1. Take care of problems early.
Do not just “hope” things go away. And, sitting around complaining never solved anything. When you see a problem, work to fix it. And keep working. Inconsistent parenting is just as bad as negligent parenting. This does not mean the solution is always punishment and more punishment. Get to the root of the problem. Poor grades may require tutoring, or finding a way to engage the child so they learn. Sudden disrespect can mean, ‘I’m growing and need so much more sleep I cannot currently function.’ Pay attention and help your child appropriately and early.
2. Don’t make stupid rules.
Children become frustrated and rebel when life seems unfair. One of the things I have never understood is limits on TV and video games. Why? Because free time is free time. It is time to do what you want. Arbitrary limits on things they enjoy just confuse them. (They should confuse you too. Do you place the same limits on yourself?) If the chores are done well, their homework is complete and they have nothing else to do why are you micromanaging them? If you want them to go play outside, say, “Go play outside.” If you want them to exercise more, set aside a time for it, or enroll them in a sport. If you want them to read, reward it. But to subtly tell them they can do whatever they want, and then limit what they can want seems foolish. It also teaches them to place arbitrary limits on their own lives, which is a hindrance to success. (Go through your own inner monologue and see how many ‘rules’ you have for yourself that make no sense. Get rid of them and see if your life improves!)
3. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Keep life in perspective. If your child is getting straight A’s, is kind to others, and generally does what is expected of them, then an unmade bed is not the end of the world. (Unless he is planning on enlisting in the military.) Do not continually harp on some little aspect and let that be all he hears when overall he is a good kid. This is not to say that you never address it, it is just not the most important thing in life. Talk to him about it and try a new approach. When I talk to my boys about their messes, now that they are older, I typically focus on how their future wife will view things. It works for them. Find what works for you. (Hint: Nagging, repeating the same thing over, and over and over, never works.)
4. Make time to talk.
You cannot build a relationship with your children without mutual respect. True they may obey out of fear of punishment, but fear only lasts so long. Children who respect their parents behave better than those who don’t, and the key to earning respect is time. (It is also by behaving yourself, but I am assuming that, if you are reading an article on how to be a better parent, you already understand that.) You need to spend time with your child, and watching him play sports is not it. This is time where you can talk. You talk about what’s important to you, and he talks about what is going on in his life. Don’t think you know it all. Chances are the things your children are focused on and worried about will surprise you. Prioritize. Missing one season of sports, or other activity will not affect their lives and relationships as much as never getting to know their parents. And make it fun. Sitting down with them in such a way that they feel like they’re being grilled will not garner the same results.
5. Take your kids places.
Too many parents leave the children home when they go grocery shopping, or out for coffee. Why? Because their children do not behave. Do you realize that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy? If you do not take the children, and teach them to behave, they will never learn to behave, so you will never be able to take them. Instead teach them young, if possible. (I adopted a few of mine older, so we went on ‘practice’ shopping trips to catch up.) By the time they were older I could take seven kids anywhere. To the opera, museums, grocery stores- you name it- without trouble. It was hard work in the beginning, but it paid off in the end. So, when I needed a cup of coffee, and felt like sitting for a few minutes, that’s what we did. In the beginning, when my adopted children still did not know how to behave at this level, we took breaks and had a date-night, because it was needed. But the date-night did not make up for the tension in the house. We worked on the things that caused tension, and the date-night became something we do for fun, rather than a needed time to get away. You can see how life would be more enjoyable this way…
6. Do things that make sense.
Do not have rules, or ways of doing things that are based solely on what others do. Do things in a way that makes sense for your family. Let me give you an example. My daughter is home schooled, and has a youth group full of good kids that she loves attending. I do not work outside the home and my other children are old enough to stay home alone. When I show up in the parking lot I wait in the car, usually with a book, until she is done. Her friends have pointed out that it is rude of her to leave her mother waiting like that. (I told you they were good kids.) She talked to me about it (notice that we have established a pattern where she communicates, and does not just do what seems right). What I told her is that her friends would be rude if they left their mothers waiting. Some have small children who get cranky in the car, while others have to go to work in the morning. Our family is different, and my priority right now is to give her as much time as she would like with her friends, while not leaving her as the last one to be picked up, wondering when mom is going to get there. So I sit and read, and it is okay. If I go grocery shopping and there is ice cream in the car, I go in and tell her we have to go, and she goes. The situation changed, and she respects that. Rules should not be black and white. They should make sense. She also does not become upset because I decided to do something productive that would limit her enjoyment. Why? Because she knows I balance my priorities (because we talk, and I often explain why I do what I do), and she knows that most of the time this results in better things for her.
7. Teach purposefully.
The ancient rabbis had their students follow them around as they went about their daily lives. The rabbis would then explain why they did things the way they did. This is important. Your children should know why you make the choices you make, or they may misunderstand your motives. When your children begin to understand that you actually think about them when making decisions, they learn to accept that sometimes they cannot have what they want, but it is not because you did not think about their wishes as well. They also learn how to make proper decisions, using the values and principles you find important.
8. Grow up.
The saddest thing I see is when a child is more mature than their parents. Many times it is because the child has had to assume adult responsibilities, or has had to become an emotional support system for the parent because the parent does not behave. This should never happen, and, even though it seems like the child is doing well, the emotional baggage they carry into adulthood is just not worth it. Get your own life under control before trying to ‘fix’ your kids. (Some of their problems could be because they are copying, or reacting to, you!) Think about why you do what you do, get your emotions in check, start to avoid people who are not good to you and actually obey all of those rules you teach your kids. Immature parents cannot raise well-adjusted children. And they make it difficult for the child to have a relationship with them later in life.
Now these tips will make parenting easier in the long run, but if you have issues you need to address the hard work starts now. You must put in the time to reap the rewards. The irony is that if you avoid putting in the time, you will have less time since you will have more messes to clean up, and the stress and anxiety are just not worth it. Will your family be perfect? No, but children can be manageable and enjoyable most of the time. Think of it this way: There is a Chinese restaurant that called us ‘The Happy Family.’ Why? Because I did not have to yell at my children to sit down, stopping touching your brother, eat your food etc every five minutes. Wouldn’t you like this to be you?