Thoughtful Parenting: 4 tasks make for better parenting
September 2, 2018
Am I parenting well? It's the question that nags at all of us, and the inevitable answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no. After all, we can't be perfect parents all the time, but our willingness to ask the question and think about our approach ultimately makes us better parents.
Throughout my son's childhood and adolescence, my consideration of this question has boiled down to my ability to set appropriate expectations, communicate those expectations, discuss the lesson inherent in unmet expectations and demonstrate gratitude for the times he met or exceeded my expectations. When I am doing my best, these four tasks are in harmony.
For me, setting expectations is an art and an ever-moving target. It reminds me a bit of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You want to get it "just right." Set the expectations too high, and the rapid and regular failure leads to frustration for everyone concerned. Set them too low, and your child has little incentive to develop strong skills.
So, what is "just right?" It is the sweet spot at the edge of your child's comfort zone. You want your child to meet the expectation when she is on her game, being her best self. You know that she could struggle to meet the expectation all the time, but the effort is the point, and failure is not a disaster. To keep expectations in the sweet spot, you have to be willing to reassess and adjust them regularly as your child gains new skills.
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As parents, we often assume that our children know our expectations. Of course they shouldn't hit, bite, lie, post inappropriate content, etc. Clarity, however, is always best. When you set a new expectation, talk to your child about why the expectation is important to you and aligns with your family values.
It is a truth universally to be acknowledged that children will not always meet our expectations. In many ways, that is exactly the point. Human beings learn from mistakes, and as parents, these are the golden moments when we can encourage the most growth in our children. Consequences are necessary and should be consistent, but don't mistake consequences for lessons.
The lesson is the moment when you get to reiterate your values, encourage your child to accept responsibility and teach skills that will lead to more consistent success. Discuss the incident and the consequences, and then move on to the teaching moment. Assume your child wants to meet your expectations but may not have all the skills, and then figure out the methods for developing those skills.
If your expectations are in the sweet spot, your child will meet or exceed them on a regular basis. Recognize your child's progress with specific praise about his actions and efforts.
The great thing about parenting is that every day is an opportunity to reassess and adjust our own approach. If we set our expectations of ourselves as parents in our sweet spot, we will keep striving to get better, learn from our mistakes and take each hug and "I love you" from our kids as expressions of their gratitude.
Meg Morse is head of school at Steamboat Mountain School. She has taught math and English to high school and middle school students for 27 years.