and expect the child to answer appropriately, in an appropriate tone, five times. They’ll catch on and soon it will be a habit.”

Best Practice: Reducing wheedling for privileges

Amy, of the whispering, does not allow any electronics to be used before 6:30 p.m. “Once it’s 6:30, if homework is done, you can watch a show or play a game, but nothing until that time. No one ever asks because they just know that’s the rule.” 

Patty, mom of four has a similar rule that eliminates the need for negotiation. “No more than 30 minutes a day of screen time. You choose the screen—TV, computer or video games, but that’s it.”

Denise and Arthur draw their line at dessert. “We felt the kids were taking dessert for granted and eating too many sweets,” she said. “We made a rule that they can only have desserts on weekends. We’ve found it makes our kids appreciate the treats more and it prevents them from asking for dessert on the other days because they know the rule.”

Best Practice: Building a faith life

Carol and Jamie, parents of four, said that not compartmentalizing their faith has helped their children. “We talk about God and faith throughout the week,” Carol said. “It’s not just something saved for Sunday. I might have a candle lit on the counter on a Wednesday night and a child will ask me why, and I’ll explain I’m praying for a friend’s surgery.”

Andrea and Greg set aside time for service with their teens, serving at a meal program or working in a homeless shelter. “Kids need to experience living the Gospel by feeding the hungry or comforting the poor firsthand,” Andrea said. “It’s not something we can expect them to do when they’re adults if we don’t do it with them when they’re young.”

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