Mother and son sat listening to the lecturer at the museum. Well, the mother sat. Her 8-year-old fidgeted, squirmed and whispered incessantly.
Every 10 seconds, mom would grit her teeth and order son to sit still. Completely ignoring her, he contorted his body into every conceivable position while repeatedly dropping his action figure and complaining about his need to leave. As close as you can get to a yell within a whisper, mom threatened his freedom, his bottom and his very existence. Finally, the lecture ended with his gleeful cry, “Now do I get ice cream?” Mom resignedly led him to the vendor.
What style parent are you? Businessmen agree — process creates outcome. You want a quality outcome; you need a quality process. If we desire our children to mature into well-adjusted, caring, productive adults, our parenting process better be oriented toward achieving that goal. Do you have a style that will lead to the outcome you desire?
• Curious George parenting. Much like the man in the yellow hat, Curious George parents allow their children to indulge every whim as they sit back, smile benignly, and believe that, given enough affirmation and time, their cute, innocent child will magically find her way to maturity. The mayhem that follows may be funny in a cartoon, but such is the parenting of spoiled brats and sociopaths. Children are cute and innocent. They are also egocentric and completely self-absorbed — not traits overcome by parental indulgence or a hope that children will simply grow out of it. Spend time at the zoo observing monkeys. Only if you want to produce adults who swing from trees and throw food at passersby should this be your parenting process.
• Old Yeller parenting. Closely related to Curious George parenting, Old Yeller parents tend to focus on their own work, newspaper, or texting while allowing children to run amok. The difference arises when child’s antics interfere with parents’ concentration at which point yelling commences. Such parents believe volume alone will curb their child’s most difficult tendencies. While children of Curious George parents will still communicate with their parent enjoying the indulgent tones, Old Yeller children become incredibly adept at tuning out all communication — no matter the volume. Upon learning that no real consequences will accompany parental tirades, they simply tune out the world and continue with their whims.
• Tortoise parenting. Much like the tortoise that raced the hare, tortoise parents realize that parenting can’t be accomplished in fits and starts or on breaks from the more important foci of life. Instead, slow and steady wins the race. Tortoise parents focus on the traits they intend their children to display as adults find ways to normalize that behavior in every moment of today.
If manners are an end-goal, manners are taught and expected every day. Should children fail to display manners, parent doesn’t wait for child to “discover his inner politeness” or scream at the top of his lungs about child’s failure to say thank you to the waitress. Instead, they calmly and firmly remind child to tell the waitress thanks. Should child fail to comply or need constant reminders, child suffers a stiff consequence appropriate to the situation. Every time. No exceptions. Without fireworks or raging tantrums, tortoise parents use each day as an opportunity to make commonplace those traits they want common in their children.
Like all families, tortoise parents have bad days. Days where they yell. Days where they let a behavior slide they later realize they should have addressed. The difference is that these are deviations from the norm rather than the norm. The norm consists of consistent expectations backed by consistent affirmation of compliance and consistent consequences for disobedience. Much like the tortoise, parents must keep steadily going without break. Yet, as they go they see results. Because expectations remain consistent, children know the behavior required — and the cost of failure — and generally comply. Children thank the waitress. Children listen when parents speak. Children sit still at museum lectures.
No parent wants an out-of-control child. Process creates outcome. As you look toward those traits you value most, find ways to consistently require and affirm that behavior today. Much like the tortoise, you will eventually enjoy the benefits of a race well run.
Tess Worrell is the mother of eight and teaches parenting and marriage. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.