The Nurturing Parent

INTRODUCTION




            Your child is special, a unique individual, the only one of him (or her) there will ever be.
If you do not embrace this simple truth with reverence and enthusiasm, your child will know and
will never completely get over it.


            He began life's journey with boundless potential but also with limitations. With your help,
he can be extraordinarily successful. Still, there are mountains he can never climb, rivers he can
never cross, races he can never run. He comes to you on an 'as is' basis. He can only be who he
is, can only become the best him there ever was or ever will be.


 


            Hello world, it's your child!


            Your journey into your child's future will be exciting and challenging, rewarding and
disappointing, filled with pleasure and pain for you and for him. At the same time, it is the most
important adventure you will ever experience. Your successful excursion into your child's
tomorrow begins with your assurance that he grows up in a loving home.


            Leo Tolstoy said, 'All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is
unhappy in its own way.'


            Buddha said, 'A family is a place where minds come in contact with one another. If these
minds love one another, the home will be as beautiful as a flower garden. But if these minds get
out of harmony with one another it's like a storm that plays havoc with the garden.'


            The loving home where your child will flourish includes the love and harmony of
Buddha's flower garden and much more.


 


            It is Tolstoy's happy family.


 


            It is a place where encouragement, concern, attention, and affection abound.


 


            It is a place where your child can fully realize his potentials physically, emotionally,
spiritually, socially, and intellectually.


 


            It is a place where your child does not merely succeed, he excels.


            Your child is counting on you for unconditional love and encouragement, constructive
opportunities and experiences, continuous care and concern. He's also counting on you to teach
him how to behave and to keep him on the right track. That track is wide and open but it does
have boundaries. Along with constructive opportunities and experiences, your child needs
age-appropriate rules and limits, expectations and responsibilities. Keeping him on the right track
while being sure that he receives the love and encouragement he must have is neither simple nor
easy. Nonetheless, it is absolutely essential if your child is to excel in the ongoing, on-growing
journey into his future.


            Just as your child wants your unconditional love and encouragement, you want him to
love you, to love himself, to love other people, and to love the world around him. You express
your love through hugs, playing, and doing things together. You encourage him to share his
feelings, fears, and frustrations. At the same time, you give him the freedom to grow and to
experience the bigger world. You want him to have an exciting life of his own, knowing that his
relationship with you is secure and predictable.


            In addition, you want your child to respect you, to respect himself, to respect other
people, and to respect the world about him. You know that much of his attitude toward himself
and toward the world about him comes from your attitude about him.


            Just as children learn to love by being loved, they learn respect for self and others by
being respected. Your behavior, attitudes, and beliefs will be reflected in your child. More than
you may ever know, he 'does as you do.'


            Children also develop attitudes toward themselves and others as a response to the
attitudes and beliefs others communicate to them. In part, your child will become what you tell
him he will become. You convey this definition of self through your physical, emotional,
spiritual, and social interactions with him as well as through the way you relate as his parent.
Beyond these things, there is a whole world of influences over which you have little control.
Your hope must be that you have nourished and nurtured your child's potentials so that he can
effectively deal with the multiple influences of the world. You hope that your loving respect has
been strong enough and clear enough to be integrated into his being as he moves out into a world
that may not perceive him as unique. His sense of being special comes from you. You can only
trust that it is solid enough to last him a lifetime.


Responding in Moderation:


            'Nothing in excess - everything in moderation.' This old saying certainly applies to being
a parent. The challenge usually has more to do with 'How much?' than it does with being correct
or incorrect. This dilemma of child rearing is more easily understood than explained.


            For example, whether your child should be praised is usually not an issue. The real issue
is how much praise is just right. Too little praise and he receives insufficient encouragement or
recognition. Too much praise gives him a false sense of accomplishment and achievement.


            The same holds for discipline. Too much abuses and mistreats the child. Too little does
not teach him to internalize the consequences of his actions. If there is too much emphasis on
work and responsibility, your child does not learn how to relax and have fun. If there is too little
emphasis in this area, he does not learn how to work and be responsible.


            What is the right amount of encouragement and rules, freedom and restrictions? There is
no final way of deciding this. Still, your goal needs to be to come close, minimizing overdoing it
and under-doing it.


