Parenting In The Gray

By Jessica Stebbins, M.S., Registered Marriage & Family Therapist Intern

           We live in a society that prefers black and white over seeing any gray. We want hard facts and quick answers. Unfortunately parenting is just not that way. There are few definitive answers in childrearing and those are more common sense things such as nutrition and sleep are important. At the same time, no one can say exactly the amount of sleep or what nutritious foods are best for your child and how to make sure that your child is getting enough of either of them. As any parent who has more than one child can attest to, even children in the same family can be polar opposites and require much different parenting strategies.

            Most parents want what is best for their children but the question (although remember there is not quick answer for this one) becomes how we figure out what is best for our particular child. Here are some tips to help you figure out what is best for you, your family, and your child.

1. I will admit that it can be very helpful to do a little research on your specific situation or problem. If you are clueless on what to do, then you may need multiple suggestions to get you started. You may like one of the suggestions or it may help spark some of your own ideas.

2. Beware of anyone that demands things be done a certain way. Parents often get caught up in what their parents, neighbors, friends, and child rearing “experts” say is the right way to handle a situation. Although it may have been the right way for them, doesn’t mean that it will be for you. Listening to people who are so fanatical about their own child rearing techniques may cause you to lose sight of your own intuition.

3. Beware of extreme suggestions. The pendulum tends to swing from one extreme to the other as we find that neither works as well as we had hoped. Instead of focusing on one of the extremes pay attention to more middle of the road ideas. They are typically more popular because they work instead of because of their shock factor.

4. Know your child. As we try new things with our kids, we learn how they respond and what works best for them. Parenting is a trial and error process but as we make mistakes or we succeed, we learn about ourselves and our children in the process.

5. Listen to your intuition. Take some time to think about the different suggestions you have received and pay attention to how each feels for you. Think about how you think your child will react if you put her in time out versus if you take away a toy. Go with your gut, and give it a fair try. If that doesn’t work, then you can always try something else.

6. Don’t be too hard on yourself. As long as you are doing things that you truly believe may benefit your child, are following these tips, and are not being abusive in any way to your child, don’t beat yourself up if something doesn’t work. Make mental notes of what went wrong and try to adjust accordingly.


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