Friday, July 30, 2010

On-the-job learning

Being a parent is one of the most rewarding jobs you will ever do but it isn’t always easy
Although I’ve been writing about parenting issues since 2007, it might surprise you to know that I still feel like I’m not doing a very good job of it.
I survived the early baby years, the toilet training, the toddler tantrums and yet I am still questioning my parenting decisions.
And this makes perfect sense because families are not static. Family life changes as children grow older, as new members join the family, while others leave the nest.
I do find myself seeking out books to guide me on this never-ending journey of raising children, so this week I immersed myself in Kathy Walker’s latest book called Parenting: A practical guide to raising preschool and primary-school children.
Walker is a former teacher and university lecturer who now works as an education and parenting consultant running workshops on a range of topics, including school readiness, self-esteem and resilience.

Parenting is divided into four parts, the first looks at your parenting style and the personality of your children, the second focuses on proactive parenting.
Kathy says: “Proactive parenting means we don’t wait for things to go wrong before we reflect on our parenting strategies, but we try and set up a calm and predictable home environment that minimises opportunities for things to go wrong in the first place.
“At the heart of proactive parenting is the idea of acceptance – an appreciation that children need to be reated as children, that there is no such thing as the perfect child or the perfect parent, and that there will be ups and downs.”
The chapters in this section look at healthy communication, positive and trusting relationships, expectations, routines and consistency in discipline.
She examines areas of daily family life such as sibling rivalry, friendships, school, time spent in front of the TV or computer, possessions like toys, mobile phones and pocket money, and responsibilities.
The third part of the book is called Troubleshooting and offers coping strategies when dealing with unpredictable situations, as well as a list of top 10 behavioural strategies.
The start of this section include an excellent Five-Point Parent Preparation Plan which gives parents a list of things to consider before putting any strategy into place.
In other words, before you put your child in the naughty corner or say something you later regret, this plan helps you to guide our children’s behaviour to that they learn over the long term what is appropriate and inappropriate.
I have often thought that my parenting style is sometimes a reflection of my own parents’ style and generations before them, where children are taught to obey. 
But really what we want is for children to grow up to be able to self-regulate their behaviour, to know how to behave well because they are motivated to do so, not because they are afraid of getting into trouble.
This section of the book offers good examples of what to say, and what not to say, to children, when implementing a behaviour strategy.
Some of the most damaging strategies, such as hitting, labelling or bribing, are also discussed.
There are case studies of common parenting issues and ways parents can remedy the situation in their family, and it’s worth quoting Walker’s key points to remember:
* All behaviour has meaning.
* There are very few quick fixes.
* If you can stay calm, you’re halfway there.
* Your children don’t have to be perfect.
* You don’t have to be perfect.
The fourth section of the book is titled Looking After Yourself.
Walker says that in order to give our children the best upbringing we can, and to model the resilience and emotional intelligence we want them to learn, we first need to feel strong, happy and fulfilled within ourselves “We have to have something in order to give it.”
It’s important to acknowledge the rights and needs of parents, just as much as we acknowledge the needs of children.
Although reading parenting books can sometimes make you feel like a bad parent (as you come to realise all the things you’re doing wrong), it does help you refocus on what to do right in the future.
I have often found my parenting skills going wayward during times of stress, and being reminded of how to be a better mum helps me get back on the right path to raising happy kids.


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