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The first thing you need to know is that there are no perfect parents. Parenting isn’t all-or-nothing. Successes and mistakes are part of being a parent. Start to think about the type of parent you want to be. RPM3 offers research-based guidelines for being:
Please stay tuned for the next installment.....
An effective parent
Your words and actions influence your child the way you want them to.
An effective parent
You follow similar principles or practices in your words and actions.
An active parent
You participate in your child’s life.
An attentive parent
You pay attention to your child’s life and observe what goes on.
By including responding, preventing, monitoring, mentoring, and modeling in your day-to-day parenting activities, you can become a more effective, consistent, active, and attentive parent.
Once you have learned about each RPM3 guideline, go to the section that describes your child’s age to see how some parents use these guidelines in their everyday parenting. Think about steps you can take to use these guidelines and ideas in your own day-to-day parenting.
Being a more effective, consistent, active, and attentive parent is a choice that only you can make.
Keep in Mind...
As you learn about the RPM3 guidelines and read the examples, remember that responding, preventing, monitoring, mentoring, and modeling have their place in parenting every child—including those children with special or different needs.
All children—be they mentally challenged, mentally gifted, physically challenged, physically gifted, or some combination of these—can benefit from the guidelines in RPM3. The children described in the booklet’s examples might be in wheelchairs; they could have leukemia or asthma; they may take college level courses; or they might be in special classes for kids with attention deficit disorder.
The stories don’t specifically mention these traits because all kids need day-to-day parenting, including those in special situations. The guidelines presented in RPM3 focus on how to handle day-to-day parenting choices, in which a child’s abilities or disabilities are not the most important factors. The booklet’s examples also apply to families of any culture, religion, living arrangement, economic status, and size. They address situations that all families experience, even if the specific family details are slightly different.
Let’s begin by learning the lessons that RPM3 has to teach.
This guideline may seem obvious, but responding is more than just giving your child attention. The words are actually saying two different things: 1) make sure you’re responding to your child, not reacting; and 2) make sure your response is appropriate, not overblown or out-of-proportion, too casual or minimal, or too late.
Are you reacting or responding to your child?
Many parents react to their children. That is, they answer with the first word, feeling, or action that comes to mind. It’s a normal thing to do, especially with all the other things people do every day.
When you react, you aren't making a decision about what outcome you want from an event or action. Even more than that, if you react, you can't choose the best way to reach the outcome you want.
Did you know...?
Parents do matter!
Of all the things that influence your child's growth and development, one of the most important is the reliable, responsive, and sensitive care your child gets from you. You play a key role in your child's development, along with your child's intelligence, temperament, outside stresses, and social environment.
Responding to your child means that you take a moment to think about what is really going on before you speak, feel, or act. Responding is much harder than reacting because it takes more time and effort. The time that you take between looking at the event and acting, speaking, or feeling is vital to your relationship with your child. That time, whether it be a few seconds, five minutes, or a day or two, allows you to see things more clearly, in terms of what is happening right now and what you want to happen in the long-run.
What is an appropriate response?
An appropriate response is one that fits the situation. Both your child’s age and the specific facts of the occasion are important in deciding what a fitting response is. For example, a fitting response for a baby who is crying differs from a fitting response for a four-year-old or a 10-year-old who is crying. A fitting response for an instance in which a child is running depends on whether that child is running into a busy street or running to the swing set on the playground. Your child’s physical or emotional needs may also shape your decision about a fitting response.
Did you know...?
Parents have a profound influence on children from the beginning of their children's lives.
As a parent, you can have close contact with your child from the time he or she is small. That type of contact builds trust; with trust comes commitment. Parents who are committed to their child's well-being can have a very positive effect on their child.
Responding to your child in an appropriate manner allows you to:
Think about all the options before you make a decision.
This will help you choose the best way to get from the current situation to the outcome that you want. By taking time to see a problem from many sides, for instance, you are more likely to choose the most fitting response. For situations that happen often, your well-thought-out response can become almost automatic, like picking up a crying baby.
Answer some basic questions:
Do your words get across what you are trying to say? Do your actions match your words? Are your emotions getting in the way of your decision-making? Do you know the reasons for your child's actions or behavior?
Consider previous, similar events and recall how you handled them.
You can remind your child of these other times and their outcomes, to show that you are really thinking about your decision. You can use your past experiences to judge the current situation, decide the outcome you want, and figure out how to reach that outcome.
Be a more consistent parent.
