As a parent, I understand that one of my main duties is to keep my child safe. Safety for infants is different than safety for toddlers, teenagers or adult children. Each of their developmental stages required me to relearn my role as their parent. I had some success and some failures in my journey of raising our children. At least now with them all in their mid to late 30’s, we still love each other and enjoy spending time together. But it was hard work, and each child had different personalities and required different parenting styles.
When I was 25, I realized that my training in behavior modification was sadly lacking. I had a 2 1/2 year old son, a 18 month old son who was about 6 months developmentally and was expecting our third child. What I knew about parenting, I had learned from my parents. Their two techniques involved yelling and spanking. Neither of these two strategies were working with my two very different boys. I read a couple of books and gained some understanding and had some success.
About 2 years later, I was really in over my head. In October 1982, we discovered that we were expecting another baby, due the following May. I decided that I needed to learn more about disciplining children and signed up for a month-long course at the local college adult education program, titled, “Behavior Modification made Simple.” Prior to taking the class, my idea of a “time out” was everyone going into their corner and then coming out fighting.
In that month, I learned the techniques of positive reinforcement, how to observe and record target behavior, and to use reinforcers to reduce negative behavior and increase positive behavior. I learned that it is important to know when to punish, how to set limits and what behavior to inhibit. I needed to consciously ‘pick my battles,’ rather than reacting to the situation.
Through the years, I had many opportunities to practice what I learned. Arden and I also sought the advice of professionals a couple of times, especially when Nick’s specific behavior idiosyncrasies challenged our skill set. We recognized that others could teach us how to be better parents. We all know that babies don’t come with a user manual.
Parenting is hard work, even if the child doesn’t meet the legal criteria of special needs. Each child has special needs and each parent needs to learn how to effectively guide them. This guidance includes discipline. Appropriate discipline will lead to the opportunity for the child to learn self-discipline and self-control.
I still am learning my role as a parent. Nick functions at about a 5 year old level, in a 37 year old body. My other children are parenting their own children. Sometimes I think that I know what they should do, but really I don’t. I know what worked and didn’t work with them. I really try to support them in what they are doing and only give my opinion when they ask.
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