10 parenting rules...by a counsellor
Meet Mitashi Pawar, the educationist and counsellor who swears that parenting needn’t be the enormous challenge its often cracked up to be. Read her 10 rules of parenting.
By Mitashi Pawar
We all want to be the best parents. We want to have the warmest hugs, happiest smiles, and fuzziest moments of connection with our children, while also ensuring that our children are well-behaved, confident, and successful. Is this even for real?
Don’t worry, dear parents. This isn’t as utopian as it sounds.
Quite often I have parents walking into my room, their minds and bodies wrapped in stress. They are desperately seeking answers to all their queries. Some of them are sure of what the concern is, whereas some are simply clueless. They sit down with the aim of giving me a download of all they did so far to help their child. From the day of conception to present, from sleeping habits to the diet plan, peer relations and family life –everything is taken into consideration to be able to understand the situation.
Let me be honest, it’s just so normal! It is so natural to feel anxious when your little one doesn’t behave the way you expect. I know it is exhausting for them and who knew they will be sitting in front of a professional stating each problem. As a parent, we all have our strategies down in our head. We collect all sorts of resources, parenting books, blogs, videos, and advice. Anything and everything that can help us figure out how to deal with the parenting challenges we face. As a counsellor, I find it hard to explain to parents that nothing will change overnight. Any kind of behaviour modification will require time and a lot of patience. You may not see any difference by simply altering your habits for a small period. Consistency and communication are the key.
Here are the 10 rules of parenting I recommend to parents to raise healthy, happy children:
1. Avoid comparisons:
- Parents often compare their child with his siblings, other cousins, or peers. “My elder one was never like this. She was just so sorted. I didn’t have to run behind her for anything. But my younger one is making it seem all impossible.” The intention behind it is hoping to positively charge up the child. Quite often the opposite of it is what happens. The child could feel inferior to others and can develop bitterness towards those being compared to.
- These comparisons are not just limited to academics but also occur in sports, hobbies, personality, the way one talks…..the list is never ending.
- A common example is drawing a comparison between their own personality and the child’s. It is a common situation where an extrovert parent is worried because their child is an introvert. Or an introvert parent finds it not so important to go out and socialize as much as their child would want to.
- Avoid comparisons! This is the best thing you could do to respect your child. Excessive comparison often leads to jealousy. Every child looks up to their parent and tries to do their best. They hate to disappoint their parent and try to maximize their efforts. Unfortunately, they lose hope to try further when a parent shows their extreme disappointment. Instead of being motivated, they might develop a fear of failure. Rather, encourage them and let them take baby steps towards success.
- Assure them you are always by their side and they can come back to you in case they ever feel stuck.
- Do not stress over what will happen in future. Let their personalities blossom the way they are meant to. Trying to mould them your way can turn into a negative and frustrating experience for both you and your child.
2. Keep calm in the face of inappropriate behaviour:
- There could be days when your child misbehaves; he could act violent, stubborn, or indifferent, leaving you baffled or worse, angry.
- The most instant reaction is to shut down the child and immediately put an end to that behaviour. Either you resort to shouting or a complete time out - both the scenarios might not assure a healthy change in behaviour. It might worsen the situation.
- Parents are usually frustrated in such a case. They complain of how the dynamics at home take a drastic shift when things don’t go well at home and in school. A lot of them feel embarrassed when called for a meeting with the teachers or heads. This further aggravates their feeling of helplessness due to their parenting being questioned. No one wants to hear complaints about or be told how they should raise their child.
- Sit with an open mind, drop all your defences, and work in sync with the teachers and counsellors. Accept the changes they recommend and set short and achievable goals for you and your child.
- Take a ‘time out’ when you find yourself getting angry at your child’s behaviour. Take a conscious pause. Tell yourself that your child is behaving inappropriately not to trouble you, but due to some unmet need(s). it is important for you to find out what him needs are and focus on helping her meet them.
- Help your child understand his feelings and behaviour. Help him realise the changes in his body language, tone, and thoughts. You need not do this when he is not at his best behaviour; give him time to cool down and then talk about the impact of his behaviour on him as well as you.
- Don’t be in a hurry to rectify his behaviour immediately. Your need to do a quick fix might not help in the long run.
3. Give your child choices
- As a parent you may expect your child to follow all your directions and instructions. While this is a comfortable spot for you, it can be extremely frustrating for your child.
