I’ve been thinking about how I could help you be a better parent and I came up with the idea of writing Commandments for Parents. Then I thought that someone else had probably already done that so I “Googled it” and found that there are several versions of commandments for parents of children, of teens, of swimmers, skaters, athletes, of children with challenges, and so forth. And most of these are really quite lovely and kind. In fact, many of the things that are written I would support, but not totally! So here is my version, for what it’s worth!
Preamble to the Guidelines for Parents
Children are life’s greatest gift to parents. However, the instruction booklet has purposely been omitted. Each parent is encouraged to consult her/his own heart before taking any action and ask this one question: When my child is an adult, will s/he look back to this moment and feel loved for the action I took? The question is not will your child think you did the right thing to teach the lesson or could she understand why you did what you did. The question is about something else; it’s about love, not lessons. And love is what you need to parent without directions.
The second thing you need is to know is that children of all ages, 0-19 or 0-30, are not small adults. They are as similar to adults as tadpoles are to frogs. They don’t think like adults, reason like adults, plan ahead like adults, use forethought, or learn like adults. They are something very different from adults, and though all adults were once children, all adults have forgotten their childhood perspective and can’t be expected to accurately remember or to reconstruct their childhoods, not even you.
Guidelines for Parents
1. Love your child with all your heart and with all your head, knowing that love is a verb and not a feeling.
2. Speak to, look at, and touch your child in the ways you want your child to speak to, look at, and touch you. Know that this is easier for you to do than for your child, and be able to accept that it will take your child at least two decades to be able to do this consistently.
3. Never give your child criticism, not even constructive criticism. Your child cannot integrate criticism, process it, or learn from it. She can only be harmed by it as she subtracts it from her own sense of self worth.
4. Always encourage, not praise, your child often. Encouragement makes a statement about the task or the action your child is doing, not about your child himself. Praise makes a statement about your child himself. Encouragement helps your child as he adds it to his sense of self worth. Praise hurts your child as it manipulates him involuntarily and causes him to forget what he is feeling and causes him to try to understand what you are feeling instead. EXAMPLE: “The way you set the table with the napkin so carefully folded invites us all to dinner.” NOT: “You’re so good at setting the table.”
5. Understand that your child lives only in the moment and has no real understanding of the future or the existence of the future. Therefore, before you ask your child to do anything new, prepare her for the activity and discuss respectfully what you want her to do or how you want her to behave.
6. Set limits in a new way. Never threaten your child or tell him what will happen if he doesn’t do something you want him to do. Instead tell him what your family limits are, how your family behaves, and what happens when he behaves this way. EXAMPLE: “We will leave when your bed is made.” NOT: “You’re not going until your bed is made.”
7. Encourage your child to be cooperative within your family by cooperating with her. Set the example of what you hope she will do. Don’t argue with her. Your child doesn’t know when arguments are over, only adults know that. Therefore don’t engage in arguments with your child.
8. Understand that because your child is not a small adult that he does not have judgment and cannot gain wisdom at any time in his childhood, however long his childhood takes or lasts, even if you think your child is unusually mature.
9. Understand that your child thinks she can do anything without getting hurt and that she can’t perceive danger in current or future situations. Remember she doesn’t have judgment about danger or the presence of danger.
10. Your child does not respond positively to repeated requests. His response is to stop listening. Your child only listens to adults who listen to him. When your child has to work to get an adult to listen to him, your child will make the adult work to get him to listen and will usually continue to resist listening to the adult even when the adult really tries to get his attention.
11. Your child is visual and learns by watching. She cannot separate reality from fiction. Protect your child from seeing violent images, real or created. Your child can learn to be violent by watching others engage in violence. Remember your child doesn’t have judgment about violence.
12. Patience is not a virtue, it is a parental necessity. Your child does not have patience but can slowly gain it over time when there is an abundance of it in his home. Part of patience is to remain calm in the face of confusion or chaos. Be calm and patient longer than you think necessary.
13. Your child cannot follow oral directions. He cannot implement unrequested suggestions or unrequested solutions that are given by adults. Your child can come up with lots of ideas for solutions to problems if adults ask him. Ask your child what to do to solve problems, his problems and even your simple ones.
14. Childhood can last from 20 to 30 years depending upon the child. All children are different. Love your child with all your heart and with all your head.
I’m sure that this list is just the first page of what could be a complete owner’s manual. But now that you’ve gotten the idea, I’m hopeful that you can create your own list of helpful guidelines. All you really need to do is to wait until tonight when your child is in bed asleep and go into her/his room and sit quietly for several minutes, watching him/her sleep. This person in front of you is your child and all she/he wants is to be loved by you and raised by you in a truly loving manner. You can do that, can’t you?
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher