Another role of parenting that is often overlooked is what I call the role of Challenger. In this role, parents also need to know their kids, what they like and how they learn. This takes lots of time. Knowing another person, even your own child, is not easy; and they are ever-changing.
Every child is different to every other from the time they’re laid in your arms, born with certain pre-dispositions that we still don’t fully understand. In your role as a parent, you learn about each child by watching them, touching them, and talking to them: When they cry, what they are afraid of in the night or on the playground, who they seem to like or not like. All of this information is very important when helping them grow in a positive way.
So, there’s David, who’s quiet and doesn’t talk much; but seems to watch everyone and everything. Jill talks and runs around a lot, paying most attention to her own activities and toys. And Jason just seems to want to climb trees and play in the woods.
So, as a Challenger, your role is to help each of them develop well-rounded skills that you know are important in everyday life. All of us have to get along with other people, for example; so David must learn how to talk to others enough to make his needs known, as well as to get along in a group, a skill many adults don’t seem to have learn.
Jill is social and talkative, so she may have to learn how to listen more to other people so you might challenge her by simply insisting she keep quiet while David is encouraged to have his say as well, albeit more slowly.
Jill begins developing patience, and David learns that he is also valued by being encouraged to speak up. Then there’s Jason. He may have to be challenged to sit at the dinner table until everyone is finished. These are very small steps that must be taken consistently, on a daily basis so that certain habits are formed.
Developing habits requires consistent work, and is very hard for all of us. We have to challenge ourselves to be more patient, less or more talkative, or to sit still during those college lectures. Letting your children know that you, too, are working on certain skills lets them know that they’re still OK because we’re all learning. In this way, you validate (i.e., cultivate) their value to you and to others.
So in the role of Challenger, some parenting skills include:
Teach basic rules of conduct, such as sitting at the dinner table. For toddlers, it may be 5 minutes; and you up the ante for your 5-year-old, 7-year-old and 10-year-old. Sounds basic, but it’s amazing how many parents simply give up trying and routinely acquiesce to pizza on the run.
Practice learning a new skill, jump-rope, skipping rocks on a lake, riding a bicycle. OK, so this happens all the time or does it? Playing with your kids once a month isn’t the same as helping them on a regular basis with consistent drill and practice.
Challenge them to repeat a list of fruits or vegetables they know, or name everything that’s green, or count from 1 to 10, then 1 to 20, and so on. Little steps, big learnings.
Ask questions about their homework. First of all, they need to develop the responsibility of doing their homework, consistent practice and then using those skills in other ways. And they need to know that homework is important to you, and to others to develop focus, concentration, and problem-solving skills.