No doubt a lot of parents will relate to the findings of a new Public Agenda survey called, "Easier Said Than Done." It asked parents how well they're doing at the job of raising kids, and surprisingly most parents gave themselves mediocre grades. Sixty-one percent rated themselves fair or poor.
Family and Adolescence Counselor Mike Riera looks at a few things that parents would like to do better and offers specific ways to work on their biggest concerns.
Parenting is the toughest job you'll ever have, so the fact that parents have some doubt and see the need for improvement is a healthy sign, says Riera. Someone once said, "Satisfaction is a sure sign that your forward progress is about to stop."
Among the 1,600 parents of children ages 5 to 17 who were surveyed, 83 percent said it is absolutely essential to teach kids to have self-control and self- discipline. Only 34 percent said they feel they have succeeded. These qualities are difficult to teach directly; it takes time to cultivate them and parents should expect lots of mistakes along the way, says Riera.
For instance, kids need to learn how to delay gratification; it's a learned skill. The old adage "Catch them being good" comes to mind here. If you're not careful, you'll only focus on when they don't exhibit self-control, so get in the habit of seeing where it already exists and then build on it. For example, your child may not have self-control with schoolwork, but definitely has it around a sport or performance they're involved in, he explains.
When it comes to teaching children to spend and save money wisely, 70 percent of parents think it's an essential lesson, but only 28 percent think they've taught it successfully. So how can parents improve in this area?
This is actually related to self-control and self-discipline, he says. Personal debt in this country is at an all-time high. Before you get upset at your kid, look in the mirror and see how you are doing on saving and spending, as this is a measurable instance of self-control and discipline.
As far as honesty, 91 percent of parents said it's an essential value to teach kids, but only 55 percent feel they have been successful. Riera advises parents to acknowledge how difficult it is to tell the truth. Kids will always look for easy way out; it's almost human nature. His suggestion is to ask your child at least three or four times to tell you the truth.
Give them time for reflection (preferably while they do some mundane task, like wash the car or rake the leaves). Give them lots of opportunities to come clean; then focus with them on what that feels like. This is how they learn to value honesty for themselves.
The Public Agenda survey has a lot more information about what parents think about how well they're doing, as well as a section on parenting styles. Take the survey and compare your answers with those of other parents, and learn something about your parenting style.
Also, use the survey in your family. Ask your kids how they would assess you and themselves in these areas. But get ready - they'll surprise you by what they have to say, and they won't all be pleasant surprises, either. But that's family - you're in it together.
(Public Agenda is a non-profit national public opinion research organization.)
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