When Simone and I moved to Byron Bay 26 years ago we sought a quieter, simpler environment in which to raise our children. Looking back, the world seemed less busy than it is now. Our kids really benefited from growing-up in a small country town with a sense of community, great schools, lots of sports and a feeling of safety that every parent wants for their kids.
When Rusty Miller asked me to write this piece for the Byron Guide, he did so knowing that my work these days involves writing books and training parent educators in Australia and overseas. He and I discussed how parenting is actually similar wherever you live - and parents, universally, want similar things for their children.
When I travel, I listen to what’s going on for parents.
Here’s what I think are the three big issues that parents face with their kids.
Being confident in the job of parenting.
Knowing when a problem ‘is a problem’ - and then knowing what to do about it.
Knowing what the job of being a parent involves.
The confidence issue first.
A big challenge for parents in Australia is feeling confident in what they are doing. I’m not talking about being cocky-confident, but what is really evident is how people are so mesmerised by theories, information on the internet and by a fair bit of political correctness as well.
Can I say no?
Do I have to be positive all the time?
Am I a bad parent?
Parents need to stop thinking there is a perfect way to raise their children and concentrate on building their relationships with their children and teaching them to be the kinds of people they want to see in the world.
Now for when a problem is a problem.
If I were to tell you the main problems parents face, I’d say these fall into three main types which I call the 3 ‘Big Rocks’. The Big Rocks are: speaking/acting rudely, hurting anyone - or yourself and breaking or wrecking things. In my opinion, these Big Rocks account for over 90% of what parents complain about when it comes to their kids’ problem behaviour.
So, if you clearly explain that these kinds of behaviours will not be tolerated and consistently respond to them, you will gradually establish a more peaceful household.
Finally, knowing what the job of a parent is.
If I was to give a job description for a parent, it would come down to three main things:
Teach them - and show them - how to behave more maturely with each passing year.
Protect their well-being by ensuring they get good sleep, have proper boundaries around what they can and can’t do, eat well, have happy social experiences with friends and family - and that kind of thing.
Help them know the difference between ‘appropriate’ and ‘inappropriate’ behaviour. Help them know little things like when it’s important to say ‘thanks’ and the bigger things like not posting inappropriate messages or photos on the net.
I’m not sure that Simone and I always got it right but we tried our best and our kids still have a positive relationship with us. The research is clear in this regard – children do best, where their parents provide ‘warmth and firmness’. This is the underlying message for parents for raising children anywhere.