Mary is having difficulties parenting her own child. She loves him very much and is always ready to try to understand him, but often has doubts about upbringing and feels rather insecure in her role as a mother. Should she give him attention or not? Should she help him overcome his difficulties or let him fend for himself? Should she scold him when he misbehaves or try to talk to him calmly?
Lorenzo, her partner, also wonders the same questions. Until the birth of their child, he had never thought about childrearing, because he believed it was a natural thing and that somehow he would manage it. Now, however, he realizes that the parenting role continually presents him with complicated choices that require long reflections and do not always have the desired effects.
There are many people like Mary and Lorenzo; they want to understand how to be a better parent and give their child the best, to help them grow and fully realize themselves in life, but they feel uncertain and struggle a lot.
If you too are in a situation similar to theirs and often wonder how to raise a child, through this article you can gain greater confidence as a parent. If you are also experiencing a situation like this and, on several occasions, you don’t know how to exercise your parenting role with your child and how to work in synergy with your partner, I suggest you continue reading.
In fact, I will provide you with precise indications on this and also with concrete upbringing examples of the best way to do it in the different stages of the child’s development, so that you and your family can feel like a well-coordinated team in facing the sea of education.
Through the small tips I will suggest, you can immediately bring the relationship with your child back within the boundaries of a serene and collaborative relationship, satisfying for your entire family. I won’t add anything else, I wish you a good read!
1. The basic ingredients for upbringing your child
I am quite familiar with the doubts and fears that arise when one has children or is about to have them. Not only because I am a pedagogist and have worked with numerous families in my professional experience, but also because I am a father, and the things I talk about are experiences that I have lived concretely in my own family context.
Our minds often lead us to reflect on what the future will be like for our children, how they will be as teenagers, how they will evolve, and how our relationship with them will be transformed. This happens because we realize day by day that many aspects are changing at an impressive speed, both in children and in ourselves.
The educational questions we ask ourselves derive from the desire to try to do our best; in some cases, however, they also derive from our difficulty in feeling sufficiently stable and secure in our position in relation to the child.
In some circumstances, in fact, we feel our role wavering a bit. I am thinking, for example, of lively children and how to educate them, or of children’s tantrums, that is, those moments when we would like to have an immediate solution to a problem but we don’t have it; and when we come up with one, we never know for sure what effects it will have or if it will lead us into another mistake.
Also, because the condition in which parents often live is that of an ordinary state of emergency: there is no time, there is no energy, the circumstances in which we intervene tend to be inadequate, etc.
If your child needs you, he or she does not notify you a week in advance, because his or her need for support or suffering requires your immediate intervention; and this happens constantly. Clearly, this adds insecurity to the perplexities that one already has.
Naturally, there are many doubts in all of us, and I sincerely believe that very few people do not have them. Having approached the perplexities of many mothers and fathers, in addition to my own, I tried to condense them all around a single big question, to which I try to give some concrete answers, even if still partial compared to the vastness of the theme: how to educate a child?
The answer that I offer you, and that you will deepen by reading me, is very simple because it is strongly intuitive; it is composed of three ingredients:
– the right dose of awareness of the child’s development and needs;
– a lot of serenity in one’s way of acting towards the child;
– the ability to follow the educational principles that guarantee a sufficient effectiveness to one’s parental role.
2. An effective educational approach
The criteria I adopt to combine these three elements follow the principles of a democratic educational approach; it is an approach that allows for education without punishment, to give rules as long as they are always “for” the child and never “against” the child (which is not always the case in the practice of many parents), to be respected by the children but never to mortify their self-esteem. This is what I try to convey to you in simple words, both on this page and also through the blog and the various resources that I make available to you on this portal.
Education of children is not a trivial topic and is liable to being easy misunderstood, even by those who work in this field; in fact, I deemed it necessary to dedicate an entire post to it, which may be useful to you if you want to better understand education.
