Question: How do we teach our children to parent?
- We model parenting 24/7 by our behaviors and beliefs. “Their eyes are upon us.” Our children begin their learning journey into parenting before birth. They continue their lessons before they have memory, before they have verbal capacity, before they have the cognitive ability to ask “Why?” As they develop our children begin to understand the need to please parents to receive rewards, to refrain from behaviors that will displease and bring censure. Parenting is on stage from before birth to parental death–and beyond.
- We give the responsibility of parenting to our children. When we encourage a child to behave in a parental role, we have to determine if they are developmentally ready for such responsibility. A five-year-old should not be placed in the parenting role of self-care, sibling care without the supervision of a parent. A twelve-year-old may or may not be ready to babysit, or “taking over the family.”
- We make a distinction between responsibility for self vs. others. We want our children to learn how to be responsible for self, and at times to have the ability to use their newly found responsible skills with siblings or peers.
One of the surest ways to determine if a child has been placed in the parenting role at too early of an age is to witness a child determined to make their own rules, as they believe that their parent has abdicated or is incapable of making appropriate rules for them.
A child who refuses to follow parental requests or rules, citing their own ability to care for themselves based upon previous history of caring for self, needs to be listened to and respected. Almost always there is a sense that the parent is unable or unwilling to provide emotional and/or physical safety for the child.
The need to grow into the understanding and implementation of self-responsibility is the daily accumulation of learning the lessons of self-parenting. Very few children can slip into the role of an adult/parent without suffering the consequences of loss of childhood, loss of safety, and loss of regard for the parent.
Be gentle with yourself and your children.