Purposeful Parenting Month: A Time to Learn and Grow

Purposeful Parenting Month is upon us. That’s because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services decided that July would be it, the designated month for purposeful parenting. Why July? Because that’s when kids are home for the long summer vacation. That means that parents have a chance to really talk with their children and have productive open discussions.

Open communication between parents and children gives parents a chance to explain how they feel about a variety of issues, while supporting the child’s growth and quest for independence. Does that sound a lot like positive parenting? That may be because positive parenting techniques are part of purposeful parenting, according to Dr. Mary Ann Franco, a license licensed marriage and family therapist at Argosy University.

Purposeful parenting, much like positive parenting, “embodies a specific set of goals and objectives for the child,” says Dr. Franco.  “The most outstanding benefit of purposeful parenting would be that you will attain your hopes, wishes and desires for your child in a very conscious, deliberate and intentional manner.”

Purposeful Parenting: No Hits Or Misses

According to Dr. Franco, who raised her daughter as a single mom after her husband died, in purposeful parenting there is less potential for confusion between parent and child, no hits or misses. “Purposeful parenting also clarifies for the child exactly what is expected of him/her.”

Dr. Franco explains that the purposeful parent begins by drawing up a “hierarchy of aspirations” for the child. “What would you like your child to experience in this lifetime? Parents have a tremendous impact on the template that children have on what they expect for themselves, of others, their world and their future. Their early experiences shape the emotional comfort zone that they will inevitably gravitate toward in the areas of love, friendship, work and life in general.

“As a parent you are their model, their baseline of good, bad and ugly,” says Dr. Franco. “Therefore your purpose as a parent for your child must reflect the experiences that you allow them to have in their early years.”

Purposeful Parenting Techniques

Dr. Mary Ellen Renna, MD, FAAP, a board-certified pediatrician, spokesperson, mother and author of the book 10 Steps to Almost Perfect Parenting, was helpful in describing the nitty-gritty everyday techniques involved in purposeful parenting. Dr. Renna outlines a series of six techniques and tips:

  1. NO means NO. Once you have said “no” to a child’s request, do not change your mind. This tells the child that NO doesn’t mean no, it means maybe.
  1. Once a child starts to whine and cry do not engage the child. Almost pretend that the child is not there until he or she can speak to you in a proper voice (not whining and crying). If you respond to children when they are whining and crying it unknowingly reinforces the whining behavior.
  1. Ask them only once. If you have to repeat yourself multiple times when asking your child to do something, your voice will be muffled.  Ask once and only once. If your child ignores you, follow through with a consequence.
  1. Try to spend alone time, one on one time, with each child, every day. It doesn’t have to be hours each day. It can be 15 minutes of complete attention directed to your child and only your child. That means NO TV, cell phones, or computers. Instead, spend time talking, reading, and playing games in the backyard.
  1. Exercise as a family. Bike rides, hiking, and walking have a dual purpose: you get to spend time as a family but you are also teaching the kids that physical activity is essential to good health.
  1. Make sure your children have daily household chores. This is important for each child. It gives children a sense of self when they become part of keeping the household functional. They also feel important because they have job. Having chores also helps children learn what it means to take responsibility.

Purposeful Parenting: Making Mindful Decisions

Erin Clabough, PhD, a neurobiologist, assistant professor, writer, and mother of four young children is currently at work on a book about neuroscience as a parenting tool. She disagrees that positive parenting is part and parcel of purposeful parenting, saying the two are “certainly different.”

“In positive parenting,” says Dr. Clabough, “there is a lot of redirection instead of saying no.

“Instead of pointing out what the child did wrong, you show them how to do things in the right way and don’t allow them back into the situation until they are ready to behave in a positive way. For example, instead of placing your daughter in ‘time-out’ for hitting someone, you might place them in ‘time-in’ and perhaps read a book with them until they are ready to say sorry.

“This is sometimes termed ‘gentle discipline,’ and it allows kids to not misbehave by not placing them in situations where they will be likely to do so. The core principle of positive parenting is that actions can be bad, but the child is not bad.

“Purposeful parenting also holds that the child is not bad, but the child can make either good or bad decisions. Purposeful parents think hard about what they would like the end result to be and make mindful decisions about how to get there.

Purposeful Parenting: More Accountability

“They may place their child in a time-out for hitting someone, but require a simple explanation of how the action impacts other people before allowing the child out of timeout. Instead of redirection, there is more accountability for negative actions, and more reflection on the impact that bad decisions can have on other people, along with what can be done differently the next time.

“The premise of purposeful parenting is that if you know where you’re going, it’s easier to make good decisions about how to get there, both in parenting and in child development,” says Dr. Clabough, who blogs at psychologytoday.com/blog/neuroparent.

Wiley Wakeman, a life coach and blogger at Genuine Parenting, offered up a concrete example of the difference between purposeful parenting and positive parenting. “My 8-year-old  daughter and I set house agreements together a few weeks ago. I realized that I couldn’t implement boundaries because she had no clear definition of what the boundaries are.

“She has been calling out for clear boundaries by being loud, upset, banging doors, and testing limits. In forming the agreements, I thought this was my opportunity to use positive parenting, which I did to an extent. Then, I learned the most dramatic results of all were from purposeful parenting. That from knowing her expectations and mine together, I could then take action on how I would be with her, how much time we’d spend together, what games we’d play and the support I could offer her through my actions.

