June 12, 2007

Is It Ever Too Late to Become an Effective Parent?

An Extremely Common Question

Today’s topic is a question that comes to us almost daily, so I will offer an article on the subject. Here is one version of the common question that I received just yesterday:
“Many parents with preteens and teens are just now getting this information on how to parent effectively. For those of us having significant problems with an older child, is it too late to start with some new parenting skills?”

An Answer to a Great Question!

This is a real dilemma for many parents who go through the Parenting with Dignity Curriculum at a time when their children are a little older. Many parents who were raised by very controlling or ineffective parents, have only their parents as a model for raising their own children. So... they have futilely tried to control their child’s every action or immitate their parents ineffewctive strategies. Then, after experiencing some difficulties, they attend the first class and hear the common sense advice given to us by Dr. Cobb as he was delivering our first son. Dr. Cobb’s advice was to view the life of a child as a mortgage being paid off a day at a time. He advised us to look at our son at age nine as a half owner of his own life who must then be making half of his own big decisions!
That analogy makes real sense to these newly aware parents and throws them into a dilemma in raising their own child. They now have a child who is 8, 11, 13, or even as old as 17 or 18, and they suddenly realize that they have really not taught this child how to make decisions, especially not big ones. At this point they come to us wondering how, at this late date, they should go about the process of giving the child skills for making decisions for themselves.

It Is Never Too Late!

I always love receiving these insightful questions because it tells me that the parents are really internalizing and attempting to use the advice we are offering.

The Past Cannot Be Changed!

For me the answer to this question is usually pretty simple… “You can never change the past! Try as you might, you can never go back and undo any past actions! The only logical answer is to “draw a line in the dirt” that indicates an end to your prior parenting practices which may have been only to crisis manage rather than to teach! Start today and apply the parenting tools you have learned from this class with your child from this moment forward.”
“If you have made mistakes with your children in the past and you feel that you need to apologize, then do it! But… once you have apologized, stop looking backwards! Focus only on the teaching you will do today and on into the future!”
Then I try to empower these newly enlightened parents to start making some intelligent decisions for themselves! “You know your children better than anyone. You love them like nobody else could. Only you can answer the question of the best strategy at this point. Ask yourself if your child is mature enough to begin to learn right along with you as you begin your new and more effective methods of Parenting with Dignity!

Start Gradually!

Certainly it does not make sense to suddenly dump a whole bunch of decisions upon a child who has never been taught how to make good decisions! You would never put someone who had never seen a car behind the wheel and send them out onto the freeway for their first experience behind the wheel. To effectively handle a car they will certainly need instruction and practice. However, if the child is older, it may not take as much time to teach them because they may have other similar experiences to draw upon in the process of learning to drive. The same is true for teaching children to make good, sound decisions!”

Start Today!

The key is to start TODAY! Start teaching now! Every day that you put it off makes the job more difficult. Start teaching your children to make great decisions immediately. Start with smaller decisions: What time shall I be home? How can I get my chores done in time to get to the game? How can I save for my new cell phone? Then work toward bigger and bigger ones: What will I do about becoming sexually active? How do I avoid using drugs? Because of your late start, you may need to accelerate the teaching process. But the fact that the process was started at a later date might make it possible to proceed at a faster pace.
Certainly, it much easier to teach the process of good decision making if parents start when their children are born and teach the skills as a gradual process, but that should never mean that parents who did not start early should feel guilty or discouraged. All that is necessary is to start immediately and teach, teach, teach!

The only time you fail with a child is the last time that you try! Keep trying!

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