A Child’s Development Requires Parenting Shifts
Are you making parenting shifts as your child develops?
We all know that children go through developmental stages. Babies learn to roll over, then crawl, and then to walk. Children develop language and over years we see their ability to understand and reason increase as well. A logical implication of these developmental changes is that parents need to make parenting shifts along the way. Some of those changes are minor or subtle; others are more significant but as our children develop, our parenting must change as well. One mom said it this way, “Just when I thought I had it all figured out, my daughter changed and I feel like I have to start all over again.”
Parenting is a growing experience. We must make adjustments in the way we parent to effectively relate to children as they grow and develop. Unfortunately, some parents get ideas in their heads about what good parenting is and then they lack the flexibility necessary to be effective. Although a strategy may work well at one stage, it may be necessary to modify or even abandon it at another stage.
The Shifts Start Early
For instance, when that tiny infant comes home from the hospital, the baby quickly becomes the center of attention. The infant may set the schedule for feedings and for sleeping. Often both parents have to adapt their lives around one small child. However, as your baby begins to grow and develop, you change too. You no longer jump for every cry. You begin to set limits on a mobile child and determine a meal schedule for a toddler. Infancy requires that the parent give up an agenda and respond quickly to the baby’s needs. As the child gets older, a parenting shift takes place and the parent requires that a child wait more and fit into a schedule and learn to consider the needs of others.
Some parents try to simplify their jobs by setting policies they think will last for years, even believing that good parenting requires consistency and therefore change is a sign of weakness. One dad said about his one-month-old son, “I’m going to stop the teenage rebellion right here.” He proceeded to set some pretty strict rules about feeding and sleep times. That’s a sad misunderstanding of what children need.
Paul acknowledges a spiritual parenting shift in 1 Corinthians 3:1-2, “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly-mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.”
Children Change and Parents Must as Well
As children grow and develop, their needs change as well. In fact we find different character qualities to become important to focus on to keep the child maturing well. A young baby must have physical and emotional needs met continually in order to develop a sense of security and to view the world as a safe place. This lays the foundation for trust to develop. As children grow to be toddlers and then preschoolers, they need to develop two more primary character qualities: responsiveness to authority and self-control. These new qualities grow as parents make the shift and respond differently to the child.
Elementary age children need opportunities to solve problems for themselves and a lot of teaching regarding relationships and how the world works. Teens need a completely different approach where parents carefully balancing firmness with extra dialogue as teens develop their own value systems and decide who they’re going to be as adults.
Watch Your Child for Cues
Considering your child’s developmental level and making appropriate parenting shifts can make all the difference between a child who accepts your guidance and a child who resists your leadership. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because you allow your infant to eat “on demand” she’ll be demanding when she grows up. On the contrary, infancy is a time to build trust and bonding and that often comes with fast response to their needs and lots of holding. Several stages of growth and maturity will take place between now and adolescence and you’ll have plenty of opportunity to make adjustments that affect patterns in their lives.
Another example of failure to make the shift takes place as a child becomes a toddler. When parents still treat a three-year-old as if he’s a three-month-old, then self-centeredness increases and hampers interpersonal relationships. It’s not usually too long before parents realize the need to adjust and impose more limits. When parents are slow to make the needed parenting shifts at any age, then children often develop more dramatic symptoms to awaken parents to the need for change.
Often the sign that it’s time for a parenting shift is increased friction and frustration in family dynamics. If family life isn’t working, there may be a number of causes that need attention. Most of the time it means that parents will have to change the way they work with their kids. The old methods of relating don’t work the same way anymore. In fact, they seem to cause problems instead.
Sometimes the parenting shift is a result of developmental changes. Other times a different approach is needed because of a child’s personality or because of a growing character weakness.
In a Family Everyone is Growing and Changing
As your children grow, be ready to grow with them and make the necessary changes to influence them effectively. Even the best of parents must make some changes in the way they parent as their children grow up. As children move into adolescence you’ll want to adjust many of the ways you relate. Although you may have been able to “control” young children, the key word for teenagers is “influence.” Firmness is still important, but more so now than ever you’re looking for ways to influence, negotiate, persuade, and communicate well. Your goal is to develop an internal motivation to make wise choices.
Change takes time, and your influence will produce the greatest results. Parenting is a complicated job with very few easy answers. The responsibility requires continual growth and flexibility to work with the changing needs of
your child. Furthermore, having multiple children requires that parents work on several levels all at the same time. Rarely does it work to treat all children the same because each of their needs is different.
Parents must be students in order to maximize their parenting. Your continued growth is essential. Studying God’s Word will give you rich insights into your children, and reading parenting books and attending seminars will give you added tools to help your family. Be willing to make changes along the way and you’ll have the most success.
The Christian Parenting Handbook is practical reference book to help you address challenges at any stage. Fifty short chapters give you fifty hands-on tools for your family. The Parenting Shifts Series offers five books that focus in on each development stage, giving insights on development and tools to help you parent well. You might want to check out the book for your child’s age.