Check Yourself: Are You an Intentional Parent?Oct 25, 2023
Today, we’re talking about intentional parenting. When I list off the 5 C’s in my parenting framework (see The 5 C’s to Amazing Parenting), I always list Check Yourself last, but really, this is the big-hitter, the foundation upon which the rest stand. The highlight of the Check Yourself category is intentional parenting. When you get intentional in your parenting, you:
- Think about your parenting philosophy and how you want to interact with your children
- Set goals for your family
- Establish frameworks/strategies for helping to achieve those goals
In this post, I’m going to walk you through these three steps to intentional parenting. By the end of this post, you’ll have a clear picture of how to develop your parenting philosophy and how to set goals for your family, and you’ll understand my 5 C’s parenting framework to give you the bigger picture behind each of the psychology-based tools I teach in my weekly parenting tips. Get ready to become intentional in your parenting!
Have you ever taken a moment to think about your parenting philosophy? Most people haven’t, so don’t worry if you’re drawing a blank. I think it’s a good idea for every parent to take the time to understand their parenting philosophy to use as an overarching guide for how you want to interact with your children. Parenting philosophies are very personal and may vary from person to person and across different cultures. Yours may be related to how your parents interacted with you as a child, some form of parent training you have had, like a course or a book you valued, or something that feels natural to you as a parent.
I could write an entire post on parenting philosophies; I’ll put that on my To-Do list. I’ll go into all the types and the related research outcomes for children raised by parents with different parenting styles. For today’s discussion, I’ll briefly mention that there are a lot of different parenting styles popularized in the media today, from helicopter parenting to free-range parenting. From a psychology perspective, there are four main parenting styles, three originally described by psychologist Diana Baumrind in the 1960s and a fourth added by Maccoby and Martin in the 1980s:
- Authoritarian: An extremely strict style of parenting focussed on rules and obedience with little use of positive feedback.
- Permissive: A very nurturing style of parenting with little focus on setting limits or monitoring children’s activities.
- Neglectful: Another parenting style that minimizes limit-setting and monitoring of children but is not nurturing or loving.
- Authoritative: A parenting style that uses rules and monitors children’s behavior in a loving and supportive way.
This visual representation shows how these four styles fall into the four quadrants of a graph depicting varying levels of a) warmth and acceptance, also called responsiveness, and b) demandingness.
These four parenting styles can guide parents who have never thought about their parenting philosophy. Don’t feel bad about that; that’s probably most parents. Use these categories to get a feel for where you fall in your natural parenting inclinations. You may even feel like you combine two or more styles because not all parents fit neatly into a single category.
Hearing about these options sometimes helps parents identify changes they want to make in their parenting style. You may have read the fourth option, authoritative, and thought that sounds like the best one and thought maybe you should be more attentive or less permissive to try to fit more into that category. Spoiler alert: Research consistently shows authoritative parenting as the most effective parenting style to support optimal child development. The psychology-based tools I teach through Parenting With Psychology, from Consistent Bedtime Routines to 3, 2, Thank You!, all fall under authoritative parenting.
If you’re already familiar with parenting philosophies, you may have moved beyond this categorization to develop your own unique parenting philosophy. For example, I describe my parenting philosophy as Love, Balance, and Problem Solving. I strongly believe that children should feel a sense of unconditional positive regard from their parents - that they can do anything in the world and always be Loved and valued by their parents. This concept stems from humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers.
However, parents can and should guide their children toward appropriate behavior along their developmental journey. This is the Balance part of my parenting philosophy, in which parents value and enjoy their children at their current developmental stage but look toward the future to be sure that they are shaping them into the person they hope their child will become at various developmental milestones such as age 5, age 11, and age 18.
Finally, I believe Problem-Solving strategies are invaluable to parenting. Parenting presents us with constant challenges, both on a small, daily scale and on a larger, long-term scale. Understanding the problem-solving steps in the SOLVE strategy can help you overcome even the trickiest parenting problems (see Solve Your Parenting Problems in 5 Steps to learn about the SOLVE strategy). Using problem-solving skills in your parenting also helps you avoid feeling frustrated and overwhelmed when presented with parenting challenges.
On top of an overarching parenting philosophy, it is helpful to establish specific goals for your family. While your parenting philosophy guides your parental behavior, family goals specify the outcomes you hope to see in your children. These may be broad goals like raising my child to be caring, conscientious, patient, reasonable, independent, and resilient. Those are all goals I have for my children.
Or they may be more specific, like wanting your child to be a safe swimmer as early as possible. That’s a goal we set for our family because a) my husband and I love the water. We met through the water; we were both on the springboard diving team at Johns Hopkins University and eagerly look forward to a lake vacation every year, and b) we had a lot of exposure to water when our children were very young, with access to pools both at our condo complex and at my father’s house, so we wanted our kids to be safe around water. Other examples of more specific goals would be instilling an early love of reading in my children (also a family goal of ours), wanting your children to develop an appreciation for all types of music, or wanting your children to grow up thinking of physical activity as a normal part of their daily routine (another family goal of ours).