- Children feel miserable when they are not given any choices and are forced to go by what is expected out of them. This can also damage your connection with them.
- As your child grows with time, he would strive for more independence. Your constant need to control him may lead him becoming rebellious or stubborn.
- When I see some parents struggling with not being able to change their approach toward something, I ask them about their childhoods. For instance, I once had a child of grade one whose father was firm in his decisions and didn’t consider what his son had to express. In his opinion his son was expected to be obedient and not demand anything. After a few sessions with the parents, the father was able to bring in his own childhood experiences. He had a dominating father who would not pay heed to his wishes. This realisation, that his childhood has impacted him deeply, was an eye opener for the father.
- Children respond well to choices. Don’t impose your decision on them, rather give them choices and let them feel you respect their decisions too.
- Be open to adjustments wherever possible. But don’t give in to all their irrational demands. If there is something you strongly oppose, give them alternatives which are less threatening to them (and acceptable to you).
- They get a sense of responsibility and feel heard when you involve them in any kind of decision-making. Making informed choices and decisions ensure less negativity in the environment and more preparation for life as a responsible adult.
4. Sync opposing parenting styles
- Each parent believes in a certain style of raising the child. These beliefs are quite strongly held and are difficult to change.
- For instance, one parent could be strict and controlling and the other could be flexible or permissive in their approach. This may leave the child with no choice but to keep aligning her behaviour according to the parents’ approach. When a child is faced with opposing styles, she may end up struggling with confusion about what’s right and what not, or may start to manipulate her parents, or the child may shut herself out from the strict parent or learn to disrespect him.
- This can adversely impact the parent-child connection and the process of identity-development of the child.
- When you and your partner have opposing parenting styles discuss issues and identify the non-negotiable ones in private, and then present your agreed-upon rules to your child.
- It is helpful if you and your partner communicate about common problems you face while dealing with your child. Try and reach common solutions and implement them when required. This takes away the confusion and gives more clarity to all involved.
5. Keep your marital and parental relationships separate:
- In some families, parents fighting with each other in front of their children is a big problem. Witnessing his parents arguing can be a huge source of stress and insecurity for any child.
- Parents live under the notion that the child understands nothing, whereas even a toddler can sense disturbance at home. Older kids start comprehending the matters and may even blame themselves for all the mess.
- Avoid expressing conflict in front of your child. If you do end up arguing in front of the child, ensure that it reaches a resolution as well, i.e., the child should also be able to witness the process of conflict-resolution, not just the conflict.
- Trying to change your child’s perception toward your spouse doesn’t serve the purpose. This is a disturbing experience for the child when they have to mentally struggle to choose between the parents.
6. Give space to your child
- Parents are always keen to know what their child is thinking. The need to keep a check on every act or thought of your child can make you feel worried (or paranoid at worst) most of the time. For example, you may feel the need to fire questions on how the day at school was the moment your child is back.
- This could be a forced ritual that may not even yield a fruitful answer and can make your child feel uncomfortable. Moreover, she might not give you all the details in order to avoid any kind of judgement from your end.
- Allow your child to breathe. Let her get the space required to absorb all that is happening in daily life.
- If you sense there could be something bothering her, let your child know you are there, and she could take some time and come back when needed.
- The curiosity to know it all and solve it for them can kill the trust. Children can feel threatened when someone invades into their personal space.
- Let your child know you are there to support always. Help her learn how to solve problems and how to accept challenges that come her way.
7. Let the elder child have fun
- Elder sibling is seen as the responsible one. Parents assign duties to the elder one and have high expectations of them.
- They are expected to take care of the younger sibling. However, often, your elder child may fear letting you down.
- Parents believe the elder one ought to support them raise the younger one.
- I have couples who expect a lot from their elder one. A client of mine is diagnosed with depression. While she is going through a rough patch, her husband has conveniently allocated tasks to the elder one. He says, “My child is quite mature to understand depression. He knows mumma is not well and that he needs to take care of her. He helps mumma and me once he is back home. My job demands travelling and while I am away my elder one is available for his mum at home.” Doesn’t it sound a little unfair on the child? As a result, this child comes to me to off load his pent-up frustration and emotions which he is otherwise unable to do. He is learning something as heavy as depression without even knowing the basics of it. This is when I expect a parent to pause and reflect. Is it really okay to expect a 10 year old to do it all and know it all?
