I’ve heard this a million times… well, OK, maybe not a million times… but more like 3 million times! And I’m sure you have heard this too…
“So long as you are trying your best, you are being a great parent!”
“I need to have a bit more patience to be a good parent.”
“All you have to do is to tell your children you love them every day and give them lots of hugs and kisses and they will turn out fine.”
But really, is this the recipe for being an effective parent? Is it enough to be trying hard, to be loving and patient with our children?
Because I’ve seen parents who try hard not to hit their children but instead, they scream and shout at the children and they say things that belittle them. I’ve also seen parents who, in the name of love, beat the crap out of their children in an attempt to teach them ‘discipline’ and that it’s for ‘their own good’. I have also seen parents who patiently chauffeur their children to about 400 classes after school, causing them to fall further and further into childhood anxiety.
So, are these parents being effective? Note that I’m not going to use the term ‘good’ or ‘bad’ parenting because we are not going to point fingers at who is being bad or good. Rather, we are looking for best practices so we can strive to be better, to do better.
Now back to the question, is ‘trying hard’ and ‘love’ and ‘patience’ enough to be effective? Frankly, these criteria are not even the things I could look out for when hiring teachers for my preschools. Just because they try hard and love children and have tons of patience, doesn’t mean they will be effective teachers. I would personally expect EVERY human being to try hard at everything they do, to love others and to be patient (not every time) but they should at least try to do it often.
What makes us effective at working with young children is how much we have invested in learning about what is best for them. Because if we are doing everything wrong, no matter how much we try hard, love them or are patient with them, it’s not going to work… we will be counterproductive… and trying hard to be counterproductive.
Here’s a classic example of a parent I recently spoke to about us trying hard to be counterproductive…
Mum A, is trying her best to be the best mum she could be. She wanted to potty train her 2-year-old. So she tries hard to force her child to not do a pee or poo in her training nappies. She tries hard to show a disapproving look when her daughter dirties her training nappies but she also showers her daughter with a lot of love and affection when her daughter manages to use the toilet. Mum A is also remarkably patient with her daughter because she sits with her daughter in the toilet, holding her, even when her daughter was crying in fear of using the toilet… and she does this for hours on end.
I’m giving her full points for the 209% effort that she is putting into parenting. I cannot deny that she is really ‘trying hard’ that she ‘loves and cares for’ her daughter and that she has way more ‘patience’ than half the parents I’ve worked with. But really, what she doesn’t see (because she hasn’t learned this yet) is that she’s putting a lot of effort into doing things that are traumatizing her child.
I’m going to break this down…
Mum A doesn’t know how to look out for readiness to potty train. If she knew how to do this properly it wouldn’t be as traumatizing and it would make the whole process more effortless for herself and her child. As a result, when we force children who aren’t ready (for writing, reading, math concepts, walking, potty training etc), they will develop childhood anxieties and this isn’t going to go away on its own… no matter how much love and patience you shower on them:(
Mum A also doesn’t know enough about childhood anxieties and how childhood traumas affect children until they reach adult life. If she did, she won’t be putting so much effort into doing what she’s doing.
Mum A also doesn’t realize that disapproving and approving looks to help regulate her child’s behavior, breeds children’s needs for external validation and motivation vs internal validation and motivation. This might not seem very important right now but when children reach their early teens and are surrounded by friends who are up to all sorts of activities, having the ability to self-validate is such an important factor so that they will not be affected as much when their friends try to bully them by telling them that they are ugly and stupid… or they will not be tempted when their friends tell them to do something dangerous or they will not be their friends anymore.
So yes, hard work, love, and patience are required of us but to be effective parents, we just have to learn how to do it properly… and this is where parent education comes in… and it’s important to do it sooner rather than later because, as you can see from the examples above, a lot of qualities that adults possess are learned from the first few years of their lives.