A father who visited psychologist Michael Anderson’s counseling office illustrates the shift in thinking many moms and dads need to make in their parenting.
The father said, “You wouldn’t believe what my daughter has become. In the last 90 days, she’s changed completely. She’ll do anything her friends tell her to do. She’s smoking. She’s drinking. She’s shoplifting.”
Michael asked him, “What was she like 90 days ago?”
“She was an A-student. She was in the church youth group and would do anything we told her to do.”
That wording caught Michael’s ear. “Well, it sounds like the only thing that has changed is who she’s listening to.”
In other words, the man’s daughter had never been encouraged to develop her identity or to think for herself, only to follow instructions. So when she stopped listening to mom and dad and started listening to her friends instead, it looked like a radical change was underway.
The ultimate goal of parenting is to launch your children into the world, ready to maintain healthy relationships, and to handle the rigors of the adult world all on their own. But the process of helping your child get there can often be counterintuitive.
Think about what you focus on in your parenting right now. Is it to get your kids’ outer behavior to look a certain way? When you see a well-behaved child, do you think, “Wow, those parents are doing a great job”?
That perception may or may not be accurate. The child could be acting out of strong character, or his obedience could only be a thin veneer. Discipline is only truly fruitful if it teaches children to have self-discipline.
How do you do that? A great place to start is to say what you mean and mean what you say. As cliché as that bit of advice may sound at first, Michael Anderson and his colleague Dr. Tim Johanson say the proof is all around us that this strategy is effective. We can also see the result of inconsistency.
Take the presence of Homeland Security at the airport, for example. They’ve taught you that they mean what they say. In contrast, many airlines have taught you that they don’t mean what they say.
It works like this: The officers at the security checkpoints usually don’t have to remind you to take off your belt and shoes and to remove your laptop from its bag. You do it automatically because you know they expect it. And if you don’t comply? You won’t get on the plane. Period.
But the airlines? They have signs everywhere telling you your bag can only be so tall by so wide. Yet, the guy in front of you always seems to be lugging something the size of a steamer trunk down the jetway.
Why does that happen? Because the airline isn’t consistent with enforcing their expectations, so we don’t take them seriously.
It’s the same thing with parenting. Inconsistencies in your parenting will haunt your household far more than you may think. If you’re flippant about what you say, you probably won’t follow through.
Inconsistencies are common when moms and dads try too hard to protect their children from struggle and the discomfort it causes. When your child makes bad decisions, it’s your job to make sure their life looks radically different than when they’re making good decisions. That’s how they learn. Paul teaches us that very principle in the book of Romans. Pain and suffering help build character.
If you feel like your parenting isn’t producing the character in your child you’ve expected, you may have to get creative. And to tap into that creativity, you may need to learn to think differently about how you parent.
We’ll fully unpack these intriguing concepts with Michael and Dr. Johanson on today’s and tomorrow’s programs, “Rethinking Your Parenting Strategies.” I think you’ll discover some simple, practical strategies you’ll be able to start using immediately to teach and train your kids and to help prepare them for adulthood.
Michael is a licensed psychologist, and Tim is a pediatrician. Both of these men have spent decades studying the way kids grow and learn, and they have some very interesting and out-of-the-box ideas that may very well transform your parenting.