Parenting that Works by Dr. Edward Christophersen and Susan L. Mortweet
In Parenting that Works: Building Skills that Last a Lifetime, Dr. Edward Christophersen and Dr. Susan Mortweet attempt to address the challenges facing modern parents. Their goal is not to help parents create obedient children. Instead, Christophersen and Mortweet focus on helping parents shape children into successful adults. In order to do this, they focus on two elements: teaching skills to parents and then teaching parents how to pass those skills on to their children. First, they focus on helping parents build the toolbox of skills that they need to parent appropriately. Then, they transitions into helping parents use those skills to help their children.
One of the first things that the authors tackle is describing what they mean by a successful child. They differentiate their definition of a successful child from that of a child who simply achieves success, stating that a child who is a high achiever is no longer enough for parents. Instead, they suggest that parents, "want a child who will be happy, caring, and compassionate. A child who will be assertive without being aggressive or violent. A child who can make friends without succumbing to pressure to be use drugs or to be overly thin. A child who has the skills to handle life's frustrations without lashing out or losing self-esteem" (Christophersen & Mortweet, 2003). Then, they discuss the nature vs. nurture debate and whether these various qualities are inherited or can be taught and learned. They believe that nurture plays a critical role in child development and that all aspects of parenting should be viewed as training a child to be an adult. Therefore, for parents, the goal should not simply be behavior change or modification in the short-term, but looking ahead at what they long-term ramifications of parenting behavior will be on the child. Because they acknowledge that most people parent as they were parented, they then begin by teaching parents the major skills that adults should have.
The fact that all parenting should be geared towards creating successful adults is probably the authors' most important point and is one that is reiterated throughout the book. However, it is important to delve further into that idea and understand what the authors mean by the term successful adult in order to discover the major points of the book. The first major point of the book is that successful adults should be capable of avoiding violence and managing conflict in a productive and healthy manner. The authors discuss the fact that many people resort to violence as a means of conflict resolution, or, in the alternative, avoid conflict by failing to assert themselves. They suggest that the healthy adult is able to be assertive, which may cause conflict, and then work to resolve that conflict without aggression or violence. The second major point of the book is that healthy adults have sufficient self-esteem to be self-directed. In the context of the growing child, the authors discuss the importance of resisting peer pressure, but they also point out that this ability to be self-directed is critical for adults as well as children. The third major point of the book is that healthy adults are capable of compassion and empathy. Young children are, in many ways, very selfish. Parents need to teach children to be empathetic and much of this teaching comes through modeling behavior, where the parents demonstrate their concern for others. The fourth major point of the book is that children should be disciplined but not punished. The authors believe in a combination of positive reinforcement for good behavior combined with time-outs for bad behavior. The fifth major point of the book is that a significant aspect of parenting comes from modeling appropriate behavior for children. The power of this modeling behavior is linked to all of the other major points in the book. In other words, parents teach healthy conflict resolution and assertiveness by modeling that behavior for their children; they teach healthy self-esteem by demonstrating healthy self-esteem; they teach empathy and courtesy by treating others with empathy and courtesy; and they teach self-discipline, not only by engaging in age-appropriate discipline but also by modeling appropriate self-discipline.
One of the issues that the authors tackle is the subject of sharing. Sharing is one of the more difficult lessons that applies to all children, in large part because adults are rarely called upon to model the type of sharing behavior that is expected of children. For example, when one sees a group of parents with their children in a playdate, children are expected to share even their favorite toys with others, even though sharing involves a risk of damaging the toy and necessarily deprives the toy's owner of the use of that toy. However, the parents, who often have their own toys in the form of smartphones or other devices, are not expected to share those with their friends. In fact, even if an adult is asked to share with a friend, the expectation is that the sharing is temporary. For example, an adult borrowing a friend's cell phone to make a phone call uses it for the duration of the call and then returns it to the original owner. This is not how sharing with toys works for children, which can make it difficult to model. Moreover, the times when people are sharing less direct possessions can be difficult for a child to understand. The authors suggest that parents tackle this by pointing out to their children when they are sharing. For example, if parents are sharing with their children or one another, the authors suggest that they point this point to them (Christophersen & Mortweet, 2003). The authors also suggest providing opportunities for the child to share with others, and even suggest that the child share food, which removes the possibility that the shared item will be returned to the sharer. When the child does share, the authors suggest praise and rewarding behavior (Christophersen & Mortweet, 2003). . For example, a child who has been asked to share a cupcake with a friend but refuses does not get the cupcake, while the friend who was willing to share would still be entitled to the treat. When the child does not share, the authors suggest an immediate but brief time-out period (Christophersen & Mortweet, 2003). Furthermore, they also suggest that some toys be considered off-limits for younger siblings and guests, and suggests strategies that parents can use to ensure that these toys are off limits but the child is still sharing. In fact, the idea that some things are off-limits is an important part of sharing; as children grow, they may want to borrow things and have their requests denied. Learning how to share involves learning how to deal with having a request to share declined, as well as actually learning how to borrow and lend.
To set up a playdate that encourages sharing, following the authors' suggestions, a parent would need to take certain steps. The first step would be for the parent to decide where the playdate was located and what toys were eligible for sharing. Any special toys that the host did not want to share should be placed in a different room and removed from the setting. The parent would then outline the rules for sharing and let the child-host know how the parent-host will also be sharing. This would involve pointing out to the child things that may be too vague for children to recognize as sharing without adult intervention, such as the fact that the host parent will be sharing a home, a couch, and snacks with the visiting parent and child. The child should know that a failure to share will result in a time-out, but also that sharing of toys does not mean that the toys will not be returned to him or her at the end of the playdate. Finally, the parent should model this sharing behavior once the other family arrives for the playdate.
The book gave a good overview of parenting from a modeling perspective. Many parents approach their children with a "do as I say, not as I do" approach that can make it confusing for children to process the rules, much less to follow them. By stressing the importance of modeling healthy and appropriate behaviors, the authors stress that children learn by watching their parents' actions. This is an important lesson for parents. It also places the focus on the appropriate outcome- the child's adult behavior, not the child's behavior as a child. The authors acknowledge that children are going to behave like children. There will be tantrums and outbursts involved in child rearing and those are acceptable if used as teaching moments. The book also provided an appropriate guideline for discipline, taking the focus off of punishment and attempting to focus discipline as a learning opportunity for the child.
The fact that the authors addressed divorce was also very…