I knew everything about parenting... before I became a parent myself.
I had been babysitting since I was 12, I nannied all throughout college and I received my degree in psychology with an emphasis on developmental psych.
I had read all the theories, knew all the tricks, understood exactly how children ticked, and considered myself pretty much an expert on all things child-rearing.
That is, until I had a child of my own to rear.
Perhaps one of the most important things I've learned about parenting now that I’m actually a parent is this: There is no one-size-fits-all solution to anything. No philosophy, no trick, no way of combatting the most common parenting challenges (like biting, or potty training) will work with every kid.
No matter how well it may have worked for your kid.
Still, have you ever noticed how fast the advice comes anytime you’re up against one of those hurdles yourself? Think about it. If you start talking to your parenting friends about how you’re gearing up to start potty training, each and every one of them will offer a solution they swear by. Mention your child has started fighting bedtime, and they’ll all tell you about a trick that worked for them. Have a kid who tantrums every night? Guaranteed, you know someone who has the fix for that.
It’s actually kind of awesome. Sure, no one likes unsolicited advice, but when it comes from our friends who have actually been there and done that, aren’t most of us usually open to hearing those ideas?
The problem comes when and if you actually try to implement those ideas. Because if their foolproof parenting trick doesn’t work for you, prepare to be judged—you clearly did something wrong.
People don’t mean to be awful. They just honestly can’t help themselves. They found something that worked for them. Maybe even something that worked for all their kids. So of course they're going to automatically assume that it could work for all other kids too. Which means that if it doesn’t work for yours, it must be your fault.
And if everything you know about parenting has come from parenting your own kids, you don’t know a whole lot about what it takes to parent other kids.
I cannot tell you how many times sticker charts have been suggested for various issues with my daughter. People LOVE their sticker charts. “Promise her a big reward if she gets 10 stickers,” they’ll say. “And then give her a sticker every time she stays in bed all night!” Or every time she dresses herself in the morning. Or every time she takes a bath without crying.
Really, whatever it is we’re working on at the moment, people suggest sticker charts.
Trust me, I want to love sticker charts too. What a simple solution! I wish they worked for us.
But I’ve tried, and I promise you… they don’t. Whatever it is that allows other kids to work towards this delayed rewards system, my kid doesn't have that. She honestly cannot think that far ahead. She can’t contain her behavior in this instant in the hopes of earning a prize days from now. She can't even contain her behavior in this instant in the hopes of earning a prize an hour from now!
And the instant reward of a single sticker? That definitely isn’t cutting it for her.
But when I try to explain this to people who emphatically tout the benefits of the sticker chart, I swear they start to look at me funny. And then they start asking questions, like, “Well… did you let her help make the chart with you?” Or, “Did you promise a reward she really wanted?”
Like I’m an idiot. Like I didn’t understand the basics of the sticker chart to begin with.
Because it is incomprehensible to them that there might be a kid in this world for whom a sticker chart wouldn’t work.
The bedtime ticket is another I’ve heard people rave about, only to find it was not an option for my little girl. Giving her that damn ticket just resulted in her immediately hopping out of bed to use it, and then still continuing to come into my room several times after.
Kids are different. Hell, parents are different. The different personalities in any given family can have an effect on what does and does not work for them.
And that’s okay.
There is no foolproof parenting trick that will work for any and all kids. It just doesn’t exist.
So, yes, let’s share ideas. Please! I want to hear what worked for you, and to tell you what worked for me. Parenting is tough, and the only way we’re going to make it out alive is if we compile everything we know and help each other to pick and choose what might work for each given situation.
But keep in mind that not all kids are the same. And if everything you know about parenting has come from parenting your own kids, you don’t know a whole lot about what it takes to parent other kids.
Save me the stink eye and just help me come up with something else, okay? Because your damn sticker chart? It’s not magic, and it’s not working for us.