Notice that these goals are reasonable and realistic. I’m not saying I want my child to become a concert pianist, or I want them to get a college athletic scholarship. Those things would be great, and you might hope for them, but your parenting goals should be reasonable and realistic so you set yourself up for success. For example, you may really want your child to be the first to attend college in your family, but ultimately, that will be their choice. Instead, make it a goal to teach your child the value of education and instill in them the belief that all doors are open for them because they are intelligent, talented, and hard-working. Here’s another example: I would absolutely love to have a bunch of grandchildren to help take care of in the future, but rather than setting that as a specific goal for my family, I have the goal of modeling the joy and comfort that comes from having a large, caring, and supportive family. We focus on making family time a priority and appreciating the benefits of having each other in our lives. That way, one day, my children may choose to find a partner and have children, and hopefully, invite me to help care for their babies.
What family goals do you have? You may have some that pop to mind right away, or you may need to think about it for a bit. One thing that might help is envisioning your children in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. What does their life look like? And how can you help them to get there by setting reasonable goals? Your family goals may look similar for each of your children, or vary a bit, especially if you have a child with any developmental or health issues to manage. Consider what goals you can prioritize for your family overall and for each child to help guide them on their developmental journey.
Now, you have an overarching parenting philosophy guiding your interaction style with your children and family goals, giving you desired outcomes to work toward. So how do you get there? What does the day-to-day routine look like in your family? How do you react when faced with parenting challenges? How do you handle your trickiest parenting situations? This is where specific parenting tools come in. This is why I developed my 5 C’s parenting framework. Once I understood my parenting philosophy and set goals for my family, I outlined five concepts to hone on the specific strategies I would use with my family each day to help us work toward our family goals in a way that is consistent with my parenting philosophy. This is a very meta way to think about your parenting, so don’t worry if it sounds a tad overwhelming right now - just know that the specific psychology-based parenting tools I developed and have worked so well for my family and for the families I have coached in this model are all stepping stones working toward a larger, cohesive plan with a long-term vision for raising amazing kids.
Each of the 5 C’s represents an overarching concept that you can use to guide your day-to-day family interactions and a category that serves as a way to organize specific tools, from understanding how to use positive and negative reinforcement in your parenting to learning anger management strategies to help you keep cool when your kids are driving you crazy. In today’s post, I’ll provide you with the overarching concept for each of the 5 C’s and list a few of the specific parenting tools that fall into each of the 5 C’s categories.
Concept: Communicate with your child in a calm, caring, and supportive manner. Be thoughtful in your word choice and nonverbal behavior. You are their loving and patient teacher.
Tools: Acknowledge and Respond Strategy, Social Learning Theory, Family Mantras
Concept: Consistency helps your child feel safe and secure with room to grow and explore. Be consistent in interacting with your child so they know what to expect from you. Also, be consistent in the daily routines that you set up for your child.
Tools: Attachment Theory, Sleep Hygiene, Daily Rhythms
- Choices & Checkpoints
Concept: Provide your child with the opportunity to make their own choices as much as safely and reasonably possible. Choices help guide your child toward independence. Developmental Checkpoints should guide the choices you present to your child.
Tools: 3, 2, Thank You! Strategy, Developmental Milestones, Coping Skills for Kids
Concept: Consequences help children learn how their actions affect other people to help guide them in making good choices. Consequences should be presented in advance so your child can make an informed choice, be reasonable and timely, and should be consistently enforced. Using if-then statements allows you to maintain a sense of control in your parenting.
Tools: Social Skills Training, Operant Conditioning, Sleep Training
- Check Yourself
Concept: Check Yourself means staying intentional in your parenting and using tools to help you stay grounded and happy as a parent. It means using problem-solving strategies when you encounter parenting roadblocks to avoid frustration and overwhelm.
Tools: Using Humor in Your Parenting, Tension Breaks, Coping Skills for Adults
Getting intentional about your parenting is the first step on the road to amazing parenting. The three-step process discussed in today’s post will get you set up for success as an intentional parent. First, understand your overarching parenting philosophy and how it aligns with Diana Baumrind’s description of an authoritative parenting style. Think about whether you may want to work toward being more warm and accepting and finding the right balance between being demanding and undemanding with your children. Second, identify your parenting goals, whether global or more specific. Be sure they are reasonable, and remember you cannot control the choices your child ultimately makes, but you can guide them on their developmental journey. Third, learn specific parenting tools to help you stay true to your parenting philosophy and family goals while managing the day-to-day realities of parenting. Whether it’s developing your own strategies or learning from a trusted mentor, having a parenting toolkit full of effective parenting strategies is essential. This week, take the time to think about these three steps and identify any areas you may want to focus on to be sure that you are getting intentional in your parenting. We only get one chance to parent our children; let’s do the best we can with the resources we have access to. That’s amazing parenting!
You may have noticed that in each of my weekly posts, there’s a summary section in which I mention which 5 C’s category houses the specific parenting tools discussed that week and how to find related posts to help parents get a bigger picture of the 5 C’s along with the specific tools I teach each week. Intentional parenting is part of the Check Yourself category of my 5 C’s parenting framework. To view more posts in this category, use the category search menu on the right of your screen. Keep up the good work on your amazing parenting journey!
P.S. To learn more about my 5 C’s parenting framework and continue your journey to becoming an amazing parent, please visit my Learn With Dr. Lindsay page. I look forward to educating and empowering your parenting practice.