Before I became a parent, I worked with children in social services. I came to think of myself as a kind of expert on parenting (Oh the hubris of youth). Then I had children and discovered what every parent I worked with already knew—I had no idea what I was talking about. Our children are unique. Our families are unique. And how we discipline often depends on the individual child, their individual parent, and their individual environment. I had bought into the myth that we can use a cookie-cutter approach to parenting, a one-size-fits-all style of parenting. Sure, there are broad truths for parenting, but there are also nuances specific to every child and every family. We need to learn about our children and their uniqueness to most effectively parent.
There are several other parenting myths that hinder our efforts at raising our children. We need to identify these myths and get rid of them in our families. When we do, our efforts at parenting will have greater effectiveness and our children will more joyfully mature. Here are four myths we need to replace with truth.
- Myth #1: My child needs to respect me because I’m their parent; but I will respect them when they earn it. On the contrary, our children learn the meaning of respect and how to respect others by witnessing how we respect them and others. They will treat us with a level of respect similar to the respect we give them. (See The Power of a Father’s Example for more.)
- Myth #2: If I don’t yell, my children won’t listen. Two things to consider. One, yelling is ineffective. Two, listening is a learned behavior. Too often parents teach their children to not listen until they yell. They have taught their children to not take them seriously unless they yell. You can encourage listening by calmly following through on consequences rather than repeating and nagging until you blow up and yell. Teach your children to listen before you get angry.
- Myth #3: My children should obey me just because I said so. Actually, this leaves children with no understanding of the intent and motive behind the rule. When we teach our children the reasons behind the rules we enforce, they gain a reference point—a guiding star for future choices they will make as they mature and we aren’t around to tell them what to do. In other words, learning the reasons behind the rules gives our children the tools to make wise choices.
- Myth #4: My parents did it this way and I turned out okay. Thank God you turned out okay. But should we repeat every choice and behavior our parents made? Do we want our children to simply turn out okay? Instead of simply repeating what our parents did, we need to parent wisely. We can repeat the positive aspects of our parents’ discipline and recognize the negative aspects of their parenting efforts so we can “do it differently.” For instance, we can continue to celebrate our children’s birthdays with a special meal but stop the excessive drinking (getting drunk) at that celebration. We can enjoy playing catch with our children without resorting to belittling name-calling when they exhibit undeveloped skills. You get the idea. Parent wisely, not simply mimicking our parents’ style but improving upon their parenting style so our children can be “better than okay.”
Someday our children will be raising their own children. I hope they will have experienced the love and nurturance from us that will allow them to improve on our parenting. And I hope they will not even have to deal with the four myths that you have already replaced with truth.