Instinct: the inherent inclination of a living organism towards a particular complex behavior.
Strategy: a plan of action designed to achieve a major or overall aim.
I believe there are times in parenting when we must use our instinct. I’ve known my children were sick or hurt in some way long before others noticed. It’s a mother’s sixth sense. Other times my instincts have told me that a total change in routine would benefit one child or another, and I was right!
That said, I also believe there are times in parenting when we must develop a plan, and then carry it out even if it starts to conflict with our momentary instincts. Why?
Because instincts are not always to be trusted.
Following your gut instinct is not always a wise idea. Many times it is, but definitely not always. If many of our natural instincts must be tempered with self-control and wisdom, parenting will be no different. Our instincts may tell us to hate, hold grudges, be promiscuous, lie to protect ourselves, sleep all day, play video games all night, and eat only brownies (or in my case only cheese).
Most would agree these impulses should be tempered with good judgment. If we must temper our own instincts with good judgment, why shouldn’t we do the same with parenting?
Here are some personal examples when my instincts tell me to do one thing, but my long-term values tell me to do another.
- When a child is whining for something I’ve told him he can’t have, but I want to give it to him just to make the whining stop.
- When it’d be easy to bribe the kids for good behavior on a regular basis because the results are instant and, for the moment, positive.
- When I’d rather put them in front of the TV to get them to calm down instead of training them not to run and scream through the house.
- When I’ve promised a consequence, but I don’t want to carry it out because I know they’ll be unhappy.
Those are just a few, but often my instincts tell me to please my child at all costs to keep the harmony. But is that a good idea in the long run?
I think instincts must be tempered with a basic parenting strategy.
How will they be disciplined if they scratch their brother, sister or the neighbor’s prized show dog? The time to decide how to handle a situation is not right after they have emptied your purse in the deodorant aisle at Target or ran screaming away from you down the aisle. Knowing how and when you’ll train your child is more methodical than a knee-jerk reaction to their bad behavior or ignorance.
Without a strategy to fall back on we will often punish or discipline in anger and live to regret it. Your child loses your car keys and you respond,”That’s it, no TV for a week!” Well, upon cooling down you realize perhaps that’s a bit harsh. Now you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.
You either (a) go back on your word which – if done regularly – teaches them that you don’t really mean what you say, or (b) carry out a harsh punishment that does not fit the crime. You feel guilty that you reacted in haste and they are confused at the severity of the punishment.
Without a strategy it will happen to the best of us.
There are a few areas of parenting that need purposeful strategies (or regular consistent responses, if that phrase feels better than the word strategy) if you hope to get good results. Parenting is much like investing. You input, input, input, only it’s your children that reap the rewards. We do our children a disservice if we raise them thinking they will always be “happy.” By the time they reach young adulthood they’ll realize you were clearly big.fat.wrong. Then they will have a hard time accepting the truth that everyone else isn’t to blame for their unhappiness.
Here are some areas you will encounter that will benefit from a parenting strategy (or a set of regular consistent, responses):
1) Discipline and training after disobedience
2) Tidying and chores
3) Temper tantrums, screaming, hitting, etc.
5) Financial responsibility
6) Dinner table manners, eating, refusal to eat, etc.
Flying by the seat of your pants as a general rule will give you haphazard results at best. Both you and your children will feel insecure because of it. You will feel insecure because you don’t know what you’re doing or why and your children will feel insecure because they won’t know what to expect. Knowing what to expect is one of the most basic and substantial ways children feel secure.
You can use your values and beliefs to develop some parenting strategies and responses in your home. This helps you feel in control since you have a plan, helps your children rise up and meet your expectations (since they now know what to expect), and prevents you from feeling like you’re always flying by the seat of your pants.
Knowing what you will do and how you will approach training and discipline will help you to keep calm in the moment, prevent too harsh or too lax punishment, and will help ensure that you consistently and appropriately prepare your children for adulthood – the whole point of parenting.