Now I will only tell you that the most commonly made mistake in education is transferring one’s own way of seeing and one’s own expectations onto the child. This phenomenon is also called the «personal equation» and occurs when we consider the other as if we were them.
If you think about it for a while, it is rather frequent to see parents pushing their children to engage in something just because they are interested in it. The choice of sport is one of the many examples that could be given: it is the case where a child is sent to play soccer, tennis, or volleyball, with the hope that they will become a great professional; a professional that the parent was not but would have liked to be. I could list several others, for example, those that concern the choice of studies.
Of course, all of this has very little to do with democracy; nor it is useful in bringing out the talents of one’s own child to allow them to realize themselves. Instead, I intend to offer you a diametrically opposite vision, capable of keeping you as far away as possible from this phenomenon, so that you can see your children, their needs, their potential, and their aspirations through their own eyes.
In fact, by following the suggestions I provide, you will be able to act towards your children in the most effective way possible, to best protect their growth path. To help you enter into this perspective, I will first provide you with a clear summary of education, so that you can understand once and for all what it is; and above all, how to use it concretely, right away, in the daily relationship with your child.
3. A clear and applicable definition of «education»
I have been fascinated by the world of education since I was a child. I believe I have observed and reflected on so many educational situations that I have understood quite well the way dynamics between parents and children work.
I did not stop at the curiosity of the child I was, but I made use of it to guide my education towards more ambitious goals, such as becoming a pedagogist.
I have worked with hundreds of children, supporting their families to promote a serene relationship focused on the best upbringing opportunities for their children’s growth.
These were often children with particular difficulties or even serious disorders, with quite heavy behavioral problems; and in many cases, the families themselves were experiencing particularly intense situations of discomfort.
In all the cases I have worked with, I have transmitted to parents the basic educational principles of modern professional pedagogy, simply providing them with a clear perspective of their parental role, according to the approach I want to talk to you about.
In this way, they managed to have a unified view of the child, not only centered on his/her problem or disorder. Before, instead, the attention of the professionals who dealt with the child was exclusively focused on the problem of that child.
Now, I want to make available to you some of the most relevant things I have learned about childhood education. If you are interested in living your role as a parent with greater security and serenity, I suggest you continue reading, to understand how to better succeed in areas where you have previously encountered educational failures.
Since I discuss this topic in more detail in another post, I will only give you a definition of education that will be useful for you to understand which direction to give to your upbringing choices at any time. I will not dwell on a treatise on the history of education; I will be very brief.
There are several definitions that I consider sufficiently concrete to give you usable elements in your experience; one of the most relevant is certainly that of Professor Piero Crispiani, my highest reference in special pedagogy, who considers education as «aid to the development of an individual’s personality».
Starting from this definition, you can understand that as a parent, you continuously participate in the development of your children and do so by helping them realize their potential. Compared to many other parents, you now have a solid starting point: the goal you can give is to help your children realize their potential in every circumstance.
We can then take the next step and ask ourselves how to educate: with what strategies, tools, and resources to help development. The approach I propose is realized through a democratic educational approach, which starts from a child-centered view of education and aims to enable them to achieve the best possible development, that is, the maximum expression of themselves and their talents.
It may seem obvious to you, but I assure that it is quite widespread practice among parents, as well as among teachers and other helping professions, to focus on educational aspects on their own goals rather than on the child. This denotes an educational approach that is not properly democratic.
For example, if I devote myself to your education because I want you to achieve a result that I have decided a priori, starting from my aspirations towards you, then I am not educating you, but training you to achieve goals that are not centered on you.
If, on the other hand, I start from you and what I observe in you day after day, to reflect on your needs and how to allow you to realize yourself, then my educational approach is really centered on you and is effective in helping your development. Now let’s see how to start adopting it.
