By: Haim Amit
Educational Psychologist, Certified Family therapist, Organizational Consultant
Author of the books: Confident Parenting, Modan, 2012.
Parents as Leaders, Modan, 2006. & Parents as Humans, Sifriat Poalim, 1997
What led you to write this book, after already writing the successful Parents as Leaders?
I’m often asked by young parents if the Parental Leadership approach presented in my previous book also works with preschool-age children. The question surprises me, as Parents as Leaders contains lots of material on preschoolers. In any case, the more I listen to parents of preschoolers, the better I understand their dilemmas and inner conflicts to be quite complex, and that the challenges in parenting preschoolers demand specific guidance thereon. Moreover, the preschool stage is critical in building lifelong parental leadership. It is at this stage that we’re laying the foundation for what comes after: the parent-child relationship, learning rules and boundaries, acquisition of ways of communicating with others, now and down the road.
Parents are the planners — the architects and engineers — as well as the construction crew, of the building that we call the family. And when problems arise, we need to handle them appropriately and treat them with sensitivity, after they have hopefully been identified early, as untreated problems or those handled inappropriately can grow into big problems.
Therefore I decided to take up the gauntlet and expand upon the Parental Leadership approach while focusing on preschool-age children, as this is our big challenge: to lead young children and ensure them a parent who watch over them and guide them while giving them what they need most at this age — warmth, love, and sensitivity to their needs — without the parents giving up on their own needs as individuals and as members of a couple.
I admit that I’m looking through my personal lens: While I vacillated over whether to devote time to my writing, my eldest daughter became a mother. And toward the completion of Confident Parenting, my younger son became a father. I imagine that my youngest will eventually reach this milestone as well. As such, I wanted to give them my own gift, the most important of all: practical tips for rewarding parenting of my grandchildren!
The book’s title is Confident Parenting. How do you define Confident Parenting?
Alongside the enormous satisfaction of parenting is the work — tedious, fatiguing, annoying, confusing — mixed with the swirl of worry and anxiety, guilt and shame. To succeed in this hardest of jobs, we must act from a place of confidence. When parents trusts themselves, when they believe that they possess the tools to understand what’s happening with their child(ren) and to face it head on, they act both confidently and freely. When this is not the case, the parent acts from a place of anxiety and pressure.
When parents trust themselves and feel good about their choices, the child picks up on it and reacts accordingly. In contrast, when parents feel helpless or at the end of their rope, they actually weaken the child, who picks up on their weakness and reacts accordingly.
Confident parenting is especially important today, when shaky values engender lack of confidence; a multiplicity of child-rearing philosophies abound; and confusion over how to handle issues can be paralyzing. Moreover, our own and others’ expectations of us as parents are sky-high, leading predictably to disappointment and a sense of failure. As such, parents of children of all ages need much more reinforcement than they did in the past in finding their “true north” and functioning accordingly.
Is any particular importance attached to confident parenting of preschoolers?
It’s particularly easy for newer parents to feel dizzied by the “preschool maelstrom”. The intersection of an individual parent’s weaknesses and the objective day-to-day difficulties of life with a preschooler can make the parenting task daunting.
Due to their inexperience, young parents are naturally anxious: Is Baby getting enough to eat? Are we spoiling her by letting her sleep with us? Is s/he developing properly? Due to the 24/7 nature of caring for a baby, parents are naturally fatigued; and a preschooler’s difficulty in understanding that what is acceptable in one situation does not apply to another requires endless cautioning, teaching, explaining, and re-teaching on the part of the parents.
As babies communicate non-verbally, while being adults, parents of course communicate primarily verbally, as parents work to bridge this gap, they are liable to fall into the abyss of frustration.
Moreover, as the stage of life in which we parent young children commonly overlaps with the stage wherein we are trying to advance professionally, we may neglect areas such as the couple relationship: Our time and energy are necessarily finite, and we may feel guilt at advancing our careers at the expense of time spent with our children.
Due to the emotional tie with her infant, a parent may identify with the infant’s distress, which can be a weakening process for the parent. Due to expectations they have of themselves, in their attempts to show their own parents how capable they are as parents, parents disappoint themselves every time they slip up or fall short of managing their lives and day-to-day affairs. As much as it can lighten the load, help and backup from their own parents or other family members leaves an opening for the latter’s involvement, or in some cases critique, leaving parents conflicted between gratefulness and pressure to perform.
