Our children are unique and unrepeatable -- the best parenting advice recognizes that.
When you leave the hospital after welcoming into your life a newborn child, you are normally given a tote full of baby supplies to get you started. It includes diapers, wipes, a blanket and maybe a few other miscellaneous items.
The one item you do not receive is an instruction manual.
After five children my wife and I have realized how different parenting is when compared to what our expectations were when we had our first child. When you welcome your first child you have no idea how hard it is going to be. You think that parenting will come naturally and all the advice you receive from friends and relatives will be exactly what you need.
Then after a few weeks you realize that none of the advice is working. You immediately think, “Well I must be a bad parent or doing something wrong. Our child is supposed to do this, but she does the exact opposite!”
Welcome to Parenting 101!
I have come to realize that the reason why the hospital doesn’t give you a manual for each child is because each child is unique. What works for some people won’t work for others. Facebook doesn’t help as it is easy to compare your child to a friend’s child who is being potty-trained at 3 months old (well, maybe that is an exaggeration, but you get the point). Basically, you think your child is abnormal (in a negative way) and that you are a bad parent.
What finally clicked for my wife and me and convinced us that we weren’t bad parents (just approaching parenting in the wrong way) was reading 5 different books that reiterated a basic and fundamental truth of parenting: your children are unique and unrepeatable and will require a parenting approach that is unique for each child.
Art and Laraine Bennett provide parents with an excellent overview of the four major temperaments that we are all born with, and then go in-depth into each of them and how each affects parenting. Each temperament has attributes that can be used appropriately or abused and it’s up to the parent to understand how to lead the child to virtue. Depending on the temperament of the parent, this can sometimes be very difficult. It forces parents to realize that their child doesn’t think the same way and may face different struggles than what they had as children.
Besides being born with a temperament, we are all born with a specific “love language.” Gary D. Chapman and Ross Campbell give parents a convincing case for the existence of the five love languages, and present concrete examples of how you can love your child effectively. The concept revolves around keeping your child’s “love tank” full, which will then promote good behavior and allow your discipline to actually work. When a child knows that you love them, they are more receptive to correction and are not afraid of you. They are less likely to rebel when loved properly and grow up to be confident adults. We have noticed, especially with our older children, how they need to be loved in a unique way. This book by far was a “game changer” and completely transformed how we love and discipline our children.
While it may not seem like an important part of parenting, sleep is essential from infancy to adolescence (and beyond). Sleep not only improves a child’s behavior, it can keep a parent from going insane! Children need sleep, but more importantly they need to have a sleep schedule that is constant. Marc Weissbluth argues that much of the misbehavior or “crankiness” that is seen throughout childhood and adolescence can be traced to a lack of sleep. This principle can even apply to adults. How often do we stay up late and then wake up the next day in a bad mood? All because of sleep!
Do you have a child who doesn’t seem to fit any mold? She doesn’t have ADHD or Autism, but is easily frustrated and has a severe difficulty when something doesn’t go her way. You try punishment, but that only makes things worse. All of your other children respond to discipline, but she goes wild and out of control when sent to her room. Does she need medication to calm her down? We were at our breaking point with our oldest child and didn’t know what to do. Then we discovered this book and it changed everything. We realized that we were not parenting her in the right way and that she had struggles we didn’t understand. Old-fashioned discipline never works with this type of child and she will push farther away if you try to “amp-up” the consequences. If you have a “terrible” child who doesn’t seem to fit anywhere, try this book.
In what may be a controversial notion for our times, the reality is that boys and girls are born different. Biology matters, and this book (written from a secular point of view) goes through numerous scientific studies that reiterate that yes, gender does matter. Here is an example: “Girls are born with more sensitive hearing than boys, and those differences increase as kids grow up. So when a grown man speaks to a girl in what he thinks is a normal voice, she may hear it as yelling. Conversely, boys who appear to be inattentive in class may just be sitting too far away to hear the teacher—especially if the teacher is female.” Additionally, a 4-year-old boy who only scribbles on his paper when instructed to draw a picture is not disobeying instructions. Boys love “action” and are simply drawing “action.” Basically, boys and girls are different and require different parenting techniques. It may seem like common sense, but the world would beg to differ. (As a note, there is a chapter on “sexuality” in this book that, because it is written from a secular point of view, does not correspond with Catholic teaching; otherwise the book is extremely helpful.)
In the end, we discovered that children are unique and unrepeatable and parents need to adjust to each child, bringing them along in a way that corresponds to how God created them.