Boy, nature, hat, teen

Parenting styles are a hot topic these days. Labels (and associated social media quizzes) abound. Are you a helicopter parent? Lawnmower parent? Free-range parent? Attachment parent? Hummingbird parent?

No matter where you land in terms of parenting style, there’s one thing all parents have in common: no one knows and loves our children like we do, and we want them to be healthy and successful, both now and in the future. One big question, then, is how hard do you push your kids as they grow to adulthood?

There’s no easy answer. How involved you are and how hard you push likely will be different for different children or even for different seasons in an individual child’s life. Here are a few ideas to consider:

1. What’s the end game for your child? In other words, what type of person do you want him/her to be as an adult? Think through your family’s values, and go from there. Most parents want their kids to have healthy relationships with family and friends, to work to the best of their abilities in school and other pursuits, to practice good decision-making and learn sound judgment, and to find meaningful work. Once you know your end game, you can think through the experiences and skills your child needs right now. Does he/she need to work on problem-solving, disagreeing appropriately, time management, study skills, etc.?

2. Together with your child, choose one area to work on, and set some realistic goals that fit the child’s age, stage, and abilities. For example, a child who struggles with school might need to learn and practice study skills, how to ask for help, or how to organize his/her time.

3. Once goals are established, help your child set up some rewards he finds meaningful and make them contingent on reaching the goals (if you achieve A, B follows). This teaches kids to make the connection between actions (I study hard) and consequences (my grades improve).

4. Once goals/contingencies are in place, back off and give your child responsibility for the outcomes. Check in at regular, agreed upon intervals to see how it’s going. Let your child own his or her successes or failures. Don’t rush in to fix everything; kids learn from disappointment as well as from achievement. If you sense your child is in serious distress, that’s the time to intervene.

5. Remind your child that you’re there for support and help with problem-solving. Provide lots of encouragement and praise.

6. When your child hits goals in one area, ask what he/she would like to tackle next, and repeat the process.

Some achievements will come easier than others. Just remember: before you know it, your children will be out on their own, and you want them to be the best versions of themselves, whether your there or not.


Laura Holmes Buddenberg joined Father Flanagan's Boys' Home in January 2000. As a training manager at Boys Town, Buddenberg works as an administrator, writer and trainer, specializing in teen dating and relationships, media awareness, family spirituality, abuse and other issues affecting today's families.

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