How to Make Parenting Shifts

Patricia is eager to be the best mom she can be, but she finds parenting a daunting task. Here’s how she put it: “Just when I think I have it down, something changes and I have to make major adjustments. Parenting well feels like a moving target.” Patricia is correct. Good parents are always learning and growing, but there’s one strategy to keep in mind as your children grow and change. When a child moves into a new developmental stage, you must make a parenting shift to meet the new developmental needs and abilities.

How to Make Parenting Shifts:

For instance, when that tiny infant comes home from the hospital, the baby quickly becomes the focus of attention. The newborn sets the schedule for feedings and sleeping. Often both parents have to adapt their lives around one small child. However, as your baby begins to grow and develop, you change too. You no longer jump for every cry. You begin to set limits on a mobile child and determine a meal schedule for a toddler. Infancy requires that the parent give up an agenda and respond quickly to a baby’s needs. As the child gets older, a parenting shift takes place, and the parent requires a child to wait more, fit into a schedule, and learn to consider the needs of others.

Some parents try to simplify their jobs by setting policies they think will last for years, apparently believing that one parenting approach fits all. One dad said about his one-month-old son, “I’m going to stop the teenage rebellion right here.” He proceeded to set some pretty strict rules about feeding and sleep times, forcing his new infant into a schedule, to establish his authority. That’s a sad misunderstanding of developmental needs and abilities.

Two Character Qualities that Matter:

As children grow to be toddlers or preschoolers, they need to develop two primary character qualities: responsiveness to authority and self-control. Elementary-age children need opportunities to solve problems for themselves and a lot of teaching regarding responsibility—what it is and how it works. Teens need a completely different approach, carefully balancing firmness with extra dialogue as they develop their own value systems and decide who they’re going to be as adults.

Considering your child’s developmental level and making appropriate parenting shifts can make all the difference between a child who accepts your guidance and one who resists your leadership. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because you allow your infant to eat on “demand,” she’ll be demanding when she grows up. On the contrary, infancy is a time to build trust and bonding, and that often comes with fast response to babies’ needs. Several stages of growth and maturity will take place between now and adolescence and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to make adjustments that affect patterns in their lives.

Another example of failure to make the necessary shift is when the preschooler is running the house. If parents still treat a three-year-old as if he’s a three-month-old, self-centeredness increases and hampers interpersonal relationships. It’s usually not too long before parents realize the need to adjust and impose more limits. When parents are slow to make the needed parenting shifts at any age, children develop more dramatic symptoms to awaken parents to the need for change.

Moving into Adolescence:

When children move into adolescence, you’ll want to adjust many of the ways you relate. Although you may have been able to “control” young children, the key word for teenagers is influence. Firmness is still important, but more so now than ever, you’re looking for ways to convince, persuade, and communicate the best way to live.

Change takes time, and your influence will produce the greatest results. Parenting is a complicated job with very few easy answers. The responsibility requires continual growth and flexibility to work with your child’s changing needs. Furthermore, having multiple children requires that parents work on several levels all at the same time. Rarely does it work to treat all children the same, because each one needs something different.