Find your way


If you have been a parent for any length of time, you have probably discovered that this little thing we call parenting is a bit of an experiment. Particularly with our eldest children, we learn by doing. Finding our way involves trial and error.

But is there a way to lessen the impact of our experimentation on our children? Yes. In fact, I recommend it. Here’s how.

Trust your instincts
As trite as this sounds, our parenting instincts do serve a purpose. If you have read a book that seems to hold great promise, but its methods sound too strict (or lenient), listen to your inner voice. Plus, you know your child best. You know what he needs and how he will respond to a particular parenting method.

Trust your intellect
There are some who believe that instincts alone are all we need to navigate this parenting journey. I disagree. This is the whole head vs. heart debate. I believe both are required. Use your intellect to read parenting books, critically evaluate those parenting books, evaluate your child’s behavior objectively, keep a log of chronic behavior problems, etc.

Assess your parenting
If we are to do our best as parents, we must assess ourselves and do so regularly. This is particularly useful if we are dealing with a chronic behavior problem like open defiance. Ask yourself (or your spouse) whether you’re being consistent enough, following through on consequences, issuing idle threats, constantly repeating yourself, etc. If you’ve given yourself a poor grade, take heart. Now you know where to start to improve.

Set goals
Most parents have an idea as to how they want their children to behave. Whether it’s a moral issue like sharing or the simple act of cleaning up toys, we know what we want from our kids. If you just have a vague notion of what you want, I recommend that you sit down and define your goals. Write them down and refer to them often. Keep in mind that they will change as your child gets older. Be intentional with your parenting.

Create a plan
As with anything in life, having a plan helps us be prepared. The same is true in parenting. Jot down your child’s most chronic behavior issues (the ones that come to mind most easily are probably your most chronic), and come up with a discipline tactic that you will use to deal with that behavior issue.

This is where trusting your instincts and intellect come into play. If you received advice from a well-meaning parent that a two-minute timeout should curb the behavior, but you think it’s too lenient, listen to your instincts. By the same token, if you read in a book that spanking is the way to go, but you (or your spouse) disagree with spanking, don’t do it. Try to work this all out before you start implementing a particular discipline method. Switching from one method to another will only confuse your child and make consistency harder to attain.

Learn more about creating a discipline plan and see what my discipline plan looks like.

Evaluate your plan
After you have started implementing your plan, take a minute to determine whether it’s working. Go back to your goals and decide how far you’ve come. Does your preschooler go right back to the misbehavior after you’ve given your consequence? If so, something’s not working. Reevaluate and change your tactics. Just don’t change things up too often; you’ll run the risk of being inconsistent and losing authority.

Create a plan on the fly
Imagine taking your toddler out to eat in a restaurant. Do you do any prep work to ensure the meal goes smoothly? Or what if you’re taking him to the grocery store? What will you do if things go sideways? It’s usually when we don’t have a plan that we get flustered and either let behaviors slide or deal with them too strictly.

As you walk into that restaurant or grocery store, think through possible scenarios. Say to yourself, Okay, if he starts bouncing in his seat, I’ll take him to the restroom for a stern talking-to. Or, If he wanders away in the grocery store, I’ll immediately put him in the cart.

If you do this preparation, you will find your way more easily, and parenting will be less experimentation and more confident, harmonious living!

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