What Actually Makes A Parenting Lesson Stick? Here's What The Experts Have To Say

Photo by Saptak Ganguly

Effectively teaching kids lessons about what's important and getting them to value the right things is a tricky mission to execute. While it's only natural to want to raise kids who are compassionate, kind, mindful, love to spend time playing outdoors, and care about the planet, that's often easier said than done. As many parents know, the second you tell your kids to do something, they often want to do the exact opposite.

Rebellious kids come with the territory, but worry not—all hope is not lost! With a few tweaks and a little bit of extra thought tailored to your child's nature, you'll be able to make your parenting lessons stick in no time. Here's what you should keep in mind.

Prioritize listening and building a strong connection.

Instead of trying to control your child by using traditional forms of discipline like timeouts, consider that if you put that time and effort toward building a strong connection with your kids, they'll be a lot more likely to listen to you. "When a child has that connection with you, they sense how much they are loved and respected by you," explains clinical psychologist Dr. Genevieve Von Lob, author of Five Deep Breaths: The Power of Mindful Parenting. "How do we get that connection? Sometimes we underestimate the power of listening, but it’s truly one of the ways we can make a real difference as a parent. We need to find time in our distracted, busy lives to put down our cellphones and listen to our children with our full presence and attention."

Child psychologist Bobbi Wegner adds that when it comes to parenting lessons, there are few things more valuable as a parent than developing the ability to listen. "I think parents spend so much effort teaching and providing life lessons, but quite honestly, most of those are tuned out," she says. "The best way to be heard by a child is to listen as a parent. Ask questions. Get curious about their perspective and engage in a developmentally appropriate dialogue. Act as a consultant who thinks through problems and issues with kids rather than top-down dictating. If you want to teach, then prepare to listen."

Remember that being right isn't the same thing as being successful.

Say you're trying to teach your kids to spend less time with screens and more time playing and moving outside. Child psychologist Laura S. Kastner points out that as a parent, being "right" isn't the same thing as being successful. Of course you know spending time in nature is better for your kids' minds and bodies than spending hours playing games on a phone or iPad, but telling them so over and over again probably isn't the most successful way to change their behavior.

"Stopping to ask yourself, 'You might be right, but are you effective?' helps parents not lecture or argue about the truth with their loved ones, or even get their kids to 'admit' they are wrong and instead move on to other approaches like validating, distracting, or collaboration," says Kastner.

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Choose spontaneous chatter over questioning.

Kids never much like being questioned, but this is particularly true as they become teenagers. "What you may find, though, is that they spontaneously start chatting while sitting in the car or late at night before bed," says Von Lob. "Learn to appreciate those little moments of connection. You don’t need to have all the answers; sometimes simply being really heard and empathized with is the greatest gift you can give."

Model what you want to teach.

Whether it's a meditation practice or a habit of making the bed every day, kids learn when they see certain practices modeled. So practice what you preach. "If