Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Superstar Parents

All of us had parents, and some of us are parents. Based on our own experiences as children, our own "results" as parents, and our observations of other parents and their children, we know that parenting is perhaps the toughest task in the world. Some parents never begin to understand how to do it, most of us struggle along "doing our best", and some are superstars. I just spent three days in a home with two young children and their superstar parents. It was a revelation.

The children were a boy, almost four, and a girl, almost two. They were happy, secure, energetic, creative, self-motivated, polite and sociable, "obedient" (to be explained later), and totally at ease with their parents. They were also normal "children", with sometimes short attention spans, moments of selfishness and anger, shifting moods, and constant needs. They could easily have been parented into being little monsters, but they had been parented into semi-angelic status by two very smart and dedicated people.

I now know that it's a fallacy that one cannot "learn" how to parent. One of the parents was phi beta kappa in psychology and a former animal trainer. The other was a successful businessman who became a music therapist specializing in autistic children. Both have been totally committed to giving their children a loving environment where they can develop their personalities and capabilities to the fullest. These parents had both the best of intentions and the educational and practical backgrounds to accomplish those intentions.

The most noticeable characteristic of their parenting process was that they often allowed the children exceptional freedom of action. The children were presented with choices whenever possible, and their choices were honored. The kids were allowed to run and jump, fall down, and skin their knees; they were not overly protected from being able to make mistakes they would learn from. They never experienced anger, but always firmness of purpose when a certain outcome was expected. The children were capable of playing independently for long periods, but they were never neglected when they wanted attention. The parents read quality stories to each of them every day, held,hugged and kissed them often, and their father brought his guitar to their bedroom and sang them to sleep every night. The commitment required to parent like this was enormous, especially since both parents worked in demanding jobs.

I would be remiss not to mention that the TV was never turned on during our visit. When I asked about this, I was told that once in a great while the kids could watch certain cartoons. They also played quality DVD's on occasion. The parents hardly ever watched television, themselves. But the kids had a wide variety of toys and plenty of opportunity to play, either by themselves, together, or with the parents. Consequently, their "playing skills" were highly developed and the parents constantly reinforced positive play behaviors and accomplishments.

"Obedience" was never accomplished by tyrannical parenting - by threats, anger,or spanking. Usually, even with the 21-month old girl, it was obtained by offering choices. Sometimes there was a reward for "doing the right thing". Sometimes there were "time-out's" to deal with behavior problems. Sometimes the child would be physically removed to the desired place, but with love rather than anger. I saw 25 times more smiles than frowns on the children's faces, probably because they seldom saw a frown from their parents.

This experience has given me a sober realization about how far our society is missing the mark with our children. It's clear that almost every child would be happier, more capable, and more socialized if their parents practiced even some of the skills demonstrated by these superstar parents. Think of a country populated by adults who had had wonderful childhood experiences! If there is one goal I would support to the fullest, it would be that we somehow teach people how to parent.

1 comment:

Woozie said...

It must take all of that in unison to make a time out work because I have personally never seen them work.