Part VII—An Important Conversion for Parents

Part VII—An Important Conversion for Parents

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Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
I’m a parent. I’m a parent who makes lots of mistakes. I’m a parent who struggles to find the line between being an encourager and a disciplinarian. Discipline can be discouraging for the person doing it and the person receiving it. I also realize that a parent has to change their parenting style as their children get older.
When our children are babies, it is necessary at times to use an alarmist voice to “encourage” our babies, or perhaps more accurately, to discourage them from behavior that could be detrimental to them. As an example, we scream “don’t touch the hot stove” at our toddlers. Because raising our voices reinforces for them that what they are doing is potentially dangerous. The alarmist voice comes out by necessity when our children are very young. Let’s say for example, this is the most effective voice when they are less than five years old. Once they become an age where they can reason and understand things, it is no longer necessary to use this voice as often, if at all.
It is a challenge to every parent, and I speak from experience, to learn to use a different “voice” of encouragement with their children. For people who have many children, there might be a child who is ten and another who is two and the parent has the challenge of using different voices with different children. We can’t yell at the ten-year-old with the alarmist voice we use with the two-year-old. Once a child goes to college, a parent can’t speak with the same voice of daily director that the parent used when the child lived at home. Once a child becomes an adult, a parent become more consultant than director. And once a child gets married, the parent becomes more friend than parent.
One pitfall that parents fall into, that I am hoping to avoid, is that they don’t move from alarmist to encourager. When our children were babies, many things became a cause for alarm. And it was necessary to raise our voice to make our point in the interest of safety. Once they become of rational age, we need to switch our discipline to something that is more thoughtful, rather than alarmist. If we don’t make the conversion from alarmist to encourager, we risk raising kids who are not only irresponsible but not confident. Encouragers learn how to motivate without sounding constantly like an alarmist and without killing the confidence of our children. They see their role as a confidence builder.
Of course, until our children become adults, discipline is necessary. There is a difference between discouragement and discipline. These can be easily confused. If I tell our child “you can’t have dessert if you don’t eat dinner” that is not discouraging, that is good discipline. It encouragers good eating habits. Same thing with “you can’t play until you finish your homework.” That is good discipline and encourager healthy study habits. However, it’s the way we say these things that matter. Discipline has to be infused with encouragement. For instance, if we say “you did a great job on your homework, thanks for being so focused, let’s play,” that is encouraging. It is also encouraging to connect positive results with reward, rather than threatening punishment with negative results. In other words, it’s more encouraging to say “let’s be efficient on your homework so we can do something fun” than to say “if you don’t get your homework done, you won’t have time to do anything fun.” It’s better to encourage someone to work for reward than to avoid punishment.
One other important note to parents. Do we have a negative response when someone tells us “I love you” or “I’m proud of you”? No, we don’t. We all like to hear these words. They build us up, make us feel more confident. Our children like to hear these words too. While our role as parents is to discipline, and sometimes we have to do that with an alarmist voice, it is important not to forget to tell your children you love them and are proud of them.
Several times, in working with teenagers, I asked them who has the biggest voice of discouragement in their lives. And the answer was resoundingly, their parents. This made me kind of sad. Perhaps, in the defense of parents, the parents are the only voice of discipline in the lives of teenagers. They certainly don’t get encouragement to be disciplined from their peers by and large. However, this served as a wakeup call to me that together with the voice of discipline, we can’t forget the voice of encouragement. And we can’t be effective encouragers to rational children or teenagers if we are still using the (necessary at the time) alarmist voice we used when they were babies.
Lord, thank You for the gift of children. Thank You for the opportunity to be a parent. Lord, bless me as a parent. Help me to be not only a voice of discipline and direction but a voice of encouragement for my children. Help me to find the balance between the two and to provide the tone of voice that conveys love, even in times of concern. Bless my children and help them to grow up with confidence. Bless our relationship so that as they grow up and become adults, we will always remain close. Help me to see the best in them. Help me to change as they change so that I can be an effective parent and encourager to them. Amen.
A good parent needs to know how to change between disciplinarian and encourager and learn to change tone of voice and parenting styles as children grow up. We may be their parent and their chief disciplinarians, but we need to be their chief encouragers as well!
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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0