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Positive parenting

Your Three Parenting Jobs

by Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D.
Book Cover Image. Title: Playful Parenting, Author: by Lawrence J. Cohen, Lawrence J. Cohen

Playful Parentingby Lawrence J. CohenLawrence J. Cohen

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Parenting can be a very confusing operation at times, especially for new parents. First of all, the job is a lot more difficult than you thought it would be. The kids are cute, but they never go away — you're the permanent babysitter! Second, the children morph every few months, it seems, into new creatures. The seven-month old who's barely mobile is a lot different from the twenty-month old who's walking all over the place and extremely curious.

Third, as the kids get older and discipline issues become more and more prominent, it seems there is always some new problem to deal with. What do you do when your child learns he can bite for the purpose of revenge? What happens when your toddler daughter finds out she can climb out of her crib after you put her in bed? What if the child won't say hello to grandma when she visits from another state, and instead hides behind your legs? What if your six-year old hates broccoli? What if the children tease each other and fight all the time?

Parenting Is a Job!

As time goes on, some parents start thinking, "Wait a minute, this isn't what I signed up for! This job is a whole lot more aggravating and confusing than anyone ever told me it was going to be." Fortunately and unfortunately, those kinds of thoughts are normal. Parenting is one of the most underestimated jobs in the world in terms of both difficulty and confusion. Being a mom or dad can stimulate both strong positive and strong negative feelings that can leave you feeling like an exhausted yoyo at the end of the day.

Where do you start trying to sort out the mess? The first place to start is to define what parenting and child discipline are all about. Once you have defined the job, the second thing to do is to come up with strategies for handling the job.

A Job Description for Parents

Have you ever had a job where the job description was not clear? You never knew what you were supposed to be doing, much less how to do it. Well, for the task of parenting, here's a job description — and in order to make the description useful we're going to keep it simple. Your first job as a parent is to control obnoxious behavior. Your second task is to encourage good behavior. And your final charge is to strengthen your relationship with your kids. Do those three things and you'll be a pretty good parent. Let's take a look at each.

Controlling obnoxious behavior
. Kids are just kids. Among other things, this means that they will provide you with a steady diet of difficult behavior such as whining, arguing, screaming, tantruming, teasing, fighting, and sometimes disrespect. Doesn't sound like a lot of fun, does it? It's not, but these childhood pastimes are perfectly normal. These behaviors are also things you want the youngsters to stop. Keep that in mind, because that fact will help you choose your strategy for dealing with obnoxious conduct.

Encouraging good behavior. Your second parenting job is to get the kids to do the good things, such as eating, getting up and out in the morning, picking up, going to bed (and staying there), and doing their chores. These are activities you want the children to start and finish. Engaging in positive behavior is usually more difficult for kids than terminating an obnoxious behavior. It takes more time and energy, for example, to clean your room than it does to simply stop whining. That fact will also help you decide which tactics are best.

Strengthening your relationships. Your final parenting job is to work at reinforcing the bond between you and your kids. For some parents, much of this third task happens naturally; they enjoy their children and the kids enjoy them. But even for the most fortunate of parents, easy and natural bonding doesn't always just happen. It often needs to be worked at. And for some less fortunate folks, spontaneous bonding with sons and daughters happens very little. Bonding in these families is a job that takes a lot of effort. The good news is that it helps a lot to know how to do it.

Methods for Succeeding in Your 3 Parenting Jobs

Now that you know what your parenting jobs are, you need to find ways or methods to implement each one. Let's look at an example for each parenting task. Imagine you have a real problem with your four-year old's whining. Whining is an obnoxious behavior, so that's part of parenting job number one. So far so good. Now look closely and try to figure out exactly how you try to manage that whining. You may find that you first try explaining, and when that doesn't work, you try more forceful persuasion and then you argue. When arguing fails, which it usually does, you yell. Does yelling work? Yes and no. It ends the whining, but the whining then turns into crying, which is almost as bad. And in the long run, the whining simply rears its ugly head again later.

What do you do? First accept the incredible fact that talking doesn't work for whining! Next, find another strategy. One excellent strategy with whining, for example, is the tactic of counting described in 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12. Counting is simple and efficient, but you have to religiously follow the no-talking and no-emotion rules. That means that after you give a count as a warning ("That's 1."), you are not allowed to chatter away and explain, explain, explain! When done properly, good counting and well-timed parental silence forces children to take the responsibility for their own behavior. Counting whining will make your parenting job a whole lot easier.

Now let's look at parenting job number two, encouraging good behavior. Your ten-year-old daughter doesn't like homework. In fact, she hates homework. Look closely again and try to figure out what your strategy is for getting her to do her homework. What you discover is that your "plan" is to ask her — when you happen to think about it — if she has any homework. She is usually watching TV at the time, and brutal civil war follows your reminder.

What to do? Accept the fact that your homework plan is terrible. It isn't even really a plan, so find a real strategy. Check out, for example, Ann Dolin's new book, Homework Made Simple. There you'll find some straightforward and workable ideas for making homework into a daily routine, instead of a series of daily battles. Amy recommends that you first decide what kind of kid you have when it comes to homework. Is your child, for instance a rusher, a procrastinator, or an avoider? For procrastinators you will want to encourage a regular, structured daily routine. For avoiders, you may want to first try to figure out exactly why homework is being avoided (ADHD, learning disability. etc.), and then base your strategy on that insight.

Parenting job number three is strengthening your relationship with the kids. If you're doing better with the first two jobs, this third task will come a lot easier. Two important bonding strengtheners are good listening and shared fun. Consult How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk (Faber and Mazlish) for the listening part and Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen for the fun. How to Talk so Kids will Listen, for example, suggests holding back on giving advice right away when your kids are upset and instead, trying hard to understand and reflect their feelings. That kind of sympathetic listening is also a great self-esteem builder for children.

Playful Parenting has lots of lighthearted ideas for increasing the amount of fun you have with your youngsters. Cohen's ideas range from active wrestling to outright silliness to quieter storytelling. But whatever the activity, Cohen makes a great case for the fact that parent/child play is one of the best — if not the best — methods for increasing affection.

When it comes to your own parenting, don't shoot from the hip. With some careful thought, a good job description and some useful and down-to-earth methods, parenting can be a lot more rewarding.  
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Meet Our Expert
Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist
A registered clinical psychologist, Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D. has worked with children, adults, and families for over 30 years. He is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Illinois Psychological Association.

Dr. Phelan is the author of numerous books, DVDs, and audios including, 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 and More 1-2-3 Magic: Encouraging Good Behavior, Independence and Self-Esteem.

He maintains an active schedule of international lectures, and is a frequent guest on radio and television shows. His articles appear in numerous regional and national publications.

Dr. Phelan received his Doctorate from Loyola University, Chicago, in 1970 after completing his internship at the Loyola Child Guidance Center. He worked at the DuPage County Mental Health Center in Illinois until 1972, and then entered private practice. Dr. Phelan has also served on the boards of directors for both ADDA and CHADD, two national organizations for the parents of children with ADD. He was inducted into the CHADD Hall of Fame in 1997.

Thomas and his wife of 35 years raised two children and experienced firsthand many of the problems he now helps parents tackle. He says, "My goal is to help parents avoid some of the turmoil we experienced, and which I hear about from other parents every day. With some basic understanding of what makes children and teenagers tick-and a ton of patience-parenthood can provide some of life's greatest satisfactions."
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Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D.