Your child will know that you are not making decisions based on whim, especially if you explain how you made your choice. Your child will be more likely to come to you with questions or problems if he or she has some idea of what to expect from you. Warm, concerned, and sensitive responses will also increase the likelihood of your child coming to you with questions or problems. Remember that consistent parenting does not mean inflexible parenting.
Offer an example of how to make thoughtful decisions.
As your child gets older, he or she will know your decision-making process and will appreciate the time you take. Your child might even pattern him or herself after you.
Build a solid but flexible bond of trust between you and your child.
A solid bond holds up to tough situations; a flexible bond survives the changes in your child and in your relationship with your child that are certain to occur.
Preventing risky behavior or problems before they arise
Seems easy enough. You "childproof" your house to make sure your crawling baby or toddler can't get into the cleaning products or electrical outlets. You catch your eight-year-old jumping on the bed and make her stop. You make your 12-year old wear his helmet when he rides his bike, no matter how "dumb" he thinks it makes him look.
But prevention goes beyond just saying “no” or “stop.” There are two parts to prevention: 1) Spotting possible problems; and 2) Knowing how to work through the problem. Let’s look at each one a little closer.
Spotting possible problems
Consider these methods for spotting problems before they turn into full-blown crises:
Be actively involved in your child’s life.
This is important for all parents, no matter what the living arrangements. Knowing how your child usually thinks, feels, and acts will help you to notice when things begin to change. Some changes are part of your child’s growing up, but others could be signs of trouble.
Set realistic limits and enforce them consistently.
Be selective with your limits, by putting boundaries on the most important behaviors your child is engaged in. Make sure you and your child can “see” a limit clearly. If your child goes beyond the limit, deal with him or her in similar ways for similar situations. If you decide to punish your child, use the most effective methods, like restriction or time-outs. You could also make your child correct or make up for the outcome of his or her actions; make sure the harshness of the punishment fits your child’s “crime.” As your child learns how limits work and what happens when he or she goes past those limits, he or she will trust you to be fair.
Create healthy ways for your child to express emotions.
Much “acting out” stems from children not knowing how to handle their emotions. Feelings can be so intense that usual methods of expressing them don’t work. Or, because feelings like anger or sadness are viewed as “bad,” your child may not want to express them openly. Encourage your child to express emotions in a healthy and positive way; let your child see you doing things to deal with your own emotions. Once these feelings are less powerful, talk to your child about how he or she feels and why. Make sure your child knows that all emotions are part of the person that he or she is, not just the “good” or happy ones. Once your child knows his or her range of emotions, he or she can start to learn how to handle them.
Because problems are quite different, how you solve them also differs. To solve tough problems, you may need more complex methods. Keep these things in mind when trying to solve a problem:
Know that you are not alone.
Talk to other parents or a trusted friend or relative. Some of them might be dealing with or have dealt with similar things. They may have ideas on how to solve a problem in a way you haven’t thought of. Or, they might share your feelings, which can also be a comfort.
Admit when a problem is bigger than you can handle alone or requires special expertise.
No one expects you to solve every problem your family has by yourself. Some problems are just too big to handle alone, not because you’re a “bad” parent, but simply because of the nature of the problem. Be realistic about what you can and can’t do on your own.
Get outside help, if needed.
There will be times when you just won’t know how to help your child; other times, you truly won’t be able to help your child. That’s okay; someone else may know how to help. Use all the resources you have to solve a problem, including getting outside help when you need it. Remember that it’s not important how a problem is solved, just that it is.
- Other Parents
- Family Members and Relatives
- School Nurses and Counselors
- Social Workers and Agencies
- Psychologists and Psychiatrists
- Pastors, Priests, Rabbis and Ministers
- Community Groups
- Support and Self-Help Groups
If you’d like, turn to the section that matches your child’s age to read more about how some parents have included preventing in their daily parenting routine. Or you can read on to learn about the M3 in RPM3.
The M3in RPM3 describes three complex, but central principles of parenting: monitoring, mentoring, and modeling. Many people are confused by these words because they seem similar, but they are really very different. It might be easier to understand these ideas if you think of them this way:
Being a monitor
means that you pay careful attention to your child and his or her surroundings, especially his or her groups of friends and peers and in getting used to school.
Being a mentor
means that you actively help your child learn more about him or herself, how the world works, and his or her role in that world. As a mentor, you will also support your child as he or she learns.
Being a model
means that you use your own words and actions as examples that show your beliefs, values, and attitudes in action for your child on a daily basis.
