After almost 50 years of working with children, including my own, there is one certainty I can share:
Parenting is not for the weak-hearted!
My novice days of caring for children began when I was 14 and (foolishly?) agreed to be a mother’s helper, anticipating light duty at a lovely vacation spot. In retrospect, I believe that was the beginning of a life-long quest to understand children and how to “handle” them (without being out-maneuvered). In some ways, this on-the-job training was probably more beneficial to me than my psychology and social work education – as only real “hands-on” experience can be.
After 30+ years of working with seriously abused and disturbed youth, 40+ years of parenting my own children, and 13 years of teaching middle and high school students (as I am not in my 90s, obviously some of these overlapped!), I feel I am beginning to understand a few truths about raising children to become successful adults. I am defining “successful” here as a relatively well-adjusted, contributing member of society, as determined by the person himself or herself within legal boundaries.
My experiences have led me to the following incontrovertible truths about children:
Children need to be loved UNCONDITIONALLY.
You will not always like what your children do (or say), but regardless of how angry you might feel or how much they get under your skin, you should always love and accept them.
Children need discipline.
Too often parents confuse discipline with either abuse or verbal commands for which there is no follow-through. Discipline is why children have parents. It is not meant to be easy for the child, nor is it often easy for the parent. Like your professional job or your favorite free-time activity, discipline requires that you determine the best course of action and make it happen.
Offering your children verbal warnings without consequences is more than useless. It can actually be harmful. Our parental responsibility is to provide appropriate consequences for inappropriate behaviors.
Through this process, children develop self-control and a healthy ego. Failing to do this leads to children who feel entitled to act in whatever way they wish with no sense of responsibility for their actions. I believe we’ve all seen examples of this in the news.
Discipline needs to be age-appropriate and child-specific.
Your rules need to be clear and in line with your child’s developmental and intellectual abilities. Consequences should be known ahead of time, whenever possible and should be realistic. (Obviously, you are not going to “super glue your child’s lips together.”)
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Parenting can often be difficult.
I still remember those days when my own children were young and I felt that I did not sleep for years; however, having survived those years has brought its own reward in two fine, upstanding grown men who are now raising families of their own.
My work taught me that some parents can hurt their children in ways that are worse than any horror movies you have ever seen. Sadly, these children still look for their parents’ love. Fortunately, most parents rise above the occasional urge to do harm to their offspring.
Mindful parenting is a combination of unconditional love, appropriate discipline, insightfulness about your child, working knowledge of childhood developmental markers, and patience, patience, patience. And don’t forget that truly essential quality – a sense of humor! I hope this humble advice helps you with the toughest job on the planet.
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Patricia Tomsho, L.S.W, has been a therapist, social worker and educator for over 40 years, dedicated to helping the most vulnerable children. Pat is a mother of 2 and a grandmother of 4. She and her husband of 42 years live in Northeastern Pennsylvania and enjoy life and people.