Parenthood involves patience – both with yourself as a parent and with your child. Cultivating patience helps in better managing parenthood. And a key recommendation to managing parenthood can be found in the establishment of good boundaries. These boundaries should not be looked upon as limitations, but rather as foundational groundwork that can be built upon as your child grows. Some nuggets of advice regarding these boundaries include:
Discipline is not about punishment, but self-control. Boundaries are guidelines for self-discipline. Children, in fact, find comfort in boundaries – like having the railing to hold onto when one climbs up and down staircases. Life can be filled with confusion for young children, so having boundaries helps children manage their surroundings. Boundaries should not be viewed as punishment. Instead, they teach children how to behave in a caring, competent fashion. Besides, self-discipline is about building self-control to better handle life’s challenges.
Don’t hover, but still be in charge. Allow your child the joy of exploring and discovering, but within safe boundaries. Mom and Dad should still be around for guidance, but not to continually hover. Instead, let your child follow his or her yearning to learn and to grow within the boundaries you have established as a family.
Be vigilant about safety. It’s a well-known mantra that “Safety now, means no accidents later.” Therefore, take the necessary strides to baby-proof and childproof your home and surroundings. Teach your child about safety, and explain the reason for a car seat or booster seat, the need for a helmet, and the precaution of wearing kneepads and elbow pads for certain activities. Have an escape plan ready for the home or for public places (e.g. knowing where exits, fire extinguishers, and security personnel are located). Teach your child about safety measures during a fire, earthquake, disaster, or emergency. Knowing how to dial 911 and having a memorized dialogue or script in responding to 911 questions are crucial for your child to learn. Inform your child about medical kits. Even better, have an easily accessible backpack ready in your home or vehicle with all the emergency equipment already packed within, so that your child knows where to go to get a hold of it. Prepare your child so that when an emergency arises he or she has a protocol to rely on. One reliable web resource to inform your child about is WebMD for kids, which offers a wealth of knowledge and information relevant to health and safety for the family. A similar resource that teaches about children and safety is SafeKids.org.
Acknowledge the emotions of your child. Having your child communicate to you his or her feelings permits an openness and trust in your relationship. Learning about each other’s emotions helps bridge communication gaps and allows for closer bonding between you and your child. Some good questions to ask to get the ball rolling include: (1) “What feelings do you have on that”; (2) “What would make it better”; and even (3) “How can we improve upon it?” Always make sure to attentively listen. Your child is likely to recover more rapidly from, say, a tantrum if you actively discuss with him or her about the situation.
Let your child’s wings unfurl. Just as bird hatchlings eventually grow to leave the nest, so, too, does your child need to grow towards independence. This means helping your child along to gain developmental confidence in his or her capabilities. That can start with simple things like letting your child learn how to put toys away, make the bed, get dressed, put dirty clothes in the laundry hamper, and even brush one’s teeth. Having responsibilities and chores helps your child cultivate abilities, which does wonders for building personal esteem.
Provide choices for your child to select from. Decision-making is one of the skills to teach your child as he grows from toddlerhood to preschool and eventually elementary school age. This can be achieved by offering, for example, three choices of clothing from which your child can choose. Or, you can ask your child to “order” a meal for you to cook that will then be placed at the table for dinner. Making choices teaches your child about the value of appropriate decisions.
Don’t rush to fix everything all at once. While it’s nice to be considered the hero saving your child’s day, sometimes it is advisable to let your child find solutions on his or her own. Part of the learning process is to experience trial-and-error. Problem-solving skills get to be worked on, and this has the added bonus of fostering your child’s cognitive aptitude in thinking, analyzing, and evaluating situations. What’s more, children who are allowed to problem-solve learn to handle minor frustrations better, which is great for resilience-training.
Choose your battles wisely. There will be some rules that your child will have difficulty with at first. There’s no need to give in to arguing with your child, nor to punishing him or her. Instead, put on a firm stance. Explain as best you can the reasoning behind the rule and/or boundary. Focus on the Good, and especially on the tiniest of milestones your child makes. Celebrate those tiny milestones, so that your child can experience the “fun” in mastering a rule or boundary. Praise goes a lot further than punishment; praise solidifies and reinforces good behavior. Most importantly, things to avoid are: hitting, spanking, pinching, rude talk, lying, and shouting. Rather, embrace your child’s baby steps of growth, and always exercise patience. That way your child also learns to be patient with himself or herself as well during the learning process. Make learning fun, so that warm memories can be created.
Don’t accept disrespect from your child. It’s best to start early when teaching that disrespect should not be tolerated. That means nothing rude, thoughtless, or hurtful should be said. Actions should also be devoid of rudeness in intent or purpose. Not only does this mean nipping it in the bud where your child is concerned, but also that you as the parent must be the role model. As the role model, don’t be disrespectful either. Talk with your child about how a good person behaves. Perhaps even read together some bedtime stories of characters who are mean or who are nice so that together you can explore why certain behaviors are more acceptable than others.
Teach your child about eye contact. There’s a neat trick to get your child to make eye contact: tell your child to notice the color of the eyes of the person they are talking to. An added bonus is for your child to pay attention to the size change in a person’s pupil. This behavior of making direct eye contact helps your child develop better communication skills as well as gain assertiveness.
Remember to pass along your guidelines to other caregivers in your child’s life. In other words, inform grandparents, relatives, babysitters, even daycare personnel and teachers of the planned boundaries you have for your child. This helps in reinforcing the program of values and behavior(s) you have in mind, because consistency is vital for your child to learn and stick with the boundaries.