Questions for Contemplating Parenting Tactics

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Providing a good character example is simple in concept but not necessarily easy in practice. Once becoming a parent to impressionable children you may find yourself, as I found myself, struggling to be a better person than you had been for your entire life previously. Cutting a new path for yourself is a great undertaking. But it is achievable, for through your children you have great motivation. When you find yourself questioning whether any contemplated behavior or parenting tactic is fitting, a simple "first footprint" question can help you come to an answer. By selecting a question like the ones below, or any such question that strikes a chord with you, you will find the answer in your heart and will know what to do.

Would I want my child to behave the same way – like me – toward me? My spouse? My Family? 

E.g., You feel frustrated because your child is trying to learn a new game and you have explained the same rule multiple times, but she still doesn't get it. You want to raise your voice and say, "No, no, no! I already told you to only take one card! Can't you understand that?" Well, would you want your child to talk to you in that way? Certainly not. Because it is hard for a child to articulate her thoughts, she will frequently experience the frustration of being unable to fully express herself and be understood by others including you. You probably don't want her to default to an attitude of indignant impatience whenever this happens. So find another approach to teaching your child the game and dealing with your own frustration.

Is that how I want my child to treat her siblings? Her friends?

E.g., Your small child has reached onto your nightstand and taken your glasses, and you are worried that she will break them. Your first thought is to wrench the spectacles from her hand. But is that how you want your child to react when she sees her sibling playing with a prized toy of hers? If you would like your child to have conflict resolution strategies more advanced than raw aggression, and a notion of justice beyond "might makes right" then this first footprint question will probably tell you to think again.

Would I like my child to repeat the behavior in other settings?

E.g., You are driving down the street and are cut off by another car. Your child blurts out, "That knucklehead needs driving lessons!" Would it be okay if your child resorted to name calling when one of her classmates in school answered a question incorrectly? You may find humor in those words when they come from the mouth of a small child, but the first footprint question will likely lead you to the conclusion that instead of laughing you should start modeling more respectful attitudes toward other drivers and be more forgiving to other people in general.  

The first footprint questions can provide clarity with regard to tactical approach, disposition, communication style, and even tone of voice. An example situation is when your child is persistently asking questions. If your inclination is to answer her with, "Not now, I'm busy" or "You wouldn't understand," then the first footprint questions would help bring the perspective that to follow through with that kind of response would be to teach your child to take a dismissive attitude toward her playmates, siblings, or parents. A first footprint question would probably lead you to find different words and use them with a different tone of voice. It would help you choose a response that accomplishes your immediate goal while also modeling good character.

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I like to imagine what it would be like if everybody raised their children by serving as a positive role model. We are each born with the capacity to be happy, to make meaningful connections to others, to discover ourselves, and to maximize our impact. Yet not all of us fully realize this potential. Consider the human experience, and how much of its failure and success rests on parenting. Within every self-directing adult is an echo of the impressionable child she once was, vanquished by time but whose experiences saturate the subconscious. I think of all the helpful words unspoken, the hatred unrestrained, the accomplishments unattempted, and the creative passions unstirred but for positive parental examples. I imagine how many miscommunications could be bridged, how many conflicts could be resolved, how many opportunities could be exploited, and how many talents could be brought to bear through the aggregate effect of better upbringing. Parenting done well can change the world.

Author's Note: This post is the intermission in a series of posts about the example you set. Three parenting behaviors have been covered, and there are three more to go. Read about compassion here, honesty here, fairness here, optimism here, and determination here. We will resume the series next week, when we will cover optimism.

·       How do you decide which parenting tactics are right for your family?

·       What unexpected ways has your child repeated your behaviors?

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How to Properly Cite this Article: Brian Vondruska, “Questions for Contemplating Parenting Tactics”, The Kind of Parent You Are, accessed [date],