Parenting: What’s in your toolbox?

“Every word, facial expression, gesture or action on the part of a parent gives the child some message about self worth. It is sad that so many parents don’t realize what messages they are sending.”

Virginia Satir, 1916-1988,

Renowned American psychotherapist

When our children are born, they do not come with an instruction manual. Parents must learn to develop the skills necessary to raise them.

These necessary skills are learned from our parents and other kinship – from books, from training sessions and often through our association with our peers and friends.

The parenting “training” is a lifelong endeavor. For we never stop being parents. We never stop collecting tools for our toolbox.

Parents and families today are struggling with many problems that face our children – in our communities, state and nation.

The continuing illicit drug epidemic, the War on Terror, cybercrimes, economic woes, children with developmental disabilities, the child with a mental illness, the child with a drug abuse problem … the list does on and on.

Never before in the history of our great nation have we faced so many problems and with the ongoing technological advances and destruction of our moral values, the problems increase.

As Virginia Satir often pointed out, our children learn through the actions of adults, not only from their spoken words.

When our children are born, they do not come with an instructional manual. Parents must learn to develop the skills necessary to raise them.

These necessary skills are learned from our own parents and other kinship, from books, from training sessions and often through our association with peers and friends.

So, what does it take to be a great parent?

Years ago, when counseling with patients and clients and presenting parenting seminars in the community, I always began with “Every parent has the ability to be a great parent … it takes a lot of work to be a great parent … if one finds it easy to do, then it probably is not being done right. As a parent and grandparent myself, I know the difficulties one may face.

Are you willing to become a great parent?

Then, I would proceed with presenting and discussing the skills one must have to be just that. These are skills that one may learn in books and seminars, but must be accepted and practiced to become effective.

I have always begun by asking the person to take a look at their own life … how they were parented and what they know about being a great parent. After all, they are going to be the role model for their children.

1. Ensure your children’s basic needs for safety and nourishment are met. Always know where your child is, what activity they are involved in and ensure they have ample sleep and rest and that they are physically active. These are the basic needs of all children and are paramount.

2. Know where your child is at all times and know your children’s friends and the types of activities they are involved in with friends. Friends have a profound effect on the child’s development and it is the parent’s responsibility to allow or disallow association with friends.

3. Insist on respect. This entails respect for one’s self, respect for others and respect for others property. This involves teaching our children good communication and coping skills, positive values and other skills necessary in development of their self-esteem and in their relationships with others. Children will be children and it is up to the parent to watch over them and guide them on the proper ways to respect others and others property, which in turn earns them respect from others. This is most noticeable by others when children are allowed to play with items belonging to another, such as playing with toys and other items in a department store that are not to be purchased; which leads credence to the statement, “look but don’t touch.”

4. Always be consistent. Being a “wishy washy” parent is very confusing to a child. Ensure your child knows that if you promise consequences for either good or bad behavior that if you promise consequences for either good or bad behavior that you will follow through with the promise every time. Follow through with actions, not words, and expect the same from your children.

5. Limit television watching, time on computers, video game playing, talking on the phone or texting. Your children need to be active to be overall healthy. Give your children other activities to be engaged in that will help them learn and grow. This is a major problem in our contemporary society. We need to ensure and be most consistent that electronic devices be turned off and make them go outside and play to engage in other healthy activities. Remember that children learn from parents as role models. If you text while you drive, spend an enormous amount of time on the phone or computer yourself, the children will pick up on this inappropriate behavior.

6. Prepare your child for adulthood, at their level of understanding. Discuss topics of importance with your child, their thoughts and feelings about using drugs, drinking, money, current events and their personal safety. It is important that we learn to listen, not just hear our children and that they listen to you in turn.

7. Know your child. Learn what your child’s hopes, dreams and ambitions are. Encourage them to pursue their true passion in life.

8. Teach your children about values and set examples for them to follow. Your children’s “spiritual selves” need feeding. Provide that for them through religious activities and other activities involving belief and tenants associated with a higher power … help them build faith. Teach them how important the family is and reasons that they should value their family members. Research and our own personal experience consistently tells us that children who are active in spiritual and religious activities, however are least likely to become involved in inappropriate and/or illegal behaviors.

9. Last, but not least, give your child unconditional love. You may not be pleased with their behaviors, and you should tell them so. Yet, you are always going to love them.

Perhaps this article has sparked your interest in knowing more about being a great parent.

If you, a relative or a friend wants additional information on developing parenting skills or related topics, I suggest you read up on the subject and/or contact a licensed professional counselor for assistance when necessary.

Being a great parent is the hardest job in the world and you owe it to yourself and your children to strive to be the best you can be at the job.

What’s in your toolbox?

Stay healthy my friends.