Now let’s look at each one more closely. Monitoring your child seems straightforward, so let’s start there.
Did you know...?
All parents should maintain positive relationships with their children.
One parent, two parents, grandparents, foster parents, weekend parents, stepparents. Regardless of whether or not you live with your child, it’s important that you maintain a positive relationship with him or her. A positive relationship gives your child a stable environment in which to grow, so that you are one of the people your child learns to depend on.
Do you need to be a superhero with x-ray vision and eyes in the back of your head to be a careful monitor? Of course not. You don’t need to be with your child every minute of every day, either. Being a careful monitor combines asking questions and paying attention, with making decisions, setting limits, and encouraging your child’s positive choices when you aren’t there.
Being a careful monitor combines asking questions and paying attention, with making decisions and setting limitations.
When your child is young, monitoring seems easy because you are the one making most of the decisions. You decide who cares for your child; you decide what your child watches or listens to; you decide who your child plays with. If something or someone comes in contact with your child, you’re usually one of the first to know.
Things may change as your child gets older, especially after school begins and into the pre-teen and teen years. As kids begin to learn about their own personalities, they sometimes clash with their parents’ personalities. A parent’s ability to actively monitor is often one of the first things to suffer from this clash.
Parents need to monitor their children’s comings and goings through every age and stage of growth.
Being an active monitor can be as simple as answering some basic questions:
- Who is your child with?
- What do you know about the person(s) your child is with?
Where is your child?
What is your child doing?
When will your child be home/leaving?
How is your child getting there/home?
You won’t always have detailed answers to these questions, but it’s important to know most of the answers, most of the time.
You may also want to keep these things in mind when being an active monitor:
Open the lines of communication when your child is young and keep those lines open.It seems obvious, but honest communication is crucial. When your child is young, talk openly about things you do when you aren’t with your child; then ask your child what he or she does during those times. As your child gets older, keep up this type of communication. Both you and your child have to take part in open, two-way communication.
Tell your child what thoughts and ideals you value and why.
For instance, if being respectful to adults is an ideal you want your child to have, tell him or her; even more importantly, tell him or her why you think it’s important. Don’t assume that your child knows your reasons for valuing one practice or way of behaving over another
Know what your child is watching, reading, playing, or listening to.
Because TV, movies, video games, the Internet, and music are such a large part of many of our lives, they can have a huge influence on kids. Be sure you know what your child’s influences are. You can’t help your child make positive choices if you don’t know what web sites he or she visits or what he or she reads, listens to, watches, or plays.
Know the people your child spends time with.
Because you can’t be with your child all the time, you should know who is with your child when you’re not. Friends have a big influence on your child, from pre-school well into adulthood. Much of the time, this influence is positive, but not always. With a little effort from you, your child might surround him or herself with friends whose values, interests, and behaviors will be &ldquoluses” in your child’s life. Your child also spends a lot of time with his or her teachers. Teachers play a vital role in your child’s development and overall well-being, so get to know your child’s teachers, too.
Give direction without being rigid.
In some cases, not being allowed to do something only makes your child want to do it more. Is the answer just plain “no” or does it depend on the circumstances? “Yes, but only if...” is a useful option when making decisions.
With a little effort from you, your child might surround him or herself with friends whose values, interests, and behaviors will be "pluses" in your child's life.
To find out how some parents use monitoring in their daily parenting practices, turn to the section of this booklet that relates to your child’s age. Or you can read on to learn about mentoring.
Keep in mind that even if you’re the most careful monitor, your child may have friends and interests that you don’t understand or don’t approve of. You may not like the music she listens to, or the clothes he wears, or the group she “hangs out” with. Some of these feelings are a regular part of the relationship between children and adults. Before you take away the music or forbid your child to see that friend, ask yourself this question:
In other words, is your child hurting anyone or being hurt by what he or she is doing, listening to, wearing, or who he or she is spending time with? If the answer is “no,” you may want to think before you act, perhaps giving your child some leeway. It’s likely that taking music away, not letting your child watch a certain show, or barring your child from spending time with a friend will create a conflict between you and your child. Make sure that the issue is important enough to insist upon. Think about whether your actions will help or hurt your relationship with your child, or whether your actions are necessary for your child to develop healthy attitudes and behaviors. You may decide that setting a volume limit for the radio is better than having a fight about your child’s choice of music.
Being your child’s mentor can keep your child from being hurt by encouraging him or her to act in reasonable ways. Now let’s think about mentoring.
