By Sarina Behar Natkin, LICSW
Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part series on long-term parenting. See the first post.
Here’s a great activity from Positive Discipline for helping you get clear on what your own bigger picture looks like. Sit down by yourself or with your co-parent and make a list of the current challenges you have with our kids. The day-to-day stuff that makes you want to scream. The idea behind this list is not to label these problems/behaviors we need to get rid of in our kids. The goal is just to get them out there.
Put that list aside and now make a list of values and characteristics you want your children to have as adults. What life skills do you believe your children need to have to be happy, contributing members of society? Common items on this list include self-respect, empathy, self-confidence, trust, risk taking, self-discipline, flexibility, kindness, motivation, and many others. Take your time and figure out which of these are most important to you and what others you would add. This is your parenting road map.
So, how we got from the first list to the second list? This is the crux of long-term parenting! All of those challenges can be used to help our children develop the characteristics and values that we want the to have as adults. The way we deal with those challenges is critical to helping our kiddos get those great values and skills.
Here’s an example. Many of us struggle with getting our kids to clean up their toys. If you have a family value of respect for objects and the environment, instead of getting in to a power struggle about picking up toys on any given night, you can slow down and think about what else might help you model and teach that value to your child. Could you do it together? Could you make it a game? Could you notice you are in a power struggle and let it go in that moment? Could you trust that if you did the clean-up that time it doesn't mean they will go off to college and never know how to clean up? Could you have a family discussion about the problem of hassles over clean up, ask your child what ideas they have (works with young kiddos too!), and come up with a solution together that everyone can agree to stick with?
There's no one option that is perfect for all families. While we may have similar values on our lists, we have different ones too based on our own unique life experience. The goal of long-term parenting is to focus on how we can deal with challenges in ways that invite our children to gain the life skills we want them to have. As each new parenting challenge arises, keep in mind these life skills and how you can continually move towards them through discipline.
Sarina Behar Natkin, LICSW, is a parent educator and consultant in the Seattle area. She is co-owner of Grow Parenting, where this piece was originally posted.