Mold Natural Opportunities
by SUSAN GRIFFIN, LMFT AND DENNIS WONG, PHD
Effective parenting doesn’t just happen. Neither do good grades, good friends, good relationships, or a good life. Sure, sometimes luck and fate conspire to present us with a chance at something special. But for the most part, we create our good fortune by molding the natural opportunities that life offers us simply as a part of being human. Recognizing these opportunities in our children and guiding the development is a skill every parent needs to learn.
Growth and development are natural impulses. Research has shown that there are optimal times for learning language as well as emotional and physical skills. And it’s us, the parents, who help mold these natural opportunities. The attentive parent notices when the infant is trying to hold his or her head up on their own. And that parent creates a structure in which the infant can safely practice. Of course the infant will learn the skill without the parental structuring, but that would be just physical. A parent who molds the natural opportunities as they emerge also stimulates incredible development in the emotional and cognitive arenas as well.
The concept of molding natural opportunities is based on research about signs of readiness or interest in children. Parents can attend and actively listen for these signs, then structure the environment and activities in a manner that respects and validates them. A great example of this is toilet training. Parents struggle with this issue. And so do children. Self-control vs other-control. Some parents push their children too hard and too fast to gain self-control of toileting even when there are no signs of readiness. And some parents don’t notice when their kids are interested.
If you’ve gotten this far in this article, I’ll assume you’re working hard to pay good-enough attention to your child’s needs, interests, and signs of readiness. There are many ways for us to encourage and support our children. One of the best is books. Even better is story-telling. And it’s easy to get started. Plan a field trip with your children. Take them to the children’s book section of one of the large community-based bookstores or libraries and plan to spend an afternoon there with your children. Keep it unstructured and follow your child’s lead. They’ll let you know what they’re interested in.
This open-ended exploration can give you some wonderful ideas for molding natural opportunities as you have spontaneous moments that capture your child’s imagination!
For example, many children are fascinated by dinosaurs, dragons and reptiles. While you may not be crazy about reptiles, they offer an inexpensive way to teach children about diversity, uniqueness, habitat, environment, and overcoming prejudice or fear. And you don’t have to bring them into your home or even pay to go to the zoo. There are many pet shops that specialize in reptiles. And the staff are usually happy to educate children and adults about them.
Your trip to the bookstore or library, or even a yard sale with lots of kids books could lead to a series of local field trips that teach and support your child’s natural interests. And sometimes, in truly amazing ways, our child will challenge us to move outside our comfort zone. What a wonderful way to engage in positive parenting.
Molding natural opportunities includes teaching our children to swim even when we don’t know how because of our own fear. It includes finding a piano teacher we can afford even if we can’t carry a tune in a bucket. It might mean asking the boss for a change of schedule to be at our child’s soccer game when we have two left feet ourselves. It includes helping our children to develop positive relationships; learn to resolve conflicts; develop positive peer relationships and feel a part of the community. Children need a strong and loving relationship with their parents so it is vital that both parents pay attention and engage.
Molding natural opportunities means putting our children’s needs ahead of our own. It requires the difficult work of allowing our children to be completely different from us in some very important ways. The greatest challenge to our own values as a parent may come in the pursuit of supporting and respecting our child’s authentic self-expression. The hopeful and committed parent works at it, because positive parenting is no accident.
Molding natural opportunities means being able to understand our children as separate, unique individuals and helping them to form relationships to the world with their own personalities, interests and vision. Just as we learn more about relating to them at many levels, they learn to broaden and deepen their perspective in relation to others. It means sharing with them what is basic and genuine to us, and guiding them into the opportunities that are unique to their world, their lives and their experience. With this skill, our parenting and our co-parenting will be more beneficial to both children and parents.