Bobby is twelve years old. All of a sudden he’s resisting Mom at every turn. Her instructions lead to debates and arguing. Bobby used to be so pleasant and cooperative, but now the tension in their home is growing. Something needs to be done. But what? More firmness? More consequences? More negotiating?
In another family, Katy is four years old and becoming very demanding. Her older brother is completely different. He thinks of others and is compassionate. But Katy thinks the world revolves around her. How can two kids in the same home be so different?
PARENTING IS A GROWING EXPERIENCE
Parenting is a moving target. Some parents grab ahold of certain ideas about what good parenting is and then they lack the flexibility necessary to be effective. They remember their parents being firm or allowing them to “learn from their own mistakes” and they want to duplicate the good results they experienced growing up. Others hated the way they were parented and want to create a model that’s completely different. Parenting is more than a philosophy. It’s a strategy and although one approach may work well at one stage, or with one child, it may be necessary to modify or even abandon it at some point. Kids change and the way that we work with them must change as well.
That doesn’t mean that we stop giving instructions, but the way we give instructions or correct children may change. One child may benefit from more directive leadership from their parents and another needs a more cooperative approach. If things aren’t going well with a child, some parents think that the solution is more dialogue. In one child that might be just what’s needed. While another child feeds off that dialogue to become more argumentative or whiny. In that case, more firmness might be in order.
EVERY CHILD HAS A HEART
The heart can be defined as the operating center of a person. It’s where we develop tendencies and our actions and words flow out of beliefs, desires, and emotions. Every child is different and a heart-based approach at any age means that parents take their good ideas and apply them appropriately to each individual child. And, just when you think you have some ideas that are working, a shift needs to take place in order to continue to move forward.
For instance, when that tiny infant comes home from the hospital, the baby quickly becomes the focus of attention. The infant sets the schedule for feedings and for sleeping. Often both parents have to adapt their lives around one small child. However, as your baby begins to grow and develop, you change too. You no longer jump for every cry. You begin to set limits on a mobile child and determine a meal schedule for a toddler. Infancy requires that the parent give up an agenda and respond quickly to a baby’s needs. As the child gets older, a parenting shift takes place and the parent requires that a child wait more and fit into a schedule and learn to consider the needs of others.
BE WILLING TO MAKE PARENTING SHIFTS
Some parents try to simplify their jobs by setting policies they think will last for years, believing that one parenting principle fits all. One dad said about his one-month-old son, “I’m going to stop the teenage rebellion right here.” He proceeded to set some pretty strict rules about feeding and sleep times. That’s a sad misunderstanding.
Paul acknowledges a spiritual parenting shift in 1 Corinthians 3:1-2, “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.”
At each stage of development parents must make modifications in their approach. A young baby must have physical and emotional needs met continually in order to develop a sense of security and trust. As children grow to be toddlers and then preschoolers, they usually need to develop two primary character qualities: responsiveness to authority and self-control. Elementary age children need opportunities to solve problems for themselves and a lot of teaching regarding relationships and how the world works. Teens need a completely different approach, carefully balancing firmness with extra dialogue as they develop their own value systems and decide who they’re going to be as adults.
STUDY YOUR CHILD
Considering your child’s developmental level and uniqueness and then making appropriate parenting shifts can mean the difference between a child who accepts your guidance and a child who resists your leadership. Don’t make the mistake that just because you allow your infant to eat on “demand” will mean that she’ll be demanding when she grows up. On the contrary, infancy is a time to build trust and bonding and that often comes with fast response to their needs. Several stages of growth and maturity will take place between now and adolescence and you’ll have plenty of opportunity to make adjustments that affect patterns in their lives.
Another example of failure to make the shift takes place when a child becomes a toddler. When parents still treat a three-year-old as if he’s a three-month-old, then self-centeredness increases and hampers interpersonal relationships. It’s not usually too long before parents realize the need to adjust and impose more limits. When parents are slow to make the needed parenting shifts at any age, then children often develop more dramatic symptoms to awaken parents to the need for change.
TENSION IS OFTEN AN INDICATOR
Often the sign that a parenting shift is needed is increased tension in family dynamics. If family life isn’t working, there may be a number of causes that need attention. Most of the time it means that parents will have to change the way they work with their kids. The old methods of relating don’t work the same way anymore. In fact, they seem to cause problems instead. Sometimes the parenting shift is a result of developmental changes. Other times a different approach is needed because of a child’s personality or because of a growing character weakness.
As your children grow, be ready to grow with them and make the necessary adjustments to influence them effectively. Even the best of parents must make some changes in the way they parent as their children grow. As children move into adolescence you’ll want to adjust many of the ways you relate. Although you may have been able to “control” young children, the key word for teenagers is “influence.” Firmness is still important, but more so now than ever you’re looking for ways to convince, persuade, and communicate the best way to live.
Change takes time, and your influence will produce the greatest results. Parenting is a complicated job with very few easy answers. The responsibility requires continual growth and flexibility to work with the changing needs of your child. Furthermore, having multiple children requires that parents work on several levels all at the same time. Rarely does it work to treat all children the same because each of their needs is different.
Parents must be students in order to maximize their parenting. Your continued growth is essential. Studying God’s Word will give you rich insights into your children, and reading parenting books and attending seminars will give you added tools to help your family. Be willing to make changes along the way and you’ll have the most success at touching your child’s heart at any level. By Scott Turansky