By Kathleen Cuneo, Ph.D.
Most parents strive to raise children who are happy and successful. While definitions of “happy and successful” may vary, generally, children who feel good about themselves, who can effectively face life’s challenges, and who care for others and the world in which they live would meet that goal. But children rarely just turn out that way on their own. They require the loving guidance of caring adults. Those adults are most often their parents. Yet parents are often riddled with self-doubt and anxiety about their parenting.
As the saying goes, “Children don’t come with an instruction manual.” Parents are often left questioning their own decisions and the effect they may have on their children. Parents who have experienced difficult or complicated history of being parented themselves face even more complex challenges in defining their own parenting style. However, I would argue that it’s not such a bad thing that children don’t come with manuals. Each child is an individual, as is each parent. Our uniqueness provides an opportunity to find and define our own way with parenting.
Empowered parents are not overwhelmed with self-doubt and anxiety about their parenting. Empowered parents feel confident enough in their parenting abilities and in their relationship with their child to know that individual missteps and mistakes can be repaired and overcome; they keep the big picture in mind. Empowered parenting can be achieved by understanding certain concepts and applying learnable skills.
The three keys to empowered parenting involve a) knowing yourself, b) knowing your child, and c) communicating effectively.
Empowered parents know to look within themselves to be the best parents they can be. Knowing yourself involves having some self-awareness about your own emotional life as well as some understanding of your history and how you were parented. Your own internal experience of how you were parented greatly influences how you parent. Parents often model their own parenting practices on the way their parents did things. Some choose to intentionally parent differently from their own parents. Having an awareness of your experience gives you greater power in defining your own particular parenting style. Further, having an awareness of your own “buttons” will help you respond more mindfully when your children push them ~ and believe me, they will!
Knowing your child involves understanding some fundamentals of child development as well as your own child’s strengths, quirks, and weaknesses. Effective parenting strategies are based on realistic expectations of children’s developmental capabilities. Appreciating your own child’s individuality is also important. Empowered parents often effectively tune into their child’s experience of the world. When children feel understood, they feel good about themselves and are better able to connect with others.
Communicating effectively with your children involves tuning into your child’s emotional experience as well as accepting and owning your role as a guide and limit setter in your child’s life. Effective communication will help your child learn positive behaviors and form successful relationships. Learning to resolve conflicts at home will prepare your child for the challenges she will likely face out in the world.
These three keys may come naturally to some. If they don’t come naturally, don’t despair. Empowered parenting involves applying skills and ways of thinking that can be taught and practiced.
Kathleen Cuneo, Ph.D. is a psychologist, parent coach, and mom. Her mission is to empower parents to find their own parenting voice and develop strong connections with their children. Her parenting e-newsletter and free report, “30 Things You Can Do To Raise Self-Confident, Compassionate Children,” are available at www.drcuneo.com. Dr. Cuneo is also the director of Dinner Together, LLC which offers consultation to families seeking to have more frequent, successful family meals and deal with the challenges of picky eaters. Sign up for her free e-newsletter at www.dinnertogether.com.