            The right amount for any child in any specific situation is to be neither excessive nor
insufficient. Seldom can parents, with full understanding and awareness, respond just right. Very
often, they find themselves in the awkward position of being off the mark, even if ever so
slightly.


            What is the effect on your children if you frequently overdo it or under-do it? As your
child grows, instances of excess and inadequacy add or subtract like wins and losses. The
excesses of normal parents score as plus and inadequacies as minus. Those rare occasions when
you respond exactly right score zero. This process continues throughout childhood. When your
child reaches adulthood, all of the pluses, minuses, and zeros add together to give a final score. If
you have been successful, the pluses and minuses will cancel each other out. A perfect score
would be zero.


            Good parents do not always do the right thing, do not always do things right. They love,
care, and try to understand. Sometimes they do too much, sometimes too little. Sometimes they
overreact, sometimes under-react. Sometimes they interfere too much, sometimes not enough.
Sometimes they set too many limits, sometimes too few. Influencing and containing the
potentials of your children is not prescriptive. It is finding the balance between overdoing it and
under-doing it.


Rules and Boundaries:


            During their developing years, your children move from a world with no rules or
boundaries set by you into a world of maximum rules and boundaries. They then gradually move
back to a world with no parent rules or boundaries. You, in a parallel way, begin by setting no
rules or boundaries for your children. You then move to setting maximum rules and boundaries.
Gradually, you then eliminate the rules and boundaries.


            Infancy is that time of life that most nearly approaches complete freedom for your
children. By the age of three or four, your rules and boundaries should be at their maximum.
From that point to adulthood, you gradually modify and then drop the rules and boundaries.


            Failure to understand and accept this process poses one of the biggest difficulties between
parents and teenagers. Typically, teenagers' major hassle with their parents is over how quickly to
discontinue the rules and boundaries. Parents tend to do this gradually and somewhat reluctantly.
Teenagers feel that the 'childish' rules will never be dropped and that their parents will always
want to run their lives.


            Less frequently recognized but just as common are parents who do not recognize the need
for maximizing rules and boundaries when their children are about three or four. This is the age
when learning to mind is most important and most frequently neglected. Parents say, 'They are
too young.' In reality, they are just the right age to learn to live successfully in a world of rules
and boundaries.


            Here is another way to think about this important point. Consider childhood as taking
place within an ever-expanding circle. In infancy, the circle within which your child exists is
larger than him. About the time he begins to crawl and walk, though, he is fast filling up this
circle. Rather suddenly, from your child's perspective, the circle of his life is filled with do and
do not, may and may not, not allowed to and have to. There are rules and boundaries everywhere
he turns.


            You then need to let the circle expand gradually. You take into account your child's
increasing skills, developing abilities, expanding interests, and widening horizons. Still, you must
not expand the circle too fast. Your children need very clear rules and boundaries. Certainly, they
need the freedom to discover and explore their worlds. They also need to be contained to avoid
getting hurt or being exposed to unnecessary risks.


            Within the circle of your child's world, he may function with relative freedom and with
relative immunity from rules and boundaries. At the limits of that circle, though, your rules and
boundaries need to be firm and strictly enforced.


            Your two-year-old may play in the yard but not in the street. At eighteen months, your
child may eat food at a high chair but may not throw it across the kitchen. Your children may
play with their toys but not with the knobs on the kitchen stove. They are permitted to go some
places, play with some things, participate in some activities, but are forbidden other opportunities
and experiences. As your children enter school and move on to adolescence, their circles expand
to include family, friends, neighbors, school, and community.


            Sometimes parents wait until things have gotten out of hand before trying to establish
rules and boundaries. The child does not mind or he refuses to mind. Perhaps he does not even
know how to mind. In nine- and ten-year-olds, this is all too frequently seen. The challenge is to
establish the rules and boundaries that should have been in-place when the child was three or
four. It requires intense effort and sometimes counseling for both children and parents when
postponed until the child's behavior is out of control. Try to achieve this with your adolescent of
fifteen or sixteen and you face a potentially insurmountable challenge.


