Don't we all want to raise children who become problem solvers, empathetic, collaborative and insightful? Benjamin Franklin wrote, "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." In the busyness of daily life, it can be challenging not to just handle things yourself as a parent, and remember to involve your children or teens in problem solving with you whenever possible.
Ross W. Green, PhD, has a great new book that can give you examples of how to parent to build these traits in your children. Raising Human Beings: Creating A Collaborative Partnership With Your Child (Scribner, 2016) is the most recent book by Dr. Greene, who taught at Harvard Medical School for twenty years, and now is a founding director of the nonprofit group Lives in the Balance.
Ross Greene suggests we develop collaborative relationships with our children, where we have more influence than control. We need our children's input and feedback to effectively help them solve problems. We need to watch for when our children need help, but not offer it too soon, or preempt the child's ability to learn to solve problems themselves and grow stronger.
We want to be aware of helping our children develop their own identity, separate from ours. We want them to find healthy individuation. When that doesn't happen, Ross coins it "identity foreclosure", which is when a young person doesn't explore their own self-identity, but just blindly accepts the identity defined for them by parents. Instead, we want to support our children in creating identity achievement, where they have a well-defined self-concept and identity. We want them to know who they are as an individual, and what they believe, what they value and where they are going in life.
In parenting, we play a critical role by communicating with our child in a style that can make our influence useful and constructive in their life. We also need to be open to learning about parenting, life and the world through our children's input and unique contributions. If we can be balanced, calm and centered, we are more likely to be able to influence our children positively.
It's normal to have expectations for our children. If they aren't meeting our expectations, Ross suggests we involve the child in defining the problem and brain-storming some solutions. He suggests we remember that children want to do well and generally do well if they can. We have to deal with what we are dealt as parents. Instead of the parent deciding what the problem is alone and solving it alone, we do better if we involve the child whenever possible. As I work in counseling parents do implement Active Parenting, we find this collaborative style works better and gets buy-in from your child. In this book, Ross goes through a number of situations and plays out the parent giving a punishment versus the parent and child solving the problem together which is useful.
Our long-term goal is to build a collaborative, lifelong relationship with our children, and helping them prepare to be problem-solvers themselves. It's interesting to think about your own relationship with your parents when you were growing up. Did you open up to your mom or dad when you had difficulty with something as a child or a teen? If you didn't, it may have been that they were critical, angry, judgmental or anxious. If you did, it's probably because you could count on your mom or dad listening, collaborating, asking you for your thoughts or solutions and being encouraging. Let's be those parents who can be calm and collaborative. I appreciated that the author includes the college years of parenting in a collaborative style as well.
Perhaps no other role in your life will challenge you and polish you up as much as being a parent. No other job you do is ever more important. Playing our part well as parents is key, no matter what child you get. Being open to learning and becoming a positive influence is a pattern of parenting that could become your best legacy to your family. Ross Greene's book may help you get there.