I’ve been a parent for a little over 4 years… not much hands-on experience… but I’ve been observing parenting styles and their outcomes since I started having long-term memory.
I’ve adopted the “love them fiercely, play with them and be the parent” style. (Sorry, I have not yet come up with a cooler phrase). This was recently affirmed as an effective style when I met an old friend with teenage kids – gentle, loving, kind, good-spirited, God-fearing kids. For her, she said “Never pass your authority as a parent to another person” and “give them LOTS and LOTS of love”.
What I mean to “love them fiercely” is to tell them daily that I love them, give lots of hugs and kisses, give my time, my listening ear (and heart) and if we could afford it, a gift here and there once in a while.
When I say I “play with them’… it’s just that… play with them. Play doll together; play pretend together; play catch together; play hide and seek together; play wrestling, etc. Through playing with them, many things will happen, including undesirable behaviours. I will then correct them on the spot. Even when nothing negative seems to be happening, lots of positive things are happening. For example, I demonstrate how to be gentle and safe even when apparently playing rough (e.g. wrestling or sword fighting). I use my Ps and Qs. Etcetera.
“Be the parent” means that even though I seemed to have gone bonkus, I am still the adult with responsibilities and the parental authority over their lives. When it is time to bathe, they have to bathe. When it is time to eat, they have to eat. When it is time to sleep, they sleep. When they are ill-mannered, they have to be corrected.
My eldest has been mingling with older kids here and there (she is usually the youngest no matter where we go because we had our children late in life). Kids who were parented with theories found in parenting books usually bullied her, were mean-spirited, and did not exhibit behaviour that I would like her to imitate. These kids usually could read at an early age and seemed to have “discipline” such as keeping still to feed themselves or colour or write. For older ones who were in school, they seemed to be academically “up there”. They have become book-smart but lacked age-appropriate maturity and love.
Whereas kids of parents who let them PLAY and PLAY and PLAY all day through their preschool days (and even into primary school) were, while rowdier, nicer, kinder, gentler and friendlier to younger children like my daughter. Of course, kids being kids, there will be moments when they get rough and dangerous. But I did not have to be put on the spot because for this group – their parents were always present to catch teaching moments. And such parents are more often not, very others-centred and disciplined their kids a lot stricter to be nice to others and to share. I did not have to discipline their children for them or feel the need to protect/defend my own.
Before you think that these kids are out of control and ill-disciplined… be informed that their parents set physical, emotional and behavioral boundaries – all age-appropriate. And when caught outside these boundaries, the kids are immediately disciplined according their their age and personality.
In other words, these parents are building character over academic achievements. They contextualise and treat each child uniquely, yet fairly. They teach them to put others above themselves. This is the group of parents I belong to. With character, academic achievements can follow (with humility). But with academic achievements, character seldom follows (pride tends to set in instead).
It’s so true that “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (1 Cor 8:1)
But I must admit that the parenting style I adopt is getting harder and harder to do as I notice more and more self-centred parents teaching their kids to be self-centred. Around such people, I have trouble teaching my kids to be others-centred because they are only going to be bullied (both by the other parent and child) and keep losing out and she will keeping commenting that it is unfair. In such situations, I normally have to think on the fly on how to handle each unique situation such that my child is not unfairly treated yet the other party is still respected. When in doubt, I walk away with my child.
Fortunately, such kids also usually have absent parents. I usually take the opportunity to teach that child to be kind and gentle.
There are schools of thoughts which think that the child should be left alone to struggle through experiences. Too much parental intervention would cause the child to be over-reliant on adults and not develop self defenses. I also believe that – but I believe in applying age-appropriateness for everything. A pre-schooler is too vulnerable and malleable to allow natural forces to take over. She needs to feel love and security amidst life’s challenges.
Sometimes, recently when my child is older, I watch her hurt herself or get bullied… but I just watch to see her reactions and not intervene. If she can manage, I let her work it through with her playmates. That’s when she tests out the values and skills that she already has and reaps the consequences accordingly.
Everyday, I pray for wisdom as a parent – to do what suits my family and child.