The Only Parenting Advice You Really Need

“There is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people.”
Thomas Jefferson.

When my daughter was 6 months old, a friend called to find out if she was sitting up yet because her son, who had just turned 5 months old, was still “just lying down”. My daughter had just began to sit up and we still had to hold onto her arms and prop her up on pillows so I was a little surprised that she would be worrying about her son who was younger. I asked why she was stressing out,  she replied “because Google says a child is supposed to be sitting by 4 months”. Seriously!

She asked if I thought there was need for concern. I said that I didn’t. I told her that I was sorry to disappoint her, but that Google would prove inconsistent with her child’s development on many other occasions, in early years and beyond. She asked me what was the best parenting advice I could give. “Know thy child” I said. I still think that the greatest advice any parent needs is to know his/her child.

With the advent of social media, it has become easier than ever before to compare children and find out just where they’re falling short. What’s more, comparing your parenting skills to other parents is now just a click away. The problem with today’s information overload is that we parents already have a mental list of what our children “should be like” and “how they should act”.

When one kid “goes bad”, it is common to hear parents wonder why he/she turned out different even though “we’ve raised all our children in the same way.” Yet no two children are the same. Different kids need different things. The things that work with one kid will totally fail with another. The confiscations and threats that will keep one child on his/her best behaviour will only be met with an “I don’t care!” from another.

So, Know thy child!

Embarking on the journey of knowing your child requires you to let go of many preconceived ideas and really focus on your child. Just your child. Each and every one of your children. It requires you to prepare for changes because nothing is as constant as change. It requires you to be patient when the results you seek are long in coming, and even when they fail to come. It requires you to know when to keep trying and when to change tactics.

Embarking on this journey requires you to:
a) Listen. Listening means being attentive to what is said and to what is kept silent. It means being attuned to your child’s needs. It means talking with your kids. Honestly and openly.

The more you make time to talk to your kids, the more you learn about them. You’ll be surprised about just how much you’ll learn when you actually begin to talk with your child.

Learning to listen to your kids requires you to make the time to listen. Make the time to talk to your kids about your day. Ask them about their day. One strategy I’ve found useful with my kids to get past the “How was school?” “fine” (or “what did you do in school today?” “nothing”) problem is by asking specific questions: Did you laugh? Did you play? Did you cry? Did you play with (…)… How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk is a great resource if you need help.

b) Stop comparing. Accept your child for who he/she is, rather than for whom you think he or she should be. Children who feel accepted are better communicators and suppress their emotions less. Unfavourable comparisons do more harm than good. A recent study found that children who felt accepted for themselves were also more likely to develop self-acceptance and experience greater emotional wellbeing.

c) Embrace change. Just as we live in a constantly changing world, children also change. They might like some things today and detest them tomorrow. You have absolutely no guarantees that they will remain the “perfectly” behaved kids they have always been. Being attentive to your child enables you to be aware of changes and adjust your parenting.

d) Know thyself. There is a lot of parenting advice out there, much of which is right for neither you nor your child. What is important to you? What do you expect from your children? Are they aware of these expectations? Some parenting approaches will work for you, others will not and it’s OK. Neither you nor your child needs to “fit into” any parenting style. Before you adjust your parenting style, thing about what is right for you and your child. If an approach isn’t working for you, let go and try something different.

e) Be patient. I am often amazed by just how much difference even 3 months can make when it comes to what children can do (or not do). Some children take longer than others to develop certain skills and that’s OK. Some children will need more practice to perform certain task and that’s OK. Some children will never master certain skills and that’s OK.

f) Accept your child’s feelings as valid. It is important to respect your child’s feelings, even when you don’t necessarily agree with them. Practice active listening when your child expresses his/her feelings. Ask questions. Nod your head. Be attentive.

Knowing and accepting your children gives you the power to adjust your expectations to each and every child. Acceptance means valuing your child regardless of external circumstances. It means celebrating the strengths but also accepting and viewing shortcomings as part of the learning process.

Your thoughts?