Parenting Tools: Skills, Strategies of Being Good Parents
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 6, 2001 "Loving our children doesn't mean we automatically know the best parenting tool to use in any given situation," said motivational speaker Brenda Bird.
Parenting "tools" are not specialized hammers, saws and other work implements, but simple skills and strategies that can be used to raise resilient children. The tools can be learned from books, friends, parents, experiences and observations, she said.
"Parents want to know, 'When my child does this, how do I respond?'" she said. "I don't set myself up as an expert. I willingly share my own failures as a parent. I get them laughing at my mistakes and help them see themselves in me. Once they realize what kind of unspoken messages they've been giving their children, they are more willing to choose a different response. I don't condemn them for using ineffective tools and never suggest they are messing their kids up for life"!
After keeping her audience laughing at the Military Child Education Coalition conference in Palm Harbor, Fla., in early July, Bird said it was "gratifying to see top military officials supporting the effort to strengthen families and give parents the tools they need to raise responsible children."
Military families may have to work harder because of the additional challenges that come from being mobile, Bird noted.
"Military children need the same things we all need, and all of the 'best practices' of parenting still apply," she said. "Military parents have wonderful teaching opportunities that civilian parents may have to work harder to provide. They should focus on the positive benefits of military family life and help their children accept and meet the challenges."
A motivational speaker, staff development trainer and family life consultant, Bird conducts parent education classes in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch (Texas) Independent School District. She has conducted workshops all over Texas and from Seattle to Florida to audiences that have included prisoners, executives, teachers, counselors, ministers, parents and children.
She conducts a one-hour "Home Improvement" seminar with a goal of strengthening families by teaching positive parenting skills. She called the seminar a compilation of all the things she's learned over the past eight years that have worked best for her as the mother of three sons.
"Parenting is a life-long journey that will take many twists and turns," she said. "The 'tools' we need with toddlers must grow and change as our children grow and change. But many parents are caught up in 'the way we've always done it' or 'That's the way my parents raised me and I turned our OK' syndrome. They close their eyes in denial that they need to sharpen their tools."
"I'm passionate about this message because I see so much anger in kids and I believe parents are the key to raising respectful, resourceful and responsible young adults. They're our future!"
Bird said children are receptors and reflectors of the society and culture around them. Consequently, anger in children reflects the anger they see in adults.
"Eighty percent of our behavior is learned from modeling," said Bird, who was recently elected as president of the Dallas (Texas) Coalition of Parent Educators. "We live in such a 'hurry-up' society, and many adults are quick to respond with impatience and criticism." However, she said, parents are doing many things right and children are forgiving, even when parents over-react.
"I still don't always practice what I preach," Bird noted. "Parenting is a difficult challenge because we're emotionally involved with our kids, and it's harder to stay calm and respond respectfully when our heart is involved."
Bird said the most important point she can share with parents is that children focus on a parent's anger rather than the problem they caused.
"I'm most effective as a parent when I can use humor and treat my kids the way I want to be treated. That's the 'golden rule' of parenting," she said. "Good, strong, healthy families exist because parents are intentional in the way they manage their home life. Their children feel loved, important, accepted and secure."
Talking too much is the greatest mistake parents make, she noted. "When we listen, offer empathy and understanding, we give kids the ability to work through and solve their own problems," Bird said.
Parenting is a difficult job, and it makes sense to get some training and instruction for the most important job in a parent's life -- raising future citizens, she said. In the eight years she has been teaching, she said, the parental mindset seems to have changed from "only parents with problems take parenting classes" to "all parents can benefit from parenting classes."