By Blake L. Jones, MSW, LCSW, Ph.D.
Access Wellness Group
There he was. My 3-year old son. Sobbing. Terrified of his daddy. Shaking.
Without my knowing it, he had climbed to the second floor of our house and gone over to one of the bedroom windows. The window was up, and he had pushed the screen out. He was peering down from the window when I walked in.
“What are you DOING!?!,” I bellowed, rushing toward him. Enraged and scared, I yelled “Don’t you know that you could DIE!?! Is that what you want? IS IT!?!”
Not my finest parenting moment. Of course, I should have calmly taken him by the hand and said, “Lucas, please don’t ever do that again. You scared Daddy to death. Now, come downstairs.” After my emotion had subsided, I realized “this parenting thing ain’t easy.”
As I approach my 13th year of being a parent, I’ve been reflecting on some of the lessons learned; lessons which have been forged from many failures and attempts to discipline and love my sons the best way I could.
Here is what I have learned from my own experiences, the loving patience of my wife, and the many parents whom I have encountered in practice as a clinical social worker:
1. Parent for the future
Our main job as parents is to raise responsible and caring adults. Each time we help them face fear, calm their anger, work things out with a sibling, be of service to someone else, or even just show them that we are human, we plant the seeds that will serve them well. If you can, try to envision your child as an adult using the tools you are teaching them as a child. Hope that they will remember your words, your actions, your loving discipline. I love the quote by Ralph Whitehead: ”Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.”
2. Live in the moment
Children—including my own—are overscheduled. We chauffer them to baseball games, ballet, music lessons, and a host of other valuable things. My sons have taught me, however, that what they really want is my time and attention. Some of my best memories are catching fireflies, playing music with them, or just being silly (we have an end of the week “dance off” at our house; my “running man dance” needs work, but it’s still a lot of fun). Learn to slow the pace down a bit and give thanks for the ever-changing dynamic of you and your child.
3. Teach your children that the world does not revolve around them
This may seem paradoxical to my second point. Yes, children should know that you love them, and that they are unique and special to you, but they should also realize that not everybody in the world feels the same way about them. A healthy dose of humility can temper too much self-esteem, in my opinion. I grew up in a family of eight, so I learned this lesson very quickly. My parents—and, primarily my mother—taught us from a very young age that our lives should be spent in the service of others. This is where true happiness is found. Children of all ages should be given the opportunity to serve a meal at a domestic violence shelter, help a sick neighbor with yard work, or make sandwiches for the homeless. I am a professor at UK, and I can always tell the students whose parents engaged them in this type of activity. They’re the ones who DON’T think I owe them an “A” just because they are special…
4. Say What you mean and mean what you say
This is something my wife has reinforced with me, and I am very grateful. Children and teens need clear rules and expectations (and consequences if they do not abide by them). I have worked with a number of teens and their parents over the years. When I ask how family rules are communicated, I often get “I’m not sure, Dr. Jones, my kids just know that they’re not supposed to do that” or “I don’t know, Dad just lets things build up and then he goes off on me.” I encourage parents to communicate with their children directly in terms of house rules, and then to enforce them with very little emotion (this is the hard part…). Most kids like structure and rules, even if they say they don’t. Of course, rules need to be age appropriate and I’m not against flexibility. Just remember Tip#1: Parent for the future. The goal of any discipline should be to plant the seeds for a better adult life.
Dr. Blake Jones is a licensed clinical social worker at Access Wellness Group, a Lexington-based group providing counseling and addiction treatment services to individuals, families and Employee Assistance Program client companies. Dr. Jones specializes in couples counseling, men’s issues and work-related problems. He is a graduate of Berea College and the University of Kentucky. Dr. Jones, who lives in Woodford County with his wife of 17 years and their two sons, is also a singer-songwriter.