Discipline:


            Discipline has a negative side as it relates to rules, boundaries, and to the life-circle.
Somewhat simplistically, this has to do with making your children mind and assuring that they
avoid unnecessary risks. Discipline also has a positive side. It encourages your children to
participate in those activities and experiences that will be good for them, even though this
Sometimes means insisting.


            Here are the most important principles underlying effective discipline.


 


            Your discipline should be reasonable, fair, and effective.


            Encouraging your children is a good example of reasonableness. You may encourage your
child to try harder. If, however, you do this after it has become obvious that he really cannot
conform or perform, your encouragement is excessive. Encouragement implies expectation. To
over-encourage is to expect too much. Alternatively, if your encouragement is insufficient to get
your child to try a little harder when he really does have the ability, your response is inadequate.


            Reasonable discipline is in proportion to your child's age and abilities and is directly
related to the action or behavior at issue. For example, responding to a child who carelessly puts
a muddy hand on the window is different from responding to a child who intentionally
fingerpaints all over the living room wall without permission. Dealing with a three-year-old who
leaves his toys in the family room is different from dealing with a sixteen-year-old who uses his
bedroom floor as an alternative to the city dump. Your discipline should be reasonable and
related to both your child and his behavior.


            Your discipline should be fair. This point is all too obvious but is also very important. For
example, children in a family or group need to have a sense that discipline applies to them in the
same way that it applies to other children. When your children complain about unfairness, listen
to what they are saying. They are usually right.


            Your children may complain about having to do things today that they did not have to do
yesterday. They may question not getting to do things they previously got to do. Fairness means
having rules, boundaries, and expectations that are reasonably consistent and predictable.


            Also, fairness means that your discipline should not be arbitrary or capricious. For
example, it would really be quite unfair if your child were first told that he could stay up to watch
a TV program and then be made to go to bed fifteen minutes before it was over, when his
behavior had been satisfactory. This is a fairly simple issue. Things are not always fair and
people do not always behave fairly. Your children need to learn about and live with this fact of
life. Even so, they have a right to expect you to discipline them fairly and equitably.


            Your discipline should be evaluated in terms of its effectiveness. Has your negative
discipline decreased or prevented whatever you do not want your child to do? Has your positive
discipline encouraged and increased desired behavior? If it has and if it also has been reasonable
and fair, then your effort represents appropriate discipline. If your discipline has not achieved the
desired outcomes or if it has not been reasonable and fair, your discipline has been inappropriate.


            Appropriateness is a principle governing all aspects of being a parent, including
discipline. When considering how to best discipline your child, first consider not disciplining at
all. Parents frequently say, 'I have tried everything and nothing seems to work.' If 'everything'
has been tried, the child must indeed be confused. It is more likely, however, that 'doing
nothing' has not been tried.


            This is one of the most difficult issues with which parents have to deal. They want to
respond but they know that their child needs to be allowed to fail, to get hurt, to work out the
problems. Just because your child broke a rule, did not meet your expectations, got into trouble,
or had difficulty does not automatically mean that discipline is appropriate. Perhaps nothing
should be done. Similarly, just because your child is making an effort does not necessarily mean
that praise is appropriate. Sometimes, you should just stay out of your children's experiences. If
you do decide that positive or negative discipline is appropriate, then whatever you do needs to
be reasonable, fair, and effective.


Expectations for Children:


            You want your children to become effective, successful adults. Reaching this goal begins
with having clear notions about what qualities and characteristics effective and successful adults
share. You then need to encourage them in your children. Alternatively, those qualities and
characteristics that are not found in effective and successful adults need to be discouraged.


            Most all adult characteristics, good or bad, are seen in children at some stage in their
development. Small children, for example, take things that do not belong to them. With adults,
this is called stealing. Three- and four-year-old children have temper tantrums as a normal part of
their emotional development. If they still have tantrums when they are twenty-five or thirty years
old, it is clearly unacceptable. Small children frequently misrepresent what has happened and do
not tell parents how things really are. In adults, this is called lying.


            Small children are loving and affectionate. Hopefully, they will still be that way when
they are grown. Small children are spontaneous and enthusiastic. If all goes well, they will still be
that way when they are adults. Qualities and characteristics that are desirable or undesirable in
adults need to be encouraged and discouraged as your children grow and mature.


