introduction: raising great parents
Why does the world need another parenting book? Why do I as a parent need to read this particular parenting book? And what is toughLOVE anyway?
Let’s get right to it: Why does the world need another parenting book?
We know the parenting world today is not the parenting world it was for our parents. The crazy thing is, it’s not even the parenting world it was just yesterday. We’ve never had more good, interesting, relevant science and research to explore in the realm of child and teen development than we do right now, and we’ve never had all of this great information coming to us 24-7.
Parents need help getting the best of this information when and where we need it most: at our kitchen tables where our kids are doing homework, on our family room couches where they’re Snapchatting and texting their friends. I don’t know about you, but perhaps nothing
has helped me more in particularly bad parenting moments than being reminded why my child is acting the way she is. That, for instance, my thirteen-year-old daughter is throwing a three-year-old-style tantrum for the same reason she did when she was three years old: she’s separating from me again and it’s no less painful or annoying now, but it’s just as necessary. Part of the engaged-parenting-me wants to help her in that quest (the other part needs a time-out with a glass of wine and a hot bath).
Which brings me to: Why this particular parenting book?
Because it’s written by the people who can best help us navigate all the developmental science, studies, and surveys. The chapters are by practicing therapists, teachers, and coaches, who are also parents themselves. They are giving us the most practical of advice, in that it comes with real stories from their own home lives and those of their patients (the names changed, of course, to protect the harried and sleepless). It’s why I can sleep at night when I realize that while I am a recovering helicopter parent, it’s okay for me to show my eight-year-old son crazy amounts of love as long as I also hold strong on limits and boundaries.
One of the earliest things we learn in our roles as our children’s first teachers is how much better they take in information when we show them instead of just telling them. It turns out that works when raising parents, too!
In addition, this is one parenting guide that doesn’t stop when the going gets toughest: when our kids turn into preteens and teens. They may be pushing us away the hardest now, but they really do need us the most. There’s nothing for preschooler parents in here, but there’s everything for parents of kids in kindergarten all the way to college.
So what is toughLOVE anyway? It’s what scientists and researchers tell us we need in order to raise the happiest, healthiest kids who will become the strongest, most secure adults. It’s about being both kind and firm. Setting limits while giving as much age-appropriate
freedom as possible. It’s about respecting your children for who they are while giving them the consistent boundaries they need to become confident, resilient grown-ups; preparing them for adulthood while protecting them from growing up too quickly. It’s about putting an end to power struggles and creating a peaceful, harmonious home life.
You’re thinking easier said than done? True! This is a guide for parents who honestly believe that parenting is the most important job they’ll ever have—which is most parents we know. It’s for parents who want to be engaged and informed, without smothering or helicoptering; who are students of parenting in the way they want their kids to be students of the world, curious and critical. It is a parenting GPS, but only if you apply to it your own GPI—gut parental instinct. Because all this great science is confirming what we’ve always known: parents know best because they know their kids best. All this expertise and all these stories simply help guide us to do what we know is best for our own kids; they help our gut instincts be the informed ones that get us through the tricky, trying moments, even the tricky, trying years.
—Lisa Stiepock (mom of Alcy) and Amy Iorio (mom of Trey)
When Do I Start?
Right now! Here are ten toughLOVE tenets to get you started. And, keep in mind, this book is a tiny piece of the parenting bonanza that is toughLOVE. Take a look at toughLOVE.com
, where we are raising great parents with up-to-the-minute information from the contributors in this book and many more. It’s a community of parents struggling with the same things you are and sharing their strategies for success, as well as their moments of mind-bending failure!
Ten toughLOVE tenets
1. Kind and firm go together. Both kindness and firmness are essential for kids to feel safe and cared for. Research shows that this balance is the most effective way to raise kids who thrive. Studies consistently find that teens who perceive their parents as both kind (responsive) and firm (demanding) are at lower risk for smoking, using marijuana, drinking alcohol, and being violent, and that these kids have a later onset of sexual activity. Other studies have correlated a teen’s perception of parenting style (kind and firm versus autocratic or permissive) with improved academic performance, higher self-esteem, independence, and self-reliance.