When you were growing up, did you have a special person your life who did things with you, gave you advice, or was a good listener? This person may have been a relative or friend of the family who was older than you. If so, then you had a mentor.
Since the early 1980s, formal mentoring programs that pair children with caring mentors have been highly successful. Mentoring, whether an informal relationship or a formal program, has a focused goal: guiding children through adolescence so they can become happy, healthy adults.
You may know that all children need mentors, but did you know that parents make great mentors?
What does it mean to be a mentor?
A mentor is someone who provides support, guidance, friendship, and respect to a child.
Sounds great. But what does that mean?
Being a mentor is like being a coach of a sports team. A caring coach sees the strengths and weaknesses of each player and tries to build those strengths and lessen those weaknesses. In practice, coaches stand back and watch the action, giving advice on what the players should do next, but knowing that the players make their own game-time decisions. Coaches honestly point out things that can be done better and praise things that are done well. Coaches listen to their players and earn players’ trust. They give their players a place to turn when things get tough.
Mentors do the same things: develop a child’s strengths; share a child’s interests; offer advice and support; give praise; listen; be a friend. Mentors help kids to reach their full potential, which includes mistakes and tears, as well as successes and smiles. Mentors know that small failures often precede major successes; knowing this fact, they encourage kids to keep trying because those successes are right around the corner.
What can I do to be a mentor?
There is no magic wand that turns people into caring mentors. Just spending time with your child helps you become a mentor. You can do ordinary things with your child, like going grocery shopping together; you can do special things with your child, like going to a museum or a concert together. The important part is that you do things together, which includes communicating with one another.
You may want to keep these things in mind as you think about being a mentor:
Be honest about your own strengths and weaknesses.
If you know the answer to a question, say so; if you don’t, say so. To build a trusting, but real, relationship with your child, you only have to be human. All humans make mistakes; you have, and your child will, too. Your child can benefit from hearing about your mistakes, including what you thought before you made them, how your thoughts changed after you made them, and how you changed your thoughts or behaviors to avoid them in the future. A child who thinks his or her parent is perfect builds expectations that parents can’t possibly live up to.
Respect your child’s thoughts and opinions without judging them.
Even if you don’t agree with your child, make it clear that you want to know what his or her thoughts are, without the threat of punishment. If your child is afraid of being punished, he or she may stop sharing things entirely. Let different points-of-view co-exist for a while; they will allow your child to think more about an issue. Remember that there is an important difference between, “I disagree with you,” and “You’re wrong.”
Support your child’s interests and strengths, but don’t force things.
Kids spend their childhood trying to figure out who they are, how the world works, and how they fit into that world. Make sure your child has enough room to explore. If your child has no interest in an activity or topic, don’t push. Your child will soon begin to dread the “forced activity” and will find ways to get out of doing it.
Introduce your child to things that you like to do.
This is a useful way for your child to learn more about you. It’s sometimes hard for kids to picture their parents doing things that other people do, like playing an instrument, volunteering at a nursing home, watching movies, playing a sport, or knowing about art. If your child sees you doing these things, you become more of a “regular person,” rather than “just a parent.”
To read more about how some parents fit mentoring into their daily parenting activities, turn to the section of the booklet that relates to your child’s age. Or, read on to learn about modeling.
Mentoring gives kids the support they need to become the people they are meant to be. But what about you? Are you the person you want to be? Take some time to think about becoming a better model for your child.
Did you know...?
Kids who have mentors are less likely to take part in risky behaviors.
Children who have mentors are 46 percent less likely to use illegal drugs, 27 percent less likely to use alcohol, and 52 percent less likely to skip school than kids who don’t have mentors. Kids with mentors also report that they are more confident of their school performance, more likely to get along with others, and less likely to hit someone.
Big Brothers Big Sisters Impact Study, 1995
Did you know...?
Your approval or disapproval teaches your child about desirable behavior. 6,12Parents need to be careful about how they express approval or disapproval. Parents who are harsh in their disapproval may hurt their children’s self-esteem; parents who never express disapproval may raise children who can’t deal with any criticism. Try to find a balance between expressions of approval and disapproval. Be consistent in your rewards and punishments.
Did you know...?
The feedback and advice that parents give can guide children to make more positive decisions. 2
By supporting desired behaviors, parents help their children build self-esteem and self-confidence. These traits give children the inner strength they need to make better decisions when faced with a challenge. It’s important for parents to keep the lines of communication open, so that vital advice and feedback gets to their children.