Development:


            Your children's development starts with their physical, doing dimension. It incorporates
their physical bodies, their potentials and capacities to do and behave, and most of what is visible
in terms of their actions and activities.


            Part of your role is to help your children grow to respect and appreciate their physical
abilities and skills, to know how to behave in a variety of situations, and to recognize and utilize
their physical capacities and potentials. This physical, doing dimension starts at infancy and is
central to your children' adjustment throughout their journey to adulthood.


            The emotional dimension is equally important. Here are found feelings, fears and
frustrations, sadness and joy, disappointment and excitement, love and hate, fun and futility.
Your growing children experience all of these emotions and need to learn how to interpret them,
how to express them, and how to manage them.


            For example, your children must learn to express anger without having tantrums, to deal
with despair and disappointment without becoming destructively depressed, to express love and
joy without getting into harmful or inappropriate relationships. Within this dimension, they must
learn to deal with their emotions and learn how to express their feelings effectively and
appropriately.


            Around the age of four or five the moral, spiritual dimension begins to emerge.
Effectively helping your children develop a solid sense of right and wrong, good and bad,
requires you to be clear about your values and beliefs in these areas. Success in this dimension is
critical to success in the social dimension that emerges about the same time.


            When your children are about five or six, the social dimension becomes dominate and
begins to interact with the other developing dimensions. The social dimension embraces your
child's potential to interact with other children and adults and to become socially effective and
self-determined.


            By about eleven or twelve, your child's emerging sexual dimension begins dynamically
interacting with the other developing dimensions. Sexual behavior and attitudes that are
appropriate and inappropriate, healthy and unhealthy, effective and ineffective are best conveyed
to maturing adolescents by parents who have carefully thought through and appropriately deal
with the issues.


            This central parent responsibility similarly applies to the thinking, learning dimension
that starts at birth and gains focus at seventeen or eighteen. By then, your children need to be
self-directed, skilled learners who are formulating independent ideas and perceptions. They
should be thinking critically, clearly, and thoroughly. Your older adolescents need to be receptive
to the ideas of others and at the same time able to combine those ideas with their own, i.e., they
should be thinking for themselves.


            The Learning Process:


            Your children first discover and then experiment with what they have discovered. They
then repeat the activity, action, behavior, or experience until they have either mastered it or
determined that it has no value for them. When your children achieve mastery, their knowledge
and skills become conscious: they use the knowledge or skill when it is needed for the sake of
something else.


            Language development illustrates this progression both in terms of the process and the
ongoing nature of learning. Your child discovers the possibility of making noises and gestures.
As he experiments with making sounds, he soon learns that people respond in different ways to
different noises. Once his skill has developed to the point where people usually respond in the
expected way, a specific verbalization or gesture can be consciously used.


            Throughout childhood and adult life, though, people continually discover new
verbalizations and gestures. With each discovery, the process of experimentation leading to
mastery comes into play. With adolescents and adults, the experimentation/mastery phase with
new words and gestures is very brief and requires little attention. From your young children,
though, you will receive endless questions and requests mixed with a very frustrating flow of
verbalizations and gestures. You will notice that, despite consistent responses, your child may
continue asking the same question, making the same gesture, or verbalizing in the same way.
Your child is experimenting. Is your response predictable or will the answer change?


            This pattern of discovery, experimentation, and mastery leading to conscious use can be
seen in most learning. You tell your three-year-old that he has made a pretty picture. You are
then inundated with pretty pictures. You tell your nine-year-old that his way of doing something
will not work. He persists, nonetheless, until his experiments convince him it will not work.
Once in a while, his way does work and he learns that usually you are right but occasionally you
are wrong.


            Your children's learning is continuous and follows a fairly predictable course. It starts
with discoveries that lead to experimentation that, in turn, lead to further discoveries and more
experimentation. Through this repeating and expanding process, your growing children gradually
come to master a wide range of knowledge and many skills.


            As their physical, emotional, and social abilities expand, they discover new possibilities
within things they had relegated to conscious use. Learning is ever dynamic, ongoing, expanding,
and exciting. Effective parents encourage such learning while ineffective parents tend to
discourage it.


