Parenting—in a Disneyland World
©Arlene R. Taylor PhD www.arlenetaylor.org
“Our triplets are due in about five months,” Eva began, smiling. “It appears our whole family will be complete in one pregnancy. Naturally, we’re noticing other young parents, and their parenting styles are all over the proverbial map. We’ve seen everything from completely permissive to Captain-Von-Trapp rigidity.”
“We just spent a weekend at Disneyland,” said her husband Marc, joining the conversation, “and that trip reinforced our need for a few smart parenting tips—sooner rather than later.”
“Disneyland can be a fun vacation,” said the pediatric coach. “As a metaphor for life, however, it describes a mindset of instant gratification, of wanting it all, trying to avoid consequences, and of using plastic and paying later. But when “later” arrives—as it always will—then the shock sets in.”
“Exactly,” said Marc. “We’d like to start out in the best way possible.”
“Perhaps the first thing to remember is that each brain on the planet is different. Your triplets may arrive in this world on the same day, but each will have a unique brain. Pay close attention to the characteristics they exhibit from birth. Give them a range of experiences, always honoring who each is innately.”
“The sensory systems, for example,” said Eva. “Wouldn’t it be fun if one was visual, one auditory, and one kinesthetic?”
“It would,” their coach agreed, “as long as you didn’t expect each to approach life using the same sensory preference.”
“I’m visual,” said Marc, “but my wife is clearly kinesthetic. I see things more quickly, while she is much more sensitive to odors and tastes and the way clothing feels against her skin. If one of the triplets is auditory, we’ve got the senses covered.” They laughed.
“Add to that the possibilities of an extroverted, ambiverted, or introverted preference,” the coach began.
“That’s mindboggling!” exclaimed Eva, interrupting. “I’m ambiverted, while Marc is more introverted. It really would be challenging if we end up with three extroverts.”
“Appropriate training also means that your chosen job or career path may be inappropriate for your child, no matter how much you love what you do,” the coach continued. “The tasks your brains do energy-efficiently may be energy-exhausting for your children. Help your triplets identify and follow their individual brain’s bent, not yours.”
“I certainly understand that,” said Marc, nodding. “The eldest son in our family for three generations back has always been an accountant. I apprenticed, but absolutely hated it. When I decided to become a teacher, my life got measurably better almost immediately. It took a few years for my parents to agree it was the best choice for my brain. Eventually, my father told me that he had always wanted to be a cook, not an accountant. Imagine that!”
“Do you have some other cautions?” asked Eva.
The coach was happy to provide several.
- You can only teach what you know. Children continually observe their parents even when it doesn’t appear they are watching. Since they tend to do what you role-model, “Do as I say—not as I do” is unhelpful. The more functional, balanced, and consistent your behaviors, the more likely your children are to embrace a similar pattern. Spend time every week studying to improve your knowledge and your parenting skills.
- Decide on a few basic rules, with clear explanations and consequences. Too many rules are difficult for children to remember; too few and they may fail to develop appropriate boundaries. (After all, there are only 10 commandments!) Be consistent in your fair application of the rules, as children tend to feel safer when they know expectations.
- The work of children is play. They learn quickly through games and free-time play. Avoid majoring in minors—ignore the small stuff unless it will make a difference 12 months from now. Play with them, helping them feel successful and competent commensurate with their age-level, developing their abilities and increasing their skill levels.
- Provide choices. In life you always give up something to get something—even though in a Disneyland world you supposedly can have it all. Offer children choices as early as possible: only two options at a time, however, since the brain only has two hemispheres. “An apple or a banana?” “Would you like red or blue?” “In our family we take music lessons: for you, piano or guitar?” This helps them build the skills of choosing, providing a sense of healthy empowerment. All human beings feel safer when they can make choices.
- Allow children to learn from consequences. Humans tend to learn best by making an informed choice and then experiencing the consequences (positive as well as negative), although it can be tempting for a parent to step in and prevent their child’s negative consequences that result from (often willful) choices. Describe each option based on the child’s developmental age (if this, then that), without coercion and then allow the child to experience the consequences of his or her choice. “This time you chose a birthday party at the park. Next time you may choose the zoo.” Role-model enjoying what you have now while looking forward to other future options. In a Disneyland world the goal often is to find a way to avoid the consequences of your behavior. In reality, every action has a reaction. Learn that concept early in life, and you may prevent a great deal of disappointment.
- Be trustworthy. Promise carefully and realistically. Then follow through on what you promised. Role-model the ability to trust yourself. Avoid dithering. Course-correct if your choice results in negative outcomes. Although there are no guarantees, when you can be trusted, your children are more likely to live in the moment and keep an eye on long-term goals, making the choices necessary to be successful.
- Love unconditionally. Love is romanticized in the Disneyland world, often touted as a feeling that can change on a whim. Unconditional love is a choice and a principle; it cannot be earned and can be tough. It is not for the weak or for sissies, but is given freely in spite of and no matter what. You love and help the individual feel accepted even when you personally disapprove of his or her choice or a specific behavior.
“I was raised in an orphanage,” said Eva. “The attendants likely did their best, but I missed out on the type of parenting you just described. I’d like to do better for my child. Oops, children. Especially the unconditional love part.”
“Unconditional love is a journey involving a life-long process of learning to let go,” said their coach. “No clinging, playing favorites, living vicariously, or trying to compensate for your child’s unfortunate choices. It never condones or enables bad behaviors, over-functions or under-functions, or nullifies consequences—(i.e., if you do the crime, you do the time)—even as you continue to show love for the person. I often suggest that parents regularly ask themselves a couple of questions:
- Do my loved ones perceive they are loved only by meeting my expectations?
- Do my loved ones sense that I love them, period—even when they know I don’t approve of all their behaviors?
“I think my parents gave me a good bit of unconditional love,” said Marc, “although the concept is something of an oxymoron. Their love really sustained me the year I spent in the hospital following a serious vehicle accident. Not to forget the subsequent two years in rehab. We want to give that to our triplets.”
“The unconditional love part,” said Eva, laughing. “Not the vehicle accident or the years of rehab.”
“The lagniappe for today—the little something extra—is the value of patience,” said the coach. “Success requires an ability to wait and be productive while you wait. Studies have shown that being grateful and giving thanks can reduce impatience. Living in gratitude can actually help you delay immediate gratification, when doing so can help you eventually achieve a greater reward.”
“Like studying and finishing high school,” said Marc. “Many times I felt like avoiding my homework. Now I’m glad I persisted.”
“I’ve written these tips down,” said Eva. “Can we come back next month and talk more about parenting in a Disneyland world? This was helpful.” Their coach smiled, and the couple left with an appointment card in hand.
Remember, a parent’s role-modeling is more effective than anything he or she will ever say. Parenting in today’s Disneyland world takes
- consistency, and
Sooner rather than later! Note: Taylor’s free Sensory Preference and Extroversion-Ambiversion-Introversion Assessments are available at http://arlenetaylor.org/index.php/taylor-s-assessments-resources.html.