When I grow up, I want to be just like you.
Has your child ever said this to you?
It’s a bittersweet statement for a parent to hear. On the one hand, it’s touching to have your child look up to you in this way; on the other, being a role model comes with great responsibility.
Children learn as much, if not more from your actions as they do from your words.
Role models come in all shapes and sizes; they do all kinds of jobs; they come from any country or city. Some children view athletes as their role models; other children look up to authors or scientists. And, believe it or not, many children see their parents as role models.
All too often, parenting behavior is guided by adults reacting to their own childhoods; that is, many parents think: I don’t ever want to be like my parents; or it was good enough for me, so it’s good enough for my kids. Remember that reacting instead of responding prevents you from making decisions that can change the outcome of a situation. To be a more effective, consistent, active, and attentive parent, it’s best to focus on your children and their lives.
Does this mean that you have to be perfect so your child will grow up to be perfect, too? Of course not. No one is perfect. But, you do need to figure out what kind of example you are setting for your child.
You may want to be the kind of role model who does the following:
Do as you say and say as you do.
Children want to act like their role models, not just talk like them. Children learn as much, if not more from your actions as they do from your words.
. Don’t just tell your child to call home if he or she is going to be late; make sure that you call home when you know you’re going to be late
Don’t just tell your child not to shout at you; don’t shout at your child or at others. This kind of consistency helps your child form reliable patterns of the relationship between attitudes and actions.
Show respect for other people, including your child.
For many children, the word respect is hard to understand. It’s not something they can touch or feel, but it’s still a very important concept. To help your child learn about respect, you may want to point out when you are being respectful.
For instance, when your child starts to pick out his or her own clothes, you can show respect for those choices. Tell your child, “That wouldn’t have been my choice, but I respect your decision to wear that plaid shirt with those striped pants.”
Be honest with your child about how you are feeling.
Adults get confused about emotions all the time, so it’s no surprise that children might get confused, too. For instance, you might have a short temper after a really stressful day at work, but your child might think you are angry with him or her. If you find yourself acting differently than you usually do, explain to your child that he or she isn’t to blame for your change in “typical” behavior; your child can even help you by lightening your mood or altering your attitude. You can prevent a lot of hurt feelings and confusion by being honest with your child about your own emotions.
Make sure your child knows that being angry does not mean, “not loving.”
Disagreements and arguments are a normal part of most relationships. But many children can’t separate love from anger; they assume that if you yell at them, then you don’t love them anymore. Even if you think your child has a solid grasp of emotions, you may want to be specific about this point. Otherwise, you run the risk of having your child think he or she is not loved every time you have a disagreement. Most of all, be alert to changes in your child’s emotions so you can “coach” your child through moments of anger or sadness without brushing-off the emotion or ignoring it.
Pinpoint things that you wouldn’t want your child’s role model to do, and make sure you aren’t doing them.
For instance, suppose your child views a sports player as his or her role model. If you found out that player used illegal drugs or was verbally or physically abusive to others, would you still want your child to look up to that person? Probably not. Now apply that same standard to your own actions. If you don’t want your child to smoke, then you should not smoke. If you want your child to be on time for school, make sure you are on time for work and other meetings. If you don’t want your child to use curse words, then don’t use those words in front of your child. Reviewing your own conduct means being honest with yourself, about yourself. You may need to make some changes in how you act, but both you and your child will benefit in the end.
Did you know...?
Children are great copycats.
Have you ever said a curse word in front of your child, only to hear him or her repeating that word later (usually at the worst possible time)? Kids are highly imitative, with both words and actions. If you are aggressive, your child may copy you to be aggressive, too. If you are very social, your child will probably be very social, too. Make sure you are a strong, consistent, and positive role model, to foster better behaviors in your child.
Did you know...?
How parents act in their relationships with one another has a significant impact on child development.
Regardless of the living arrangements, parents should consider their children when dealing with each other. Your child sees how you work through everyday issues and uses your interactions as the basis for his or her own behavior in relationships. The next time you interact with your spouse, ex-spouse, or significant other, ask yourself whether or not you are providing a positive example for your child. Do you want your child to act the same way you are acting with that person or another person? If not, you may want to reconsider your behavior.
Did you know...?
How you feel affects your child. 6,9
Your child tunes into your thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. He or she can sense how you feel about something, even if your words say that you are feeling something different. So a negative reaction or outburst from your child may not be without reason. It could be your child’s way of telling you how you feel.