As much access as parents have to child-rearing advice, the deluge can be confusing. Because parents are expected on the one hand to show understanding and sensitivity and on the other to set limits and show resoluteness, they can easily find themselves at a loss. Feeling paralyzed, they may slip into a pattern of “wimp / warrior” wherein they may find themselves act impulsively and / or controllingly at one extreme; or over-consulting with the child about her wishes, going so far as to leave things “up to her”.
During the hard moments in particular, but also when things are going smoothly, the child needs to feel that the parent is acting from a place of confidence, knows what is best for the child, and acts thereon. It is for this reason that it is so important to foster confidence in parents.
Note that “confident parent” does not equal “perfect parent”, or one who is certain of what to do in every situation. We know that there is no such parent. On the contrary, a confident parent accepts that s/he is imperfect and will make mistakes; s/he accepts the myriad doubts encompassed in being a parent without losing her balance entirely; s/he can tolerate the question marks surrounding her decisions without being overcome by anxiety. Confident Parenting, while aware of her vacillations and apprehensions, does not let these paralyze her: S/he makes decisions in the moment based on her best judgment, with the full knowledge that s/he might err and may have to do a “do-over” and “reset”.
What’s unique about Confident Parenting? Why is it worth reading, out of the dozens of child-rearing books out there?
CP’s uniqueness lies in its threefold source of support for parents:
- Practical tips for everyday dilemmas – eating, sleeping, fears, weaning, toilet training, “pushing our buttons”, aggression, tantrums, new sibling, sibling rivalry, social difficulties, lying, sexuality, crying, death, separation, preferring one parent, going on vacation
- The Parents as Leaders approach that lies at the base of these tips – Chapter 1 presents the Seven Child-Rearing Tools that lie at the base of parental leadership:
►Setting an example
►Conducting a dialog
- The 11 Developmental Skills – Chapter 2 lists the 11 Skills that parents help their children acquire:
☺Ability to separate
☺Moral compass (conscience)
Having internalized the 7 Tools and the 11 Skills, the reader will not only feel encouraged in solving immediate problems, but can also go on to hone her parenting skills (and in fact her human skills), thereby preventing the buildup of problems over time.
- One more unique contribution is dedicated material on the three sub-stages of early childhood, an important subject that does not get this level of attention in other child-reading books.
- Another unique aspect of CP as well as my previous books is the personal one: I’ve included my own experiences as a “newbie” parent of preschoolers, as well as my view looking back on myself and my children at that stage. This personal element allows the reader to identify with my experience and expand her insights. The way to help our children from Day One is to help ourselves. Self-awareness and self-understanding of our attitudes toward developmental issues enables us to help our children to achieve equilibrium and exhibit a healthy attitude toward life.
- Finally, each chapter opens with a composite query on the subject discussed therein, based on the many inquiries on my online parenting forum. Beginning with a question enables me to relate to the commonest issues occupying parents. In this way, the book acts as a handbook, both practical and accessible, so that parents will find therein answers to their Problem of the Moment, and not merely theoretical knowledge.
Integrating your forum into CP is an interesting idea. How did you come by it?
In the past few years, online forums have gained popularity in many spheres, and certainly in parenting. It’s a particularly appropriate medium for preschool parents, as their time is tight, they’re constantly busy, and they crave practical, immediate advice. The parent-to-parent dialogs that develop present a challenge to me: How to give parents concrete, effective relief for their distress without remaining superficial. Thus CP allows me to expand on my forum advice.
I’ve discovered from experience that parents’ understanding of the theory and rationale behind the advice enables them to modify their behavior beyond the specific issue queried. Even if a parent does not end up acting upon the advice strictly speaking, by understanding the background, s/he opens herself up to new, perhaps more positive ways of behaving.
So Confident Parenting isn’t a how-to-grow-a-child book that gives “instructions for assembly”?
Exactly. Although CP contains lots of advice, which as aforementioned I see as a plus; and although the language is clear, which I regard as crucial, it’s not a recipe book: Rather, the advice constitutes the application of child-rearing principles to concrete situations. That’s why the first two chapters list the 7 Tools and the 11 skills: The logic behind the advice lies therebehind. In this way, parents can act out of understanding and knowledge, and not as parent-bots.
My advice does not equate with operating instructions from which the reader must not deviate lest s/he fail some imagined parenting test; neither does it replace creativity and flexibility, which are critical ingredients in the parenting mix. My objective is to present parents with sound options for action; ideas that are both innovative and make sense; and advice that can be applied in various situations. My recommendations’ objective is precisely to help readers to formulate their own action plans.
