“It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself.” ~Joyce Maynard
Parenting is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding gifts of life, however, it can also be just as challenging and daunting. Many parents today are overwhelmed by the fast-changing world around them and often feel lost about how to keep their kids safe from the ever present dangers while still allowing them to find their own identities. Parenting can feel like a tight-rope act; on the one hand we fear being too permissive since no one wants to raise a brat, but on the other hand we fear overly controlling our children and raising a trembling and sullen child. We need to focus on a middle ground where our children grow up to be respectful, caring, and well behaved. It’s important to start the discipline process early when your children are young and teach your children they are part of the family system and everyone’s in it together. Expect everyone to pitch in, even in a small way such as being cooperative when you are dressing them. Also keep in mind respect is mutual. If you expect your children to listen to you, it’s important to set a good example early on. If your child complains you are not listening when they try and tell you something, stop what you are doing, focus your attention on your child, and listen! You can then require the same level of courtesy from them later on.
Whether you have a toddler or a teen, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:
1.) Be consistent. Follow through and mean what you say and never make empty threats! Consistency is key with parenting…it’s the one way to raise an emotionally well balanced child. Even if you are consistent with one rule or chore, your child will benefit tremendously from it. Being firm and consistent actually communicates to your child that your care enough about him/her to expect responsible behavior. Inconsistency on the other hand creates confusion and chaos in a child’s mind.
2.) Be reliable. Keep your word, arrive on time, and keep your promises. The sure fire way to lose credibility with your children is to do one thing and say another. Set a good example and take responsibility seriously. This also teaches your child respect.
3.) Be rewarding. Tie rewards to good behavior. Don’t just give it away if it’s not earned or deserved. Many parents give the toy away for free without tying it to good behavior or they expect the child to behave appropriately AFTER getting the toy. Just as we as adults need to be reminded of our rewards (paycheck) and consequences (getting fired) at work, children need similar reminders to make good decisions and be responsible.
4.) Be clear. Give children meaning for what is expected of them by spelling things out and being clear about your expectations. Children need rules to be clear and specific, not vague. Telling your child to “be good” before dropping them off at school is not being clear. Instead say “remember to keep your hands and feet to yourself and listen to the teacher when she is talking”. You can explain to them why this is important for their well being as well as for the well being of others around them. In the above example you can add “by doing that, you will be able to follow along with the rest of the class, your teacher won’t get mad at you, and you won’t miss any class or recess time with your friends since you won’t be sent to the office for inappropriate behavior”. This might seem like it’s above the younger child’s head but it’s not. I have these conversations with Kindergartners often. Sometimes simply re-directing your child as you are explaining the reason is enough to convey the message that you will not tolerate unacceptable behaviors.
5.) Be firm. Never ask “why”. Having a dialogue with your kids about every little thing, especially when trying to discipline them can backfire on you. Stay in control and be the one to end the discussion. Sometimes it’s necessary to just put an end to the negotiations and firmly restate your expectations. Some negotiations can be listened to if they are appropriate but be careful not to reinforce whining or avoidance of consequences.
6.) Be loving. Always offer unconditional love. Withholding love is cruel and will make your child distrusting of you in the long run. Keep in mind your child can do bad things but not be “BAD” as a person. Convey this message to your child and let them know that although you are upset, disappointed, or angry about their behavior, you still love them for who they are. Take a moment after you are both calm to explain why you were upset and what they could do differently in the future but don’t punish your child by withholding love from them.
7.) Be forgiving. Just as you erred as a child, so too will your children. Don’t be self-righteous and learn to teach rather than judge. This goes along with #6. By being loving, you are also teaching them forgiveness. Remind yourself we all make mistakes and teach your child the important lessons mistakes can teach us. Use the opportunity to teach your child the lesson while forgiving them for their mistake. A beautiful story about Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) that speaks to this is a narration by Umm Khalid: “I (the daughter of Khalid ibn Said) went to Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) with my father and I was wearing a yellow shirt. Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “Sanah, Sanah!” (`Abdullah, the narrator, said that sanah meant “good” in the Ethiopian language). I then started playing with the seal of prophethood (between the Prophet’s shoulders) and my father rebuked me harshly for that. Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “Leave her.” The Prophet, then, invoked Allah to grant her a long life thrice. (Bukhari & Muslim)
8.) Be playful. Make “fun” time with your kids, even when asking for help with chores. Remember that they live in the temporary world of ease and wonder, leave them there and feel free to join them from time to time. It’ll do wonders for you as well! I find it helpful to turn on some fun music and make chores playful. Kids will begin to look forward to doing chores rather than dreading it. Children crave fun time with their parents so the more fun you have and the less you direct them from one chore to the other, the more enjoyable your time with your children will be. Remember to build self esteem first and worry about chores later! Fingerpaint more and point the finger less. Take hikes and spend time outdoors throwing the ball around or flying a kite. Stop being so serious and seriously learn to have fun with your child! When the Prophet (peace be upon him) was in sujood, Imam Hussain would climb on his back. The Prophet (peace be upon him) would make his sujood very long. When his companions asked why his sujood was so long, he (peace be upon him) replied that he didn’t want to disturb Hussain while he was playing by getting up from sujood. Another example: A Companion named Mahmud b. Rabi related that when he was five years-old, the Prophet (peace be upon him) took some water from a bucket and tossed it into his face and that he did the same to the other children. (Bukhari)
9.) Be alert. Intently look out for good behavior and catch them in the act. Watch your children engaging in appropriate behavior and praise them for it. Tell them how proud of them you are for the small steps they are taking. You’ll be amazed at how closely the relationship to increased positive behavior is with increase praise and reward. Kids are watching us intently and wondering if we notice so make sure you are alert and catch them being good!
10.) Be affectionate. Offer loads of hugs and kisses and validate them often! Hugs and kisses help a child thrive not only emotionally but also physically and cognitively. Children who feel loved, accepted, and secure, tend to do better academically, socially, and emotionally. We can learn a lot from Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in this regard…”He loved his granddaughter Umamah. He often went out with her on his shoulders, and even placed her on his shoulders while praying. When he prostrated, he put her down; when he had finished praying, he placed her on his back again.” (Sahih Muslim). Anas relates: “I never saw anyone more compassionate to his family than the Prophet (peace be upon him). The wet nurse of his son Ibrahim lived in one of Medina’s border neighborhoods. The husband of the wet nurse was a blacksmith. Going there everyday to the smoke filled house, the Prophet (peace be upon him) would embrace, sniff and kiss the child.” (Bukhari & Muslim)