Most of the parents I have ever dealt with wish that their children had come with a handbook on how to raise them the day they were born. As the nurse handed you your newborn infant, there would have been a step by step instruction manual attached to the corner of the blanket specifically written about your child. There would be answers to all of the following questions and more. Were they going to be a happy baby or perhaps a little more fussy and difficult to soothe. What techniques would work to get them to stop crying? How come he spits up so much? How much should I pick him/her up? Should I let her cry herself to sleep?
You managed to get through infancy and are beginning to feel somewhat accomplished. And then comes toddlerhood. That age between 1 and 3 when the adventure into the world begins for your child. Is your child a brave adventurer or a tentative explorer? “What am I supposed to do when he eats dirt or bugs?” “ How do I set limits and enforce them?” “Can I spank him?” “My child throws tantrums in the grocery store. I bribed him once to stop and now he won’t stop unless I bribe him each time.” “She is out of control unless I yell louder than she does.” “I try to talk to them about their behavior, but they just don’t seem to understand.” “I get so frustrated with his behavior that I just want to smack him.” “His energy just never seems to end and I cannot keep up anymore.”
And so it goes with each passing year of your child’s growth and development and with each developmental stage, infancy, toddlerhood, pre-school, middle childhood, adolescence and emerging adulthood. As a parent you frequently rely on the techniques your parents used with you or you ask your parents for advice. You read, since a thousand parenting books exist along with innumerable web sites with advice on everything. And you ask other parents for advice on what works or worked for them. And you hope you are doing most things right.
But wait, there is one more piece to this parenting puzzle. You have a spouse. And so now you are working to blend his or her parenting style with your parenting style. One of you is more enforcement and punishment minded and the other is more lenient, permissive and forgiving of behavior. But now the enforcement minded parent not only gets frustrated with the child’s behavior, but also the spouse’s unwillingness to enforce the rules, limits and boundaries. Or perhaps it is the enforcement minded parent who has withdrawn from engagement with parenting because the “woodshed” is no longer an option and the other parent is left to deal with it all. Sound familiar? And, if your family is a blended family, then the parenting challenges that face you are even more complex and challenging.
Effective parenting is a skill set that evolves as your child passes through various developmental stages and it is a complex one at that. Just like your work environment, where you not only must have the skills to effectively do your regular job, but must also have the ability to address unforeseen crises, problems and concerns that arise out of the ordinary routine of the day. In order to be both effective and efficient you must understand the context in which you are working and so you undergo continuous and often substantial education and training in order to be able to do your job effectively. The requirements for effective parenting in the 21st century are no different.
Here are some of the basics:
Structure and Routine: Meal times, bed times, bath times, curfews, homework time, personal time, etc. at age appropriate levels and in routine with the rest of the household helps reduce conflict, stress and improve self-control and self-management at all ages.
Clear limits, boundaries and rules that are age appropriate and some of which are “negotiated” with your child. A third grade teacher once informed me that on the first day of class each year, she and her students would work together to set the “3 rules of conduct” for the coming year.
Skills in using time out, allowing natural consequences to occur and applying logical consequences where appropriate, implementing age appropriate rights and responsibilities, and treating your children as social equals.
Working with your spouse or partner to move closer to the middle of the parenting style spectrum between being “authoritarian” or “permissive” and be the “authority” in the family as parents who jointly take responsibility. Parenting is hard enough even when both parents are engaged in the process.
Understanding what your job is as a parent and how it evolves from the day you bring your infant home to the day they move out on their own for the last time.
These suggestions are applicable to virtually every household. The “Creative Parenting” title of this article refers to the “how” these suggestions are implemented in your household and life. No single “how to” recommendation works for quelling the tantrums of a three year old or eliminating the negative behavior of a defiant teenager. It is all about context; which is why books, websites and personal recommendations of family or friends only go so far. They cannot look into the interactions between parent and child, parent to parent, sibling to sibling or the whole family and unravel the fears, frustrations, communication problems and other behaviors driving the dysfunction.
Becoming a parent is pretty easy. Being an effective parent is not. It requires knowledge and skills which need updating as your child grows into their own adulthood.