Parenting-and-Step-Parenting: Issues and Advice

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GOOD PARENTING AND STEP-PARENTING

is really an extension of being a good person, a healthy person. The parenting one receives colors the way one parents their own children. Our kids push the same buttons from our past that our partner does.

It's really up to each of us to figure out what those buttons are. Whether we unconsciously register the dysfunction of our own childhood and then attempt to do the opposite, or we find ourselves carrying on the legacy of our parents' childrearing, becoming a good parent-and-step-parent can help us work through our own personal issues and become a better person. Parenting can bring out the best and the worst in us. And like marriage, raising children can be difficult and challenging. But the rewards are manyfold. Parenting is an awesome responsibility and at the same time holds the potential for intense joy.

Multiply the job by two, two adults coming together with their own individual baggage from childhood. Very often, parenting styles conflict and each parent feels they know the "right" way to respond to children. In a very direct sense, mothers introduce their children to the world of women and fathers introduce their children into the world of men, psychologically speaking.

Within the family, there are gender differences, and birth order differences, lifestyle differences, and individual personality differences of both children and parents. Some, but certainly not all, parenting issues will be talked about in this section by using the links at the bottom of this page. Also, the advice given in ASK DR. J about parenting and step-parenting will come from questions asked by you and other parents.


A BASIC PLAN FOR ESTABLISHING STRUCTURE FOR CHILDREN

1. Establishing the Rules: The coparents find a time to sit down together and establish the house rules. Use past incidents and problematic behaviors of the children to try to address every situation that might arise. (Since it's not possible to predict every situation, the house rules can be modified as the need arises).

2. Each rule will have a consequence attached. If the rule is not kept, the child will be reminded ONCE, using the technique in Item 4 below. If the behavior continues, the consequence will be given, without exception. Make the consequence immediate and short. Make the consequence something that will have an impact on the child. Try to make the consequence fit the broken rule if at all possible. (Hammer out all disagreements between the coparents before the family meeting).

3. Call a meeting of the family and present the rules as well as the consequences. Coparents present a united front and do not disagree with one another, or argue with the children. Simply present the rules and consequences. Have the rules written out and post them on the refrigerator or similar family area.

4. When the child has broken the rules, stop whatever you are doing and get down to eye level with the child. Take the child gently by the shoulders if necessary. Look directly into the child's face and speak in a calm, yet firm, voice. Let the child know that they have broken a rule. Remind them once, and only once. If the behavior continues, give the consequence.

5. When using a time-determined consequence like spending time on a chair or in an undesirable room, or other consequence area, you have two choices: You can give them a specific time which is age related (e.g., one minute for each year of age) and relatively short. Or you can tell them you will return some time after they calm down and ask for them to apologize. In either case, be sure to repeat the "offense" to them so they know what they are apologizing for. For example, "Are you ready to apologize for hitting your brother?" Remember, when using a "time-out" make sure the child is put in a place that is undesirable and there is little, if any, chance that they will be able to enjoy it.

6. Children often get into power struggles with a parent. As strange as it seems, children do get a sense of power from upsetting their parents. However, do not confuse this with assigning motivation to a child who cannot developmentally have that motivation. For example a 2-yr-old does not refuse to take a nap because they know you need to get the housework done and have a headache. When you get angry and lose control, you are not the winner! Never discipline your child when you are angry.

7. Use a great deal of praise and positive reinforcement for good behavior. Smile and nod, and look directly at the child when praising him/her. Give them attention when they behave well. This is good parenting-and-step-parenting.


TEENAGERS:

With older children, try to let them make mistakes and suffer the natural consequences whenever possible. For example, your teenager is tired, shuts off the alarm clock and is late for school. Do not rescue them. Let them experience the natural consequences. (Remember, since you have established rules, the teenager knows the consequences before hand.)

The job of the adolescent is to separate from the parent. That's why this period is frought with so much conflict, and parents long for the child they used to know before he/she reached puberty. Try not to get angry about "attitude". Do not punish for it unless your teenager is being aggressive or abusive. A "look", a "rolling of the eyes" or other signs of frustration, even walking loudly from a room or closing a door soundly is not worth making an issue of. By all means, let your teenager leave the situation if they wish in order to compose themselves. Choose your battles and use these opportunities to teach a lessen. Your job is to give guidance.

Give your adolescent a structure which is loose enough so that he/she can make some choices within that structure. For example, "You need to get the yard raked by Saturday. When would you like to get that done?" Once the teenager has committed to a time, she/he has made the rule and it will have a consequence if not done when agreed upon.

It is crucially important that the consequences be known to the child BEFORE the offense occurs. If the child knows the consequence, and chooses to do the behavior, they have actually chosen the consequence. As the parent, you can give the child empathy for making a bad choice. For example, "I know you must be really disappointed that you can't go to David's house. Maybe you should think about that next time." You do not have to feel guilty for enforcing a consequene that the child has chosen. You should also be a role model for keeping your word and following through.



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