As the proud parent of two boys (now men, ages 25 and 29) I have some first-hand experience of what it means to be a parent. It is (as all who have raised children know) the most important job we will have, but one in which we have been given the least training in how to do well.
For most of us, we just have a baby and then either repeat the type of parenting that we experienced as kids, do exactly the opposite if our growing up experience was less than positive, or simply stumble along in a series of trial and error attempts to get our kids to mind, hoping that they grow up to be good people.
I believe that this endeavor is way too important to leave to habit or chance, and that’s why I wrote my 3rd book entitled, “How To Get Kids To Do What You Want.” While the title is a bit provocative, the book actually takes my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy and applies it to parenting. In other words, it’s about how to engage our children in a purposeful manner (versus habitual or reactive) and then teach them (by modeling), the qualities and characteristics that we want them to have when they become an adult.
The good news is that there is hard science behind this more purposeful parenting process. Dr. Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist, did a study which was presented to the American Psychological Association comparing the effectiveness of 10 kinds of parenting practices that have gotten the “thumbs up” in various scientific studies. The researchers compared three things: what experts advise, what really seems to work, and what parents actually do.
The result – a list called “The Parents’ Ten” – details the competencies that they found to predict good parenting outcomes in order from most to least important:
1.Love and affection. You support and accept the child, are physically affectionate, and spend quality one-on-one time together.
2.Stress management. You take steps to reduce stress for yourself and your child, practice relaxation techniques, and promote positive interpretations of events.
3.Relationship skills. You maintain a healthy relationship with your spouse, significant other, or co-parent, and model effective relationship skills with other people.
4.Autonomy and independence. You treat your child with respect and encourage him or her to become self-sufficient and self- reliant.
5.Education and learning. You promote and model learning, and provide educational opportunities for your child.
6.Life skills. You provide for your child, have a steady income, and plan for the future.
7.Behavior management. You make extensive use of positive reinforcement and punish only when other methods of managing behavior have failed.
8.Health. You model a healthy lifestyle and good habits, such as regular exercise and proper nutrition for your child.
9.Religion. You support spiritual or religious development, and participate in spiritual or religious activities.
10. Safety. You take precautions to protect your child and maintain awareness of the child’s activities and friends.
What I found fascinating about this list was the top four. In other words, the most influential things parents can do to raise happy, resilient, successful kids were:
1. Love – Kids don’t know that they are lovable until they are loved.
2. Stress Management – Deal with our own stress so that it doesn’t color how we interact with our children.
3. Create Positive Relationships with the adults in our life – Kids learn what they live.
4. Autonomy and Respect – We make choices from the upper 80% of the brain (or the Top of the Mind), therefore kids need to learn to make good choices by having the opportunity to make choices as they grow. In terms of respect, this has to do with the fact that when we are interacting with our kids, we are always teaching them something. This means that we can’t teach respect by being disrespectful or teach cooperation by being uncooperative.
This is why I love applying what I call “The Four Criteria” to our choices with respect to how we engage our children.
1. Have I chosen how I’m feeling, thinking, and behaving toward my children on purpose or deliberately?
2. Is it producing the results that I desire?
3. Is this making the statement I want to make about who I am as a parent?
4. Would I teach or recommend this way of being to my children or someone I love?
The bottom line is that becoming an accomplished parent takes the same sort of dedication of time and energy as becoming an accomplished pianist. Otherwise, we may just be randomly banging on the keys, or playing the same dissonant tune that we heard when we were kids.