When your kids are very young, you need to manage them. You must plan when they eat, nap, bathe and go to bed at night, and you must help them with these tasks. But as they get older, children need to begin making more of their own decisions. At that point you will become more of a guide than a manager.
Our job as parents is to demonstrate to our kids what our values are, and hopefully they will follow in our footsteps. To think that we can do things for them and run their lives is short sighted. What will happen to them when they have a decision to make and we aren't around to make them?
Well-known family therapist Daniel Gottlieb, best known for his award-winning radio talk show Voices in the Family on WHYY, and his most recent book, Learning from the Heart, believes that parenting styles have to change as our children change. "As children reach grade school, they need more gentle management," he asserts. "And when they hit puberty, now they need guidance more than management."
It is important that parents lay the groundwork early on for open dialogue with their kids. That becomes most critical when a child hits puberty. Managing a child too tightly does not open a door for dialogue. "Then the only dialogue is right and wrong, obedient and disobedient or those type of simplistic black and white dyads," he explains.
Instead, by keeping communication open as your children grow, they will feel comfortable coming to you when problems get bigger. That will open the door for child to say, 'Mom, Dad, I'm suffering,' or 'I'm feeling depressed,' or 'a kid offered me pot.' These are the dialogues we desperately need to have with our children. If we're busy managing, it's not going to happen.
Keep that in mind as you parent your toddlers. They will demonstrate when they are ready to take on more responsibility. Don't be afraid to give it to them. A three year old can certainly put his toys back on the shelf with your guidance. A four year old can help put groceries in the pantry (preferably the non-breakable variety) and a five year old can determine if she'd prefer to try ballet or gymnastics. Help your children make decisions and discover new things that they can achieve on their own. Be sure that they know you will always be there to support them and their choices, and help them when things don't go according to plan.