Effective parenting doesn’t just happen. Neither do good grades, good friends, good relationships or a good life. Sure, sometimes luck and fate conspire to present us with a chance at something special. But for the most part, we create our good fortune by molding the natural opportunities that life offers us simply as a part of being human.
Growth and development are natural impulses. Research has shown that there are optimal times for learning language as well as learning emotional and physical skills. And it is parents who help mold these natural opportunities. The attentive parent notices when the infant is trying to hold his or her head up on their own. That parent then creates a structure in which the infant can safely practice. Will the child learn the skill without parental structuring? Yes. But that accomplishment would be purely a physical without the enrichment and connection afforded by the parent who molds a natural opportunity into one that is stimulating and nurtures the emotional and mental development of the child as well as the physical.
The concept of molding natural opportunities is based on research about signs of readiness or interest in displayed by a child. Parents can attend and actively listen for these signs, then structure the environment and provide activities in a manner that respects and enhances those naturally occurring moments. A great example of this is toilet training. Parents struggle with this issue and so do children. Self-control versus other-control. Some parents push their children too hard and too fast to gain self-control of toileting even there are no signs of readiness. And some parent ignore the signs of autonomy because the parent needs to feel needed. For the latter parents, the child growing up means the parent losing their importance in the life of the child.
There are many ways for parents to encourage and support children. One of the best is books! Even better is story-telling. It’s easy to get started. Plan a field trip with your children. Take them to the children’s book section at the local library or at a local bookstore. Plan on spending the afternoon there with your children just exploring books. Keep it unstructured and follow your child’s lead. They will let you know what they are interested int. And it can give you some wonderful ideas for molding natural opportunities as they present.
For example, many children are fascinated by dinosaurs, dragons and reptiles. While you may not be crazy about reptiles, they offer an inexpensive way to teach children about diversity, uniqueness, habitat, environment, and overcoming prejudice or fear. And you don’t have to bring them into your home or even pay to go the zoo. Go to a pet shop that specializes in reptiles. The staff is usually happy to educate children and adults about the animals. Your trip to the bookstore or library could lead to a series of local field trips that teach and support your child’s natural interest. Sometimes you will find that you will grow right along with your child as their interests move you outside of your own comfort zone.
Molding natural opportunities includes teaching our children to swim even when we don’t know how because of our own fear. It includes finding a piano teacher we can afford even if we can’t carry a tune in a bucket. It might mean asking the boss for a change of schedule to be at our child’s soccer game when we have two left feet ourselves. It includes helping our children to develop positive relationships, learn how to resolve conflicts, develop positive peer relationships, and feel a part of a community.
Molding natural opportunities means putting our children’s needs ahead of our own. It requires the difficult work of allowing our children to be completely different form us in some very important ways. The greatest challenge to our own values as a parent may come in the pursuit of supporting and respecting our child’s authentic self-expression. But the committed parent does it because effective parenting is not accident. Effective parenting is intentional.
Molding natural opportunities means being able to understand our children as separate, unique individuals and helping them to form relationships to the world with their own personalities, interest, and vision. Just as we learn more about relating to them at many levels, they learn to broaden and deepen their perspective in relation to others. It means sharing with them what is basic and genuine to us, and guiding them into the opportunities that are unique to their world, their lives, and their experience.