Sept/Oct 1999 Miscellany

Parenting by Example

by Paula Henderson Lewis

When my daughter was born, they said she had a small hearing loss that could escalate as she got older. From the time I brought her home from the hospital I began showing her the vowel sounds. I'd press my lips to hers and methodically say "a, e, i, o, u," dragging out each letter for about five seconds. I was thrilled when she mimicked me and did it back.

The first thing I made sure she saw from me when she awoke every morning was a big smile to let her know that I was thrilled to see her. I did this even if she awoke crying. When I spoke I made sure it was in a very quiet, pleasant voice.

I touched her often, hugging her and stroking her hand, back or hair. What I didn't do was make her hug, kiss or be held by me or anyone else if she resisted at all. This was the beginning of my teaching her that she didn't have to allow anything to happen to her physically that she didn't want.

When she began crawling I didn't give a "three strikes and out" rule. If she touched or did something inappropriate she was reprimanded the first time. This may seem strict, but I wanted to take advantage of these early years so my teachings would remain in her subconscious. She is now fifteen and I know from the past fifteen years that this strategy has worked well. She knows "instinctively" to respect my rules. If you were to ask her if I'm strict, though, she would say no, but rather that I allow her to think and make decisions on her own. This is the other side of effective discipline.

I have through the years repeated to her, "Think before you do anything and pay attention to your conscience." I believe now that by being so strict up until she was five years old helped create this "conscience" that gives her a certain amount of fear and hesitation before doing something she knows is wrong. Once the conscience was there, I reinforced it by giving it a name and referring to it continually.

Through the years I stay aware of situations that might be going on in her life. If she does something she shouldn't do, I ask her if she had a bad feeling prior to doing it. This keeps her thinking and tuned into herself.

One thing I have never done is tell her no without explaining why. Parenting should not be a dictatorship. I don't want to teach her that she should be submissive. Having an interactive conversation with your child about why they cannot do something or why they should do something does not have to be an argument. If you have prepared your children in the early years of their life to speak and interact with you in a respectful way, most of your disagreements will be conversations and not arguments.

Many problems parents face when their children reach adolescence can be prevented through good modeling when the child is in his or her formative years. One thing I taught my daughter was the importance of each of us knowing where the other is. When she was one to two years old I would tell her if I was going to move into another room (because I would be out of her sight) and that I would be doing "this" or "that" and how long I would be gone.

If I would take the trash out to the garage I would tell her that I was taking the trash out to the garage and be right back. This was an early way of teaching by example. I knew that when she reached the age of spending more time with her friends than with me, I would need to know where she was.

When she was old enough to be home after school alone for the hour and a half until I got off work, I would have days where I was going to run to the store before going home. I would not simply tell her that I was going to the store and that I would be late. I gave her a specific time I would be home and made sure I stuck to it.

I was getting ready for those years that she would have friends who drove and it was up to her to get herself home by the appointed time. This has all worked very well. She tells me where she will be and what time she will be home. If my plans ever change and I end up going to a different location than I originally told her, I call and let her know, even if I have to use a telephone booth. She does the same. This was something I did not have to announce as a rule. She simply learned this behavior by years of seeing and hearing me treat her and others the same way.

It has been said that we can teach our children best by example. Most parents take that as what they "don't do" rather than what they do. I urge you to use the latter strategy. Yes, it takes time, and it feels at times like you're back in the years of answering to your parents, only this time you're answering to your children. If you want them to answer to you, though, it'll help if you teach them by example.


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