First, we introduced three aspects on which this approach is based: awareness, serenity, and effectiveness. Now, to enable you to fully incorporate these aspects and create the conditions for your child to make him express his full potential, I present three elementary strategies on which you can work to adequately exercise the educational function that belongs to you as a parent. You will be able to give you some more precise answers on how to educate your child.
4. Which lever to use to best promote your child's development
The first strategy I provide is inspired by a basic principle of pedagogy called the «zone of proximal development». This principle can have an important multiplying effect on the effectiveness of your upbringing intervention in the children’s development, in all experiences that involve them.
As pedagogists, we address this topic of study in our early university courses, but with some regret, I have noticed that few colleagues, let alone other professionals involved in educational or rehabilitation paths, give the right importance to this principle.
Let me explain with a very simple example what it means to work in your child’s zone of proximal development. When you make them do something new, like a game, a motor skill, a school task, or any kind of test, there are three situations that may arise:
A) the task is far beyond their capabilities, in which case they fail because their abilities are not sufficient to overcome it. The result is that they can feel discouraged and inadequate.
B) the task is well below their capabilities, in which case they pass it easily because they have far superior skills than what is necessary. The result is that they tend to get bored because the task requires very little effort.
C) the task is exactly at the level of their capabilities, in which case they pass it but do not evolve. That is, the stimulus is not suitable for promoting growth in that specific skill, so they will always remain at the same level.
So, you may be wondering what a child needs to evolve. The answer is that you must provide them with stimuli that are «slightly» superior to their current abilities (zone of proximal development). This way, they are encouraged to work hard to overcome the challenge, but at the same time, they can acquire greater skills than they already possessed. This is an example of how to think when proposing experiences for the child, but it is not a guide to be followed in all daily activities.
What you can do as a parent, starting from this principle, is to use it when your child encounters difficulties. Imagine they have a task to do, not necessarily a school task, but any task you assign them. Let’s assume that task is too difficult for them (situation A); they will feel inadequate and tend to abandon it or do it poorly. Now, lower the bar of your demands, making that task much simpler (situation C); they will perceive themselves as very efficient and motivated to show that they possess some abilities.
At this point, you will have regained their motivation, which I believe is the engine of learning and development. However, before challenging them with a more demanding level in that task, you will gradually accustom them to increasing levels of effort, until they reach the zone of proximal development.
Once they get there, thanks to the proportional stimuli you have been able to provide, they will be able to go beyond the zone of proximal development entirely naturally, and to extend that competence to the best of their abilities.
5. How to assume a correct role as a "guide" towards the child
So far you have understood that your children’s education should start from them and end with them; however, it should also be clear to you that the lever to use in promoting their growth is the ability to stimulate them appropriately to their development.
Now that you have a starting point (your child today), a purpose (bringing out your children’s talents), and a technique (the zone of proximal development), I will explain a strategy for putting them to good use.
I will use a metaphor, because it is much simpler and more effective to convey concepts through the evocation of an image, rather than using complex wording. Think of driving a car.
If you have to teach someone how to drive, you have to explain the mechanism of the vehicle (the use of the clutch, the gears, the pedals…), the rules for driving on the road (right-of-way, signals, etc.), the risks involved (emergency procedures, responsibilities, etc.), and everything else.
After showing how to move the car, the aspiring driver begins to become familiar with the vehicle, while you sit in the passenger seat to verify that they are driving correctly. It will be your responsibility to explain the rules “in situation,” that is, while the experience of driving is concretely realized; perhaps you also have controls to check the car in case of need, but you let the apprentice manage the vehicle.
When your apprentices get their license, your role ends. You will have planted well, alerting them to all possible risks and procedures to follow in case of an accident, but it is no longer within your ability to tell them where to go. The choice of the road to follow will be theirs.
They themselves will decide what their goals will be, which is the best route to take to reach them, at what speed to go, how quickly to get there, whether to fasten their seat belts, etc. Of course, they must follow the rules of the highway code, but you will not be there to ensure they comply.
