Parenting is a great responsibility and blessing. There’s probably no other role you will play in your life that puts you on such an emotional rollercoaster as being a parent. My wife and I were just talking about the memory of coming home with our first-born child from the hospital and staring at each other with a look that said “What are we supposed to do now?”. With three children raised and out of the house, I can confidently substantiate the following claim from child development research: Children need love, guidance, and limits. Think of these three concepts as legs of a stool that your child will stand on to take their step into adulthood. Without all three legs, the stool will not function and their steps into adulthood will be hindered.
Love is providing consistent warmth, acceptance, and belonging to your child. It’s the bonding process between parent and child that begins with holding and providing eye to eye and skin to skin contact. As the child grows, you continue to be a safe haven and attachment figure they trust and rely upon. The love is to be unconditional and not based on performance, attributes, or whether the child is easy versus difficult. Every child should hear something like this from their parents; “No matter what, when or where, I will always love you.” And children can’t just hear it. They need to experience it through your treatment of them.
Along with love comes guidance. Guidance is teaching, modeling, and showing. It’s advising, shaping and mentoring. Children learn what to value by WATCHING YOU. Modeling is the number one way that parents transmit their values. What are you modeling? What are you teaching your child about what is most important in life? What are you teaching them about how to manage their emotions, relationships, time and money? “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work as a guidance principle! Instead its “Monkey see, monkey do.” When a parent provides consistent love and guidance, their children will keep coming back for more of both – even when they are adults.
The third leg is limits. This is discipline and structure. Children need boundaries. Without them, a child will become anxious and unmanageable. Too much freedom and too many choices will be overwhelming to young children. They will test the limits to see what they can really count on. When there is love, the limits are much more likely to be respected. Children need their parents to be “parental” and not merely a buddy or friend. Limit setting starts with redirecting: “You cannot pull the cat’s tail. Instead, pull this wagon.” Limits will evolve into rules and expectations that help the child know how to behave in society. Limits will involve routines (i.e, bedtimes, screen time, chores) and also consequences (i.e., time out, removal of privileges, etc.).
When your parenting includes these three legs of the stool, your child will develop into a likable and capable adult. They will appreciate you and respect you for consistently giving them love, guidance and limits. This doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. We all have our moments when we aren’t loving, we’re being bad examples, and we didn’t set limits well. It’s the overall pattern and practice that matters. Provide these three things, and you’ve done a good job. It’s that simple! LOL.