Most people would agree that parenting is the single most important job that we have. Unlike other important milestones in our lives, there is little preparation given to it. Unlike marriage which requires a license and waiting period, or driving a car which requires a certain age and a test of skills, anyone can have a child either by birth or adoption. Although adoptive parents have their lives thoroughly examined before being given a child and are so happy to have the opportunity to parent that they often do it with more thought and education, they don't get training for the day that baby or child comes home any more than do birth parents. The dilemma is often how to parent effectively. The following may help:
1. Hold with open hands: Always give your children the knowledge that you are there to support them in their endeavors but that you recognize that they are truly separate people from you. Do not take credit for their accomplishments and do not live your dreams through them.
2. Give your child the opportunity to fail: As parents it is always our goal to save our children from hurt. When they are toddlers, we watch each step and are there to prevent a fall. When they are older, we must not run interference for them which will remove from them the consequences of their own actions. This is particularly true in relation to their school lives. If your child hands in work late or not at all and grades are affected, the teacher is not to blame and you do vast amounts of damage when you indicate to your child that (s)he is not responsible for his/her own choices.
3. Treat your child with respect: Oftentimes we have one set of courtesy rules for family and one for those outside the family. Children are frequently treated with disdain by adults. Understand that your child's view of him/herself is directly related to the manner in which you speak to him/her and to the body language you use when communicating. Keep your impatience in check. If you would not say or act with another adult outside the family in the same way you speak or act with your child, you are doing damage.
4. Have high expectations: No matter what your child's capabilities are, hold the bar high enough for him/her to reach up. We don't want to have unrealistic expectations for our children, but neither do we want to expect so little that the child does not work hard and try to consistently do better. I frequently see students in my office who won't consider a class taught by a certain teacher because that person 'gives too much work' or 'expects a lot from students.' What is upsetting is that often the parent is supporting this decision so that the child believes that laziness is acceptable.
5. Put athletics into the right perspective: If your child is a good athlete that does not free him/her from the primary job of children --- academic achievement. If you consistently allow the child to put athletics before academics, don't be surprised when you do not have a scholar-athlete. Look at the Duke Basketball team. The coach insists that his players either keep up with their studies or they don't play. Duke recruits have and continue to achieve both academically and athletically or they are not on the team.
If you keep to the above rules, your child will turn out to be a secure individual, your relationship will be one of mutual respect and your child's choices when it comes to college and beyond will be better than you could have ever imagined.