- You need to realise your elder one deserves equal amount of fun, carefree time. He cannot always be loaded with responsibilities and take the role of a parent. He needs to know that you are available for his problems too.
- Distribute chores between both the siblings. Do not expect your elder one to do it all and let the younger one enjoy a free time. Such a practice can otherwise lead to jealousy and sibling rivalry which is later difficult to be erased completely.
- Spend special time with both of them individually. Let them both feel valued and loved.
8. Assign equal chores to your younger child:
- Parents could struggle teaching their younger child to take up responsibilities. This could happen because all through the years the elder one has been doing it all on behalf of the younger one. They can find it difficult to suddenly take charge.
- According to Dr. Catherine Salmon, co-author of The Secret Power of Middle Children, "Youngest kids tend to be less rules-oriented, yet still get lots of attention.”
- Younger children might get a sense that you do not trust them with responsibilities and the elder one does it better. This can lower their confidence and frustrate them.
- Divide work amongst both the siblings. Let them learn team work together. If the age gap is much, assign them work as per their age and maturity.
- Helping kids take decisions is a skill they need to learn from a young age.
- Each child wants to make their parent feel proud. Give them opportunities to live up to your expectations.
9. Teach your child to tame his anger:
- You might notice your child’s anger is going out of control and there seems to be no specific reason. Things get alarming when you start receiving complaints from school.
- It can be difficult for you or the teacher to spot the reason behind it. She could be lashing out at others, shouting or crying. Most of the times, we fail to teach our children how we should express our anger.
- Anger is perceived as a negative emotion that should not be expressed. Each emotion is important and so is anger. What one needs to learn is how to tame it.
- Sit with your child and address the problem. Do not resort to shouting at him and making it worse. Set a positive role model for him. If your child sees losing your cool and throwing things, he is much more likely to do that himself.
- Help him learn how to express anger and what to do even when he is rageful, instead of only giving directions, such as “Don’t hit”, “Don’t scream”, “Don’t talk rudely” etc.
- Teach your child how to observe his triggers for anger, or situations that drive him mad. Help your child understand his bodily changes when angry, and to use them as cues to calm himself down. Teach your child relaxation exercises and practice along with him regularly, to ensure that the skill learning does transfer to the real-life situation.
- If the situation seems to be getting worse, it is best to seek professional help from a certified counsellor or clinical psychologist.
10. Help your child unlearn undesirable behaviour:
- While a lot of emphasis is given to learning a new skill or behaviour, it is also important for one to unlearn the behaviour which is not positive or desirable.
- You may inadvertently but unintentionally reinforce your child’s undesirable behaviour by either giving in to it or not putting a stop to it. For instance, your child knows each time she will refuse to eat dinner, you would get restless and constantly chase her to finish it.
- Your child will find ways to get their demands approved by you if you give in every time.
- Differentiate (and help your child learn the difference) between behaviours and feelings. While all feelings are acceptable, some behaviours are not. Let your child know she has the right to express herself, but that doesn’t mean you would give in to her tantrum.
- Whenever your child throws a tantrum, keep yourself calm and don’t give in to her unreasonable demand, even though it’s important that you keep the empathy toward her feelings going. This helps your child unlearn a bad behaviour, while also feeling supported for her feelings.
Most importantly, you need to take care of yourself first. You deserve a break when you are tired, you deserve a time out when you feel like exploding. You can not ignore your emotional and mental needs while making life smooth for others. The more you deny your feelings, the more you are asking for trouble. Sooner or later you will be exhausted. It is always good to express your needs too. And this applies not only to the mothers, but the hardworking fathers too. As I say, parenting is not a father or a mother thing. It is a role that one explores at different stages. These stages can be a hassle-free transition if you have first worked on yourself. Give yourself to heal and bounce back with more positivity. More power to you!
About the author:
Written by Mitashi Pawar on 1 February 2020.
Pawar is a counsellor at The Sri Ram School, Gurgaon. She has a masters in Applied Psychology and Education and her expertise lies in working with students, parents, and teachers.
About the expert:
Reviewed by Meghna Singhal, PhD on 5 February 2020.
Dr. Singhal is the Manager, Global Content Solutions at ParentCircle. She has a doctorate degree in clinical psychology from NIMHANS (Bangalore) and holds a post-doctorate in parenting from the University of Queensland (Australia).
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