            The process of discovery leading to experimentation also means that your children often
do not learn the first time they have an experience, the first time they are told about something,
the first time they discover that things sometimes do not work or sometimes turn out badly.
Likewise, your initial efforts to teach them about most anything may not be effective. Your
children often need to experiment with your ideas and pronouncements before they decide to
integrate them into their view of things.


            It is easy to overlook the reality that you are learning along with your children. Before
your responses become internalized by your children, you will have ample opportunities to try
again, when necessary. You can say;


 


            'Let me tell you this again.'


 


            'I was wrong.'


 


            'I made a mistake.'


 


            'I overreacted.'


 


            'I didn't do that right.'


 


            'What I told you was incorrect.'


            You and your children are learning together. Along with this shared learning, you are
modeling for your children appropriate mistake-making behavior. Neither you nor your children
have to always be right, have to be perfect. It is enough to try your best, sometimes fail, learn
through experience, and try again. Learning is a three steps forward and two steps back kind of
thing sometimes. Both you and your children need to understand, accept, and value the process
itself and not give too much importance to where you are in the learning process at any specific
time.


Assessing Your Relationship:


            How are you and your child getting along with each other? For the following questions, is
the answer almost always yes, usually yes, sometimes yes, seldom yes, or almost never yes?


            As a guide, rate the question as '5' if your answer is almost always yes. Put 4 for usually,
3 for sometimes, 2 for seldom, and 1 for almost never. (If your child is too young for the question
to apply to your relationship with him, just skip that question.)


 1.         Are you responsible and fair when disciplining your child?


 2.         Do you know what your child needs and what is important to him?


 3.         Can you get your child to cooperate with you without you getting frustrated or upset?


 4.         Do you spend time every day talking or playing with your child?


 5.         Does your child like to spend time with you?


 6.         Are you pleased with and proud of your child?


 7.         Do you know about and are you interested in your child's activities?


 8.         Do you know about and are you helping with your child's problems?


 9.         Do you set a good example for your child?


10.       Do you give your child space to grow and learn on his own?


11.       Are you interested in what your child thinks and feels about things?


12.       Do you do all you can to support your child's interests, activities, and goals?


            If you have rated all twelve questions at the 5 or 4 levels, you and your child likely enjoy
a healthy, productive relationship. There are occasional problems and issues but you and he are
working them through. If instead, you have rated some questions at the 3 level or lower, there are
some problems and issues within your relationship that need your careful and caring attention.
Without specific work, those problems and issues will tend to intensify and become harder to
cope with as your child gets older. Now is the best time there will ever be to resolve the problems
and work through the issues.


Assessing Your Child's Adjustment:


            How is your child getting along? Does he seem to be getting along well or do you see
behavior or other problems that concern you? Trust your good judgement and experience. Think
about your child and answer 'Yes,' or 'No,' to these questions. The questions that you answer
'No,' focus your attention on the problems and issues needing your attention. (If your child is too
young for the question to apply to him, simply skip that question.)


Is your child;


 1.         In good health and not often ill?


 2.         Usually energetic and interested in what is going on in his world?


 3.         Normally relaxed and comfortable with himself?


 4.         Self-confident in most situations?


 5.         Eating regularly in normal amounts?


 6.         Staying away from alcohol or other drugs?


 7.         Happy and in a good mood most of the time?


 8.         Well-behaved most of the time?


 9.         Managing his anger and temper responsibly?


10.       Feeling successful most of the time?


11.       Responsible and dependable most of the time?


12.       Dealing well with most day-to-day stresses and pressures?


13. Making and keeping friends his age?


14.       Involved with friends whom you know and approve of?


15.       Going to school regularly?


16.       Doing well in school?


17.       Finishing homework and other assignments on time?


18.       Cooperating with teachers and others at school?


19.       Involved in school activities and projects?


20. Talking with you and other adults about his activities, friends, and problems?


            Now that you have answered the questions, how do you decide if your child has problems
or issues that need special attention? If you answered 'Yes,' to each question, your child is likely
doing just fine. If not, your child's problems need extra thought and attention.



By Gary A. Crow, Ph.D. March 17, 2017