By Laura Kastner, Ph.D.
The A-Z Toolbox contains 26 parenting tools that contribute to successful parenting. By “successful” I mean parenting strengths or behaviors that are associated with building social, academic, emotional and moral competence in children and adolescents. Each of the tools has research (which is cited with links) which supports its inclusion in the toolbox. These tools can be interesting articles for your reading or they can inspire an action plan to invigorate your parenting with new vigor and skill. My goal is to show the importance of these family strengths in optimal family functioning and inspire parents to hone their skills where need be.
Most of the tools are mentioned in one form or another in our book Getting to Calm. However, this toolbox will be applicable to all ages of children (not just tweens and teens), and it can be a super-easy way to review your parenting strengths. Because the transcripts in Getting to Calm show parents how to interact with their children successfully, it should be considered the comprehensive training program for the toolbox list.
Just like any toolbox, the parenting tools can sit there in the toolbox list without their functions discovered, understood, or utilized. My goal in upcoming articles is to show the importance of these family strengths in successful family functioning and inspire parents to refine their skills.
Before I get started on the tools, I want to offer a few explainers for the user’s manual.
I want to emphasize that we are all mixed bags as people and as families. We are bundles of strengths and weaknesses. Some of our strengths are so extraordinary that we can get away with a bunch of weaknesses and the kids come out just fine. Also, sometimes the children are born with so many genetic strengths—like a happy, flexible temperament and some smarts, good looks and sociability—that poorly tooled parents can still produce successful children.
Likewise in reverse, some kids that are so loaded with risk factors (e.g. learning difficulties, early trauma, biologically-based mental disorders) that they end up having terrible problems despite having fabulous parents. Many parents fail to receive the credit they deserve for parenting some very disadvantaged kids who don’t reach the Ivies but end up in decent shape thanks to their parents’ extraordinary efforts.
How kids turn out is an outcome of how biological, sociological, circumstantial and parental factors interact over time to create a person. As parents, we try to be the best parents we can be so that we can contribute our parental strengths to the equation. In brief, we try to control what we can control to help our children become healthy, successful, wise, and kind adults. The A-Z Toolbox is an effort to list some factors that parents can influence for the healthy outcome of their little beloveds.
Lest I give earnest parents a complex about making “straight A’s” on my Toolbox list, I want to emphasize a key parenting concept handed down over the decades called “the good enough parent”. D. W. Winnicott coined this phrase to describe how children adapt to the external realities of life in spite of their parents’ short-comings and imperfections, and because of them. Because parents are not available every minute to respond to their needs, children develop their own competencies to self-soothe, learn and be resourceful.
Although the concept of “the good enough parent” reassures us that we don’t have to be perfect, the goal of providing babies with “secure attachment” makes a lot of parents wonder how much responsiveness is the right amount. Babies become secure by having parents who are responsive, attuned and supportive to their changing developmental needs. Does this sound like double-speak? Not really. We want to find the balance between responding to their every single want or need and abandoning them when they really need us. Optimal child development involves encouraging independence, but being there when they truly need us in all the best ways. What do I mean by best ways? Now you know why I want to discuss 26 parenting strengths in the toolbox!
We can’t be, don’t want to be and won’t be perfect parents. But we want to be really good ones. I hope the A-Z Parenting Toolbox provides some helpful ideas of how to hone your ever-evolving set of skills.