2. Parenting isn’t a popularity contest. Many parents today are afraid of doing something—anything—that their kids won’t like. As a result, they endlessly negotiate, appease, or just plain ignore bad behavior. What these parents don’t understand is that not only is it okay for our kids to hate us at times—it’s actually healthy! It shows them that we are there for them, even when they don’t like us because we said no.
3. Setting limits is a sign of love. Yes, it’s hard to see that look on your child’s face when you’ve denied her something she really wants, or when you say no to something he finds tremendously fun. But limits keep children safe and socialized, and kids who have practice dealing with frustration and life’s ups and downs are far more capable of managing day-to-day life than those who don’t. By empathizing with their frustration or disappointment while also holding the limit, you are helping your children to build up crucial resilience
muscles that will serve them well for life. Authoritative parents set clear standards for their children, so that consequences for crossing those limits are thoughtful, measured, and consistent, not arbitrary, laissez-faire, or overreactive.
4. Your values become your children’s, so practice what you preach. We believe that parents need to clarify their own values and communicate these to their children in confident, consistent ways. If we want our children to act respectfully, not yell at us, show compassion and empathy, turn off technology during dinner, be flexible, listen to other opinions, and experience life balance, we have to do these things as well. For instance, if you think it’s okay to exceed the speed limit while driving “sometimes,” but you tell your teenager “never” to speed, guess what he’ll do? Once you have kids, it’s not just the highway patrol who’s watching you.
5. Discipline is derived from the Latin verb meaning “to teach.” Discipline is about teaching, not punishing. That’s why it’s important to combine clear and consistent boundaries with calm, compassionate messages. If, instead of a loving, nurturing tone of voice, you use a mean tone or end up yelling, you’ll be teaching a very different lesson: your children will focus on your bad behavior and not on their own.
6. Parenting is equal parts prevention and intervention. Creating healthy boundaries in your home puts the prevention piece in place so most struggles are headed off in advance and there’s less potential for long drawn-out arguments. If your kids know that no really does mean no, they will most often accept that no means no.
7. Be proactive, not reactive. The more up-front time you spend clarifying your family culture and values, the less time you’ll spend butting heads with your kids. If you’re clear about your expectations for things like curfews, language,
computer time, grades, bedtime, and manners, you won’t feel trapped by haphazard consequences and wishy-washy parenting.
8. Earlier is better, but it’s never too late. The earlier we teach children to own their actions with logical consequences, the better prepared they’ll be for life. If your child leaves his baseball bat at the park, he doesn’t have a baseball bat anymore, or maybe he needs to buy a new one using his allowance. If your child doesn’t follow the rules at a friend’s house, he might not be invited back, or perhaps he needs to find a way to earn that family’s trust again. But as kids get older, the stakes get bigger and the decisions more complicated: Do I get in the car with my friend who is only slightly buzzed? Do I do this illegal thing even though I probably won’t get caught? If you teach your kids early on to think through their choices before they make them, they’re more likely to anticipate the logical consequences that may occur and make better life decisions. When something doesn’t go as they’d like, you can say, “It’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility.” This avoids shaming them but states clearly that their actions are their own.
9. It’s unfair to unload your parenting responsibility onto your children. When it comes to adults and children, a more “democratic” household is not necessarily more “fair.” There’s a reason that people aren’t allowed to drive, drink, or vote until a certain age. While children do need to be heard and have choices, they can also become overwhelmed if parents act like peers, there are too few limits, and nobody is in charge. Yes, kids may say they’d like equal veto power, but what makes them feel safe and secure is knowing that there are mature grown-ups in the house who are emotionally ready to take on that role.
10. Consistency shows reliability, not rigidity. Consistency means working from a reliable and coherent philosophy so that our kids know what we expect of them, and what they should expect from us. If we can provide a safe, secure environment for our kids, where the boundaries are well thought-out and the expectations are clear, and they are presented with a high degree of nurturing and respect, then we offer our kids the security and reliability that they need to become the best adults they can be.
—Lori Gottlieb (mom of Zachary) for the toughLOVE Editorial Team and Igal Feibush (dad of Carolina), toughLOVE CEO