The 4 Questions

There is no perfect way to parent. There is no perfect parenting book or advice that will solve all of our parenting dilemmas. Through my years of teaching parenting classes, I have heard pleas from tired new parents who want the magic trick to get their babies to sleep through the night. If only parenting were that easy. If only someone really could just give us an easy formula to follow that would consistently work every single time we needed it.  But every parent who has had multiple children knows that each child comes to this world with a distinct personality and a parenting technique that worked great for child #1 may or may not work for child #2. Every parent also comes with his/her own values and history that plays a large role in how he/she will choose to parent.

Each child is unique, and it sure didn't take us long to know that this little cutie had a lot of personality.

Each child is unique, and it sure didn’t take us long to know that this little cutie had a lot of personality.

Though I have never heard any perfect advice, I certainly have heard or read tips or words of encouragement at the exact moment when I needed to hear them. We all need more tools in our parenting tool belt sometimes, so it is always refreshing when we hear a new idea to try as a parent that seems to be a good fit for our children and family.

A couple of years ago, I was attending a great Parenting Education training in Eugene at “Parenting Now”, and I learned a simple parenting concept that has made a big difference in my own family and how I think about discipline. I think that every parent struggles with discipline and how to best teach our children when it seems like whatever we try isn’t working. This simple concept may not seem profound, but it has popped into my mind many times when I was feeling totally frustrated and helped save the day.

Think of the last time your child behaved in a way that was really difficult for you to handle and how you struggled to know how to deal with the behavior. This can be anything as simple as a struggle to get a child to brush her teeth to a child pushing his peers as a means to get what he wants. The scenarios are endless. As you go through the situation consider the following about your child:

1)Developmental Age-Is it developmentally normal for a 10 month old to throw food off of his high chair while eating? Yes (though still frustrating at times). Is it developmentally typical for a 7 year old to throw food when they don’t like what’s for dinner? No. Keeping in mind where your child is developmentally can be so helpful and reassuring that though what our child is doing is difficult, it is often normal for her age.

2)Temperamental Tendencies-Each child truly is so unique, so when we try to really understand our child’s unique personality and where he/she is coming from, it can help to know that children often times aren’t doing things to deliberately make our lives difficult, even though it feels that way at times. It can be really challenging at times to parent a child with a very different temperament than your own, and it can also be really difficult at times to parent a child with a similar temperament (I have both). So yes, parenting can just be challenging at times, no matter what your child’s temperament :).

3)Parent’s Values-Because every parent’s values and style of parenting can be so different, what may be a problem for one parent wouldn’t even phase another. For example, I am pretty relaxed about my children getting dirty,even at the cost of ruining play clothes at times, while some parents have a much harder time with this.

When you have considered the previous background questions, take your time to walk yourself through the following 4 questions:

  • What do I want my child to learn?
  • Is what I’m doing teaching that?
  • Are there any negative results from it?
  • If so, what can I do differently?

These questions are simple, but they truly have changed the way I view discipline. I now view discipline much more as an opportunity to teach my children something that they need to know rather than a means of punishment. When I scolded my children for the 10th time for being too loud in the library, it suddenly struck me that I had never taken the time to teach them the expectations for how we do behave in the library. How would they know if I never really took the time to explain to them the differences between how loud and rambunctious we can be in different settings? When my youngest child hit other children as a toddler, it was important for me to not only tell her to stop the behavior but to also explain how the other child felt and to even model comforting the other child to help them feel better. I might even have to let them know that play isn’t fun when kids are getting hurt and not feeling safe, so we would need to leave if this continued. Would this incident be the last time that my toddler ever hit? No. Hitting can be a normal behavior for toddlers, but I could feel good that I was on my way to teaching my child what she needs to know to be successful in interacting with others.

Our children are looking to us to teach them how to navigate this world, and I am grateful that I am here for them. Am I always perfect at remembering to ask myself the 4 questions? No, sometimes it is too late when I remember. I have already lost my patience or handled a situation in a way I am not proud of. But each day is a gift to try to do a little better. After all, we aren’t trying to teach our children to be perfect but instead, that we can ask for help and still be kind human beings even when we make mistakes sometimes.