Everyone thinks of changing the world,
but no one thinks of changing himself.
- Leo Tolstoy
ONE: Banish from your mind all preconceptions and expectations of who or what the baby will be and how it will behave. Do not try to form the child like putty to become the offspring you wished for. This is not about meeting YOUR needs, as if bringing home a puppy from a pet store. The key is to accept and respect who the child is. Regard him or her as your teacher, there to remind you what childhood is like and to model innocence, authenticity, and unalloyed love.
TWO: Childproof your home completely. The baby needs to grow, born with a drive to explore and learn about the world. It begins in your kitchen, playroom, living room, your space. Anticipate every potential accident. Safety guides are easily accessible to prevent burns, falls, cuts, bruises, smothering, electrical ... Iíve been asked, "Do I hafta change my whole damn house just for a baby??" Answer: YES! CHANGE YOUR WHOLE DAMN HOUSE! Put the glass unicorns, the trinkets and the treasures, out of reach of curious hands. Take knobs off the stove. Gates on stairways. Any changes you make are only temporary. Children have a need to learn about their world...all of it...today. (With my very first steps I went directly to the stove and pulled a teakettle of boiling water over on my head. Tho I was the third child, nobody imagined that could happen.)
What makes parenting interesting and endurable, and even joyfully entertaining and instructive, is that whatever theyíre doing today, pleasing to you or not, will be different five days from now. Or three days. Probably tomorrow. Who could possibly be bored?
THREE: Do not create an adversarial relationship with the child. Itís too easy to do, issuing orders with "Because I said so". With awareness you can avoid that trap, the game you can never win. Erase all forms of threats & penalties from your pallet. Ruling by fear is the tyrantís way. Banish Dr. Phil-style punishments like time out and eye-to-eye scolding. Absolutely avoid the ego vs. ego war of wills, one you are sure to lose. Children learn values, attitudes, and behavior by observing and imitating their parents. In this way, parents are the CAUSE of childís misbehavior. This merits notice and attention: The changes must be made in the parents, not the child. If I repeat myself, hey, I repeat myself.
FOUR: Do not preach; do not teach "lessons". Even small kids know right from wrong, and they know that hurting them is very wrong. The child learns nothing from talk. Words, conceptual thought is for grownups. The only way a child learns anything is by your example. (Parent to judge: "Iíve tried all I know. I beat him and beat him, and heís still violent.") Or punish him for lying, for stealing, for bullying. When you least suspect it the kids are watching and listening intently to learn how to be an adult. So itís vitally important to never lie to a child. Never cheat. Never disparage race, social class, economic status. Again, the parents need to examine their prejudices.
Abolish lessons to "prepare for life". For the child, there is only the Now. Eliminate from voiice & actions all threats & fears when talking to the child. They can do no wrong; they can only be who they are: a child. Almost all punishment is inflicted for normal child behavior.
FIVE: Create family rules together, by discussion. Democratic society and government cannot survive deterioration when children are raised in dictatorial households and authoritarian schools. For democracy to strengthen, families have to change from parental rule to one where every memberís voice is heard and respectfully considered. In my home when the boys were small, weekly meetings were held where grievances were heard and family rules were suggested and voted on. We parents held veto power only on matters of health and safety, while all else was reached by unanimous agreement. Have the courage to try it. The rewards are great, and itís great family fun.
SIX: Regard your child as the expert on childhood and child behavior. Who else knows better how a child feels and thinks? The child has arrived on this earth with a purpose: to teach us how to be honest, authentic, loving, real. They are here to remind us that our childhood is long past, and our recall of it is grossly distorted. We need to pay attention and learn from this new generation. With their fierce sense of fairness and justice, their contempt for hypocrisy, they can teach us who they are, how they need to be treated, and what you need to know as a parent. It is for us to learn to trust and respect.
SEVEN: Remember: Because parents are the cause of the childís misbehavior, it is a gross betrayal to inflict punishment of any kind. The world will insist that it is necessary "for discipline". It is not. This is not mere opinion; it is a proven, demonstrable fact. Punishing is harmful to you as well as the child. It changes you as you grow. Repeat: Nearly all punishment is done for normal child behavior. Any kind of punishment Ė time out, spanking/slapping, denial of treats, whatever Ė is a betrayal of the childís trust in you, charged with providing for, protecting, and nurturing the child. It is important to remember that we are not the Commander, Enforcer, Judge and God of our little world, but an honored Servant entrusted to provide for and be responsible for the lives, welfare and nurture of the children.
And these are not YOUR children, for they are no oneís possession, owned by no institution, whether school, church, or government.
One more thing: I learned from my friend the late John Holt, that stopping punishment is not enuf. Throw out the praise with the punishment. Certainly, be sure to express appreciation and admiration where it is earned. But praise and punishment are two sides of the dependency coin. Donít train your child to be a "praise junkie". Our work is making their independence and freedom possible for them, not enslave them. - Norm Lee