Education happens almost in the same way because “it puts those who are being educated in optimal conditions and maximum freedom so that they can make their choices autonomously and in the most functionally human way possible; indeed, the better it is, the more this freedom is realized.” This definition and the example I have given are from Professor Franco Blezza, my highest reference in general pedagogy.
In fact, you create the conditions for your children to start making their own choices, but then they decide how to move forward. Although in different forms and ways, this happens at all ages or, better said, at all stages of development: both when they are young and when they are approaching adulthood.
This helps you understand how important it is to make the most of all the great potential of a good educational path during childhood and adolescence, to ensure that your child becomes an adult who is truly capable of making sensible and functional choices to fully realize themselves.
Therefore, your ability to be a reliable reference for them, if necessary, is the key to this path. The better you can do this, the more serene and effective you will feel in the role you play; with many benefits for you, your child, and certainly also your partner.
6. How to follow the three phases of education
If I have succeeded in conveying to you the importance of supporting your children in their growth path, fully respecting their needs, now I imagine that you need to understand how to exercise this support and be a stimulating point of reference for them.
The opportunity to succeed in this intention depends on how much and how you are able to be present in your child’s life. When I talk about being present, I don’t just or mainly mean physical proximity; I refer mainly to the attention you are able to give to your children’s needs, and your ability to be present when they have a real need.
It is not easy to understand the best time or the most useful way to exercise this proximity, because it also depends on many factors that are not under our control. However, the ability that can help us in this is our sensitivity to relationships with others.
Some people are very sensitive to the needs of others, while others find it difficult to tune into the personal and existential needs of those around them. In any case, this ability can be cultivated best by getting into the habit of asking yourself what your child is feeling in moments of particular discomfort.
In addition to this, if you also want to amplify the effects of this important ability on your children’s development, you must link it to a “lever” that is able to activate their growth opportunities.
The lever I am talking about is made up of the three stages of education, whose transition from one to the other depends precisely on your sensitivity.
These are the phases that allow you to complete and amplify the effect of the first two strategies, the zone of proximal development and the guiding function:
– Phase 1: doing «for him»: when your child is a baby and still cannot walk, you’re the one who carries them and leads them where they ask you to; they want to explore the world around them but do not yet have the ability to do so independently, so you substitute for them and accompany them.
– Phase 2: doing «with him»: when they start standing up, you offer your support to allow them to explore; for example, you give them a hand to help them maintain their balance while you walk together. Now, however, they are able to lead part of that exploration.
– Phase 3: being present while «they do»: when they try to stand up on their own and walk, maybe holding onto the couch, you are near them and observe, but do not intervene except in case of necessity; they act and explore, while your task is simply vigilance.
During childhood, the situations in which these phases are realized are numerous and different, just as different as the sensitivity each of us has towards our child’s needs; which makes us exercise our guiding function in very different ways from each other.
Once they are walking, we could turn away without caring about them; but they could fall and hit something pointed or fall down the stairs. So this would probably be a reckless choice on our part.
Instead, we could continue to hold their hand, for fear that they may get a small scrape. But by doing so, we would not allow them to acquire the necessary familiarity with the skill of walking, which would enable them to evolve.
However, now you know that in situations like this, you can manage the zone of proximal development well, and you are able to make your sensitivity towards the child a driver for their growth rather than a brake.
In light of what we have just seen, we can say that upbringing can be done very calmly, simply by exercising a guiding role towards them, which can immerse them in the challenges of life with a gradualness adequate to develop all their potential.
If you educate your child following these basic principles, you will avoid many of the difficulties that most parents encounter and you will be able to make your child much more self-assured.
At this point, I imagine that you also want to learn to recognize some of the most frequent mistakes made by many parents, in order to understand how to prevent them in your own experience. In this case, if you don’t want to get frustrated with your child anymore, you can download the ebook that I’m offering you for free and learn how to avoid the most obvious mistakes that you might encounter.