How shall I use Confident Parenting?
I recommend reading the first two chapters, which form the foundation for what follows, in one sitting (you might need to call in reinforcements to accomplish this!). After doing so, many parents already feel more confident in their parenting. Thereafter, read each chapter in a sitting, so as not to “lose the thread”, as parents of preschoolers are plagued by distractions, as we know.
Chapters 3-14 can also be related to as a guidebook for referral as needed. Most of these chapters follow a set structure for ease in use and finding the relevant content of the moment, and most contain the following sub-headings:
- An entry from my own journal that illustrates the subject discussed in the chapter
- Background on the subject
- Various causes of problems in this area
- Recommendations for problem-solving, first applicable to all ages, then specifically to the three sub-stages of early childhood
- My own glance backward examining how I functioned as a parent in this area
What are these three sub-stages you keep mentioning? Why are they important?
Early Childhood refers to birth up to age five or six, when in most cases the child begins school. As it’s a long period wherein huge changes take place both in the developing child and the family, each sub-stage demands relating to on its own. For example, sleep issues for an infant differ from those of an eight-month-old, a three-year-old, or a kindergartener. Therefore, each issue is directed at each of three sub-stages, as accepted in the field of early childhood education:
|Infancy||Up to 18 months|
|Toddlerhood||Up to age three|
|Preschooler||Up to age six|
The above stages are approximate, not exact; your real-life toddler may respond to advice aimed at kindergartners, or vice versa. Therefore I recommend that parents reflect on the example opening the relevant chapter as well as their own child’s behavior, and not decide what action they will take based strictly on their child’s age. Children develop at differing rates, so that for example, a stage passed through by one child at age one may not be passed through by another child until age two. This is completely normal, and says nothing about either the parents or the child.
The above divisions are not set in stone; they are simply helpful to parents when they are trying to “place” their child’s developmental stage as per reality, as opposed to a chart. Thus, for example, if your kindergartener has not acquired proper eating habits because you failed to give her the proper guidance upon weaning (not a crime!), you can be aided by the advice on nursing to fill in your knowledge gaps from that period.
Seven tools; 11 skills: Those are heavy demands. Sounds like only a super-parent is up to the task. You’re not worried that Confident Parenting will actually intimidate young parents?
That very possibility is always at the forefront of my mind whenever I write or lecture to parents. I’m indeed concerned that parents will cease to trust themselves and emerge even more insecure. Therefore it’s very important to me that parents believe in themselves, that they trust their ability to cope with the tribulations of child-rearing. The objective of all of CP’s content is to build up parents.
In the field of parent guidance today, the oft-repeated mantra is: “There’s no right and wrong. What’s important is that you do what’s comfortable for you.” “Go with your gut; do what feels right to you.” While these statements have the appearance of giving parents lots of leeway, appear to be giving them the sense that they’re trustworthy, sweeping statements such as these aren’t actually helpful — certainly not for parents who feel as though they’re walking a tightrope without a safety net.
While parents should certainly find their own paths for themselves and their children, would we tell someone who’s learning to drive, “Just trust yourself and you’ll be fine. Use your instincts on the road. You’ll figure it out as you go”? In many cases, parents don’t know what’s right for them; they haven’t had time to formulate a parenting “style” or “philosophy” — they barely have time to brush their teeth!
In as many cases, the parents are divided on how to proceed, and are hungry for user-friendly yet practical guidance. Our guts are not enough to go on today. More often than not, what looks like parents acting on instinct stems from helplessness, from pressure, confusion, fatigue, or all of the above. Often acting on instinct is a manifestation of the wimp / warrior syndrome. In order for parents to lead, they need more than merely “going with their guts”.
Using the extensive knowledge in CP, parents’ confidence will increase: They’ll gain their footing, they’ll be at peace with themselves, they’ll be secure in their parenting.
A personal question: As a young parent, did you lead your children as per the Parents as Leaders concept?
When I look back on myself as a young dad, I indeed ask myself if I succeeded in leading my children as per PAL. There’s no doubt that I know things today that I didn’t know then. It’s for that reason that each chapter in CP is accompanied by my personal observations on how I parented, reflections on what helped me cope and what hindered me. That having been said, I have no doubt that had I read CP as a young parent, I’d have been a better leader to my young children.
 Haim Amìt, Parents as Leaders, Modán 2006.