Children and teenagers naturally search for a sense of belonging, love, acceptance and approval, as well as, a need to form a sense of self, that nurtures independence. Parenting is one of the most fulfilling, yet difficult adventures in life you will ever have the pleasure of embarking on. There will be times you feel lost, frustrated and overwhelmed. You will question your abilities as a parent and run the risk of burnout. Are you searching for ways to create a family environment where your children our engaged and thriving? Below I will discuss a 7-step plan for creating an engaged family.
Step-by-Step Plan for Creating an Engaged Family
Step 1: Parenting with Purpose
As a parent you can develop a communication style that fosters openness, trust and connection. You can help your child to define age-appropriate goals that will provide them with a sense of purpose that brings them the experience of mastering their world as they achieve the designated benchmarks in life. The key to this is learning how to listen to your child so that you can understand their personal interests, skills and abilities, not just your. Socialization and authenticity are two possible goals to consider. As a parent you want to socialize your child to become a responsible citizen, learning how to function in harmony with others, to develop intimate and trusting relationships, while being able to set appropriate boundaries. Authenticity flows naturally when the goals that you choose match your child’s abilities, talents and interests. One of the most amazing gifts you have as a parent is to teach your child how to form a life of authenticity so that they can live a life of purpose and passion. So many children today complain of boredom, which will lead to a heightened possibility of negative self-destructive behaviour.
Step 2: Parenting with Clarity
By choosing to parent with clarity you are teaching your child how to respectfully develop their voice within the framework of the boundaries that you have created in your family. The primary way to promote a feeling of connection, self esteem and power within your child is to give them your full, undivided attention and weigh very carefully what they are seeking to convey. Providing an environment where your child feels that he has a voice and is being heard is key. Like adults, children want to be heard and know that their feelings are being considered, that they know that they can earn certain rights and privileges if they do what is expected of them. Children want a perception of having some power and the ability to create what they want but also crave structure and constructive boundaries.
Step 3: Parenting by Negotiation
Negotiation is a key skill to learn as a parent. It is important to gain an understanding of the type of parenting style that you engage in most often (authoritarian, equalitarian, permissive), as well as identifying your child’s personality (passive, cooperative, rebellious) in order to choose the most effective negotiating style. For instance, if you have a highly rebellious child, who engages in power struggles, you will less likely want to approach a negotiation in a heavy-handed way. In teaching your child the basics of negotiation you need to make sure your child is able to predict the consequences of their actions so they have a sense of responsibility for the outcomes generated.
Five critical steps to successful negotiations are 1) narrow the area of dispute, 2) find out what it is they really want, 3) work to find a middle ground, 4) be specific in your agreement and the negotiation’s outcome, and 5) make negotiated agreements, shorter term in the beginning.
Step 4: Parenting with Currency
It is important to have developed standards for the type of behaviours you want to see in your child. Often parents fall trap to complaining and reacting to their child’s behaviour as a result of focusing on undesirable behaviours. When your focus turns to developing the positive behaviours in your child, the negative behaviours will become less overwhelming. By determining your child’s currency, you are able to encourage and promote healthy behaviour. Currency is anything that when presented during or immediately after a target behaviour will increase the likelihood of that behaviour occurring again.
Currencies can vary depending on the age of your child. This can be things such as toys, television, sleepovers, computer or video game privileges. Once you understand what your child places value on you can use that to help mould and shape their behaviour. It is also effective to sit down with your child and create a written contract that outlines what you expect of your child and what the consequences will be if they do not abide by it.
Example of a behavioural contract:
I _______________, (the child) and we _______________, (the parents) enter into the following behavioural contract in order to create order and harmony in our home. This contract will be reviewed thirty days from the date of signing, at which time it is subject to either being continued or renegotiated.
By our agreeing to the terms and conditions of this behavioural contract, all parties understand and accept that they are bound by the contract and are not free to vary from the terms and conditions.
I _______________, (the child) agree that I will perform the behaviours listed below in the manner they are set forth and described.
(Insert operationally defined behaviors, such as completing homework in a timely manner, being home on time, addressing my mother and father in a respectful tone, not getting online or on the phone during the homework hours of eight to ten, etc.)
I _______________, (the child) agree that should I violate the contract by failing to per form the behaviours set out above that I will be choosing to suffer the following consequences.
(Insert penalties or loss of privileges associated with poor performance about the specified target behaviors.)
We, _______________ (the parents), agree that if _______________ (the child) performs the behaviours as outlined above, that in addition to escaping any of the negative consequences outlined above, he/she will have earned the right to the following privileges.
(Insert privilege to be earned, such as free time to watch television, use of the family car, sleepover, movie, toys, etc.)
Both parties acknowledge that this contract is entered into voluntarily and that the terms and conditions will be respected. If performance is accomplished, parents agree that the child shall not be denied privileges and other consequences.
Child agrees that if he/she fails to perform that it is him/her and not his/her parents who have chosen to forfeit the consequences, and he/she will not whine, complain or rebel.
______________________________ ______________________________ The Parents ______________________________ Date
______________________________ The Child
Step 5: Parenting through Change
You must be willing to make a commitment to do what it takes as the future of your child may be at stake if they are partaking in risk taking behaviour. You will be creating what we call a “disequilibrium” because it results in a redefinition of roles and a major shift of power that will impact those who are use to running the show and having their way. Some ways to create this are by developing a communication system, developing a support system, writing an expression of commitment and anticipating resistance.
Step 6: Parenting in Harmony
As a parent you do not have to compete for your child’s attention with distractions such as cell phones, video games, TV, or instant messaging. The best way to create an environment that encourages respectful communication and harmony is to complete an environmental cleanup. You can start by creating a list of your family’s top ten priorities next to the top ten things that waste time in your household. Take time to compare the two lists and decide whether or not the way your family is living and investing their time is congruent. If you find your top priorities and values are at the bottom of your time allocation list, you need to reestablish your time and energy commitments in such a way as to put what you know to be important back on centre stage.
Step 7: Parenting by Example
The same gender parent is the most powerful role model in a child’s life. Children learn vicariously by observing the behaviour of others and the consequences of their own actions. As a child they observe what happens to other family members when they experience success of failure and those become a reference for how they live. Therefore, the power of your thoughts, emotions, and behaviour will have a profound affect on directing your children to where you want them to go. In order to show your child how to be happy, well balanced, adjusted and fulfilled adults it is essential to do a personal inventory and recognize how are you engaging in life on a daily basis. Are you feeling stressed all of the time? Possess a negative attitude? Engaging in self-destructive behavioural patterns? Struggling with interpersonal relationships? If you answer yes to any of the above it is time to create a life where you feel capable, and happy living with fulfillment. If you are barely getting by on a day-to-day basis, your children will also feel the effects. You owe it to yourself and your children to make a commitment to creating an engaged family environment.
If you feel this speaks to you and you would like to explore these thoughts further please feel free to contact me, as I am here to help you to achieve your optimal life.