Purposeful Parenting: A Way of Being

“Positive parenting is a piece of the pie that is purposeful parenting. Positive parenting is all the things you can do such as positive reinforcement, make time for attention, distracting the child to do something different or greeting the situation with laughter. Positive parenting is a way to take action, where purposefully parenting is a way of being,” says Wakeman.

“I sit thinking how our day went today.  She was able to spend time with her cousin, she read, she went to the library which is the norm for her. When we were at home I bustled around cleaning the house and chatting with her as she sat on a bouncy ball. Before I knew it, time had danced by. Weeks before this moment could have turned into her breaking down crying; moving to her room; asking to watch a TV show; or getting mad at me in her search for boundaries or attention.

“This time I stopped my bustling and gave her my 100% attention, we connected, and it only took some 15 minutes of my time,” said Wakeman.

“We have been working, actively, on keeping things more peaceful, better understood, and real at home. In past months, friends and family have told me she needs more discipline, that she shouldn’t act as she does, that she should be placed in time outs or I should focus on positive parenting. I decided to sink into being genuine about my parenting, which turned out to be the path of purposefully parenting.

“I believe a key component of executing purposeful parenting is being in tune with what you value and believe in. From there you can make more space to be present with your child as you are purposefully parenting. It’s about being able to engage with them in a way that you didn’t in the past. You get on their level and get interested in whatever they are doing at the time, while bringing your true self to the table.

“No cell phones, no talking with friends, no interruptions and instead you are fully there whether  it is for 5 minutes or 5 hours,” says Wakeman, who explains that it is unrealistic to take all these things out of your life, but rather, parents should “just take the moment to form your connection with your child and then you will have time to tap into all that other stuff when you have shown as much interest in your child as you have in all these other things. ”

Wakeman is seeing results with purposeful parenting. There’s no room for “nonsense, because you let them know the rules and you stick to them. There is a lot of respect, compassion, understanding, attention, fun, and love in this. The results have been amazing, it is as though it is the magic formula for our particular situation.

“Within weeks,” says Wakeman, “my daughter’s behavior has shifted, as has mine. I find it fascinating, wonderful and beautiful.

“The process of purposeful parenting can simply begin with acknowledging yourself and your child and where your relationship stands. What do you need and what do they need? What do you really value and believe, what does your child value and believe? How can you show respect for their interests? How can you be engaged in their interests? How can you come up with clear family boundaries, agreements, and rules?  How will the family be held accountable for these?

“After doing this with my child she felt heard, acknowledged, appreciated and therefore has shifted her behavior in line with that which is asked of her. And she is shining and incredible, with noticeably growing compassion,” says Wakeman.

That’s all very well and good during the school year, when kids spend most of their days at school. But in the summer, kids are home free. They have nothing but time on their hands.

That can pose a challenge to parents who more than anything, want to see their children active and productive. It can be difficult to find ways to keep children positively occupied all day, every day, throughout the long summer vacation. That’s where purposeful parenting can really make a difference, by helping parents and children direct their time for useful purposes, for instance, building and strengthening the parent/child relationship.

Dr. Steve O’Brien, a child behavior expert and an associate professor at Argosy University, Tampa campus, has developed seven tips for parents to keep kids purposefully engaged this summer:

  1. Determine how much structure your kids need. This varies by age and temperament.  Some kids need a schedule because they can’t manage to bring enough structure to their days on their own. These kids may either complain they’re bored, or become disruptive.  Other kids need more free time. They have plenty of interests, and just need the time and space to pursue them.
  1. Be careful not to over-schedule your kids. They need some time for relaxation and spontaneity. This goes for parents, as well.
  1. If your child is in some form of summer school, don’t get too focused on academics. These kids, even more than most, need time for fun or they may become frustrated or resentful.
  1. Summer activities, such as camps and other programs, can be beneficial but costly. Do some research so you don’t blow your budget on expensive programs that may or may not suit your kids.
  1. While it’s fine for kids to have slightly later summer bed and wake-up times, younger children in particular need consistency in their sleep cycles. The more you allow them to depart from their normal sleep routines, the tougher the adjustment once school resumes.
  1. Although family togetherness can be positive, there can definitively be too much of a good thing when it comes to together time. Strive for balance between time together and time apart. This is especially important for siblings who tend get into spats with each other. The same goes for parents!
  1. Finally, make some time for yourself because you’re not just a parent: you’re also a person. If you make time for you, you’ll handle the demands of parenting much more effectively.

Hard Work?

Purposeful parenting can sound like a lot of hard work, for parents with no experience in the technique. But Wiley Wakeman can tell you that purposeful parenting is all about your perspective. “Parenting is an ongoing path of learning, if you choose. There are so many styles and techniques out there that it really is about choosing the one that works best for you and your child. Purposeful parenting provides opportunity for learning and growth, while knowing that time and situations can change anything.

“Ultimately, there is a grand importance in bringing your genuine self to the table while you are parenting, if only to help you choose how to parent. When you are in line with what you value and believe, pieces begin to fall into place with more ease and grace,” says Wakeman.

There’s a lot of wisdom in these ideas.  Maybe we should designate not just July, as purposeful parenting month, but make it a year round deal.

Sounds like a plan and a purposeful plan at that!

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About Varda Epstein

Varda Meyers Epstein serves as editor in chief of Kars4Kids Parenting. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Varda is the mother of 12 children and is also a grandmother of 12. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Learning Site, The eLearning Site, and Internet4Classrooms.