In-, Un-, On-, and Pro- are the four “prefixes of parenting.” I bet you didn’t even know there were parenting prefixes, did you? (I also will bet that you can tell I used to teach English to 5th graders–who uses the word “prefix” anyway?) These four little syllables are the beginning of four adjectives (another grammar term) which are actually very important to an understanding of effective parenting. They stand for Intentional, Unapologetic, Ongoing, and Proactive.
Being a good parent involves so much more than making sure a child has his physical needs met, as we all know. It involves instruction and training in everyday things like how to use utensils, how to dress oneself, and potty-training; children don’t learn this kind of thing accidentally, they have to have someone show them how–intentionally. Even more important, however, is understanding that children need to be taught things like respect for others, kindness, and self-control in an intentional way.
The example set by parents is of tremendous importance, but equally important is overt, intentional verbal instruction. Children need to hear their parents say what they believe in all areas of life, from day one. The way a person looks at life is a culmination of everything they’ve heard and seen from birth, and parents are uniquely positioned to lay either a really great foundation or a really shaky one by the way they communicate in those first four or five years. Tell your child what you believe is true–what’s right, what’s wrong, what you believe about God, about human nature, about the way people should behave, about what’s true and really important in life. Think through things and tell your child–be intentional!
As you’re telling her these things, don’t apologize for them--be unapologetic! If you are tentative, she will be too. Teaching a child to believe something strongly is a good thing! Strong convictions make for strong individuals, who can make a positive impact on the world around them. If you are tentative in what you teach your children, they won’t take you or your beliefs seriously, but if you make it clear from the beginning that there are certain things that are true, that you’ve based your whole life on, your children will not forget them. They may not see things exactly as you do when they become adults, but they will always evaluate their beliefs from the perspective of your beliefs, and will very likely ask you for your input in the process.
All through your child’s life he will need this kind of input. Right now you may only be saying (unapologetically of course) “It is not good manners to complain about the food you are served.”; however, later you’ll need to say “You must always be respectful to your teachers” and then someday it will be important for you to say “You must be careful not to lead a girl on.” or “You have to learn to stand on your own two feet–go get a job!” This is a process that will be ongoing until your child leaves home as an adult. While you have them under your roof, take every opportunity to listen, instruct, gently correct and give direction. The manner in which you do this will need to be adjusted as your child enters the teen years, but there is never a time in your child’s life when he does not need your direction and input.
And you must be proactive. Don’t wait until your child has grabbed something in the store to teach him how to behave when you go shopping; don’t wait until he’s just embarrassed you by not responding to his grandmother before teaching him how to be respectful; don’t wait until he goes on his first date to teach him proper respect for women. Think ahead, plan ahead, look for opportunities to instruct and even practice things before they occur!
It’s very easy to become absorbed in your own interests and get distracted. And, with the bombardment of input parents get from all sides, it’s easy to assume that a child’s behavior (or misbehavior) is solely a result of externals–but nothing could be further from the truth! There have always been dangers and threats around us; the key is not to obsess over these, but to give your child the equipment to deal with them. You might be surprised at how well children can behave when they’ve been patiently taught how to do it and practiced doing it beforehand. Give your child the confidence that comes with knowing what’s expected of him!
Child-rearing is not rocket science; it doesn’t require a degree in psychology or early childhood development. What it does require is confidence–YOUR confidence and leadership. Throw out the Parenting magazine, turn off Oprah and Dr. Phil, and do your own thinking!
Intentionally, and with purpose, teach your child right from wrong, unapologetically. Do this in an ongoing way, beginning today and continuing until they are on their own. You’ve been through childhood, teenager-hood, college, first jobs, and all the rest, so you know what’s coming up for your child. Be proactive–give him what he needs ahead of time! I promise you, someday he will understand the gift you’ve given him, and do his best to pass it along to his own children!