Thoughtful Parenting: Be a lighthouse

Deirdre Pepin/For Steamboat Today

What kind of parent are you? What parenting style is best for your child? We’ve seen trends come and go through the years, with varying outcomes. Between tiger moms, dolphin dads and helicopter, snowplow and free-range parents, how do we determine who will end up being happy and successful?

In his book, “Raising Kids to Thrive,” Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg explains his theory of lighthouse parenting. As lighthouses for children, parents are stable beacons of light, visible from shore. Parents should prepare their children to ride the ocean’s waves and trust in their children’s ability to do so. Parents should be watchful, looking down at the rocks to ensure their kids don’t crash against them.

Parents are safe harbors, welcoming places of comfort and rest between adventures. The scanning beam is how parents notice their children — how they keep tabs on them and tend to their needs. The lighthouse’s illuminating beam symbolizes parents’ curiosity about why their children think, feel, and act. The lighthouse reminds children they are on an adventure and know where to return when seas get rough.

Today’s parents can be so anxious and worried for their kids that they’re driven to overprotect. Overprotection tells kids they aren’t capable and prevents them from learning. As parents crave achievement for their kids, it’s essential to remember that achievement, in and of itself, isn’t a measure of success. It’s a sign children have the qualities they need to achieve. When your child doesn’t achieve a desired goal, avoid being overly disappointed. Maintain high standards, and expect mistakes, but don’t let a negative outcome transform your view of your child. Effort is more important than performance.

Lighthouse parenting means letting your kid be a kid, with all of the mistakes, failures and successes that come with childhood. Raise your child to be a successful 35-year-old by looking beyond immediate goals and focusing on the kind of person you hope your child will become.

The tenets of lighthouse parenting are as follows.

  • Love without conditions. Provide unconditional love but not unconditional approval; set boundaries for what’s acceptable and what’s not; disapprove behaviors, not your child.
  • Set the right kind of high expectations. Set realistic goals for your child to meet, emphasizing striving for the next level; focus on effort, not performance; embrace both the ups and downs (which are inherent to the process of pursuing success).
  • Be protective, not overprotective. Cultivate trust (which serves to protect) but don’t smother; allow mistakes to be made within your protective gaze to balance risk and safety.
  • Nurture coping skills. Offer a lap and a listening ear to encourage your child to talk about feelings and problems; help your child identify problems and brainstorm ways of tackling issues; teach self-regulation and stress-reduction skills.
  • Cultivate communication. Be calm when listening — too much emotion can shut kids down — and don’t rush to judgment, which can undermine unconditional love; when talking to your child, avoid using “you” statements, which can sound like blame. Instead, use “I” statements, which convey empathy.

Deirdre Pepin is resource development and public relations coordinator at Horizons Specialized Services. For more information, contact Lindsey Garey, Horizons’ Child & Family Services coordinator, at 970-871-8558.

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