Perhaps one of the greatest challenges of parenthood is dealing with just how rapidly children change, and especially during the early childhood years. It seems that just as you're beginning to get a handle on how to deal with your child as a two year old, he's now a three year old! Not only that, but if you have a second (or third) child you soon discover that your prior experience with a two year old often has little practical benefit for this entirely different child, with her very different style and personality.
Many of the hundreds of parents I've worked with and counseled over more than three decades want so much to do this parenting job just right, that they often set a very high standard for themselves. In striving for perfection they read every book they can find on parenting and early childhood development, and often labor over every decision and intervention. In following this route they all too often miss the bigger picture, and instead get overly focused on each tiny detail of their child's growth and development.
At the other end of the continuum are those parents who go into the experience with little knowledge or understanding, and instead rely almost totally on their instincts. These folks often find themselves acting and behaving toward their children much the same as their own parents did with them. There's no downside to this strategy for those who had the benefit of highly thoughtful and enlightened parenting, but in my experience this is a very small group indeed!
So, as with most of life's big challenges, a balanced approach is usually what works best. For sure educate yourself on the basics of child development to increase your understanding of what your child is experiencing during the various stages of her growth. But resist the inclination to overdo it, which can easily lead to confusion and the paralysis of over analysis. And every parents is almost certainly going to call on their own experience of being raised. But the wise parent will discriminate between those experiences in their own childhood which had a positive impact, and those which are better avoided.
Having a relationship with a child is just like having a relationship with any other person. Each child has his or her own unique personality, temperament, interests, needs and feelings. I always urge parents to try to imagine what their child is experiencing in any situation, and as a first step to honor and be respectful of the child's feelings and position. From the child's perspective, just feeling understood and the experience of a parent's loving empathy is often all that's required. And if all else fails remember the golden rule, and try to respond to your child as you yourself would want to be treated.
Years later what your now adult child is likely to remember and benefit from is not whatever discipline approach you adopted, or theory of child development you adhered to. Instead she will recall that you were present, that you took the time and interest to cultivate an intimate relationship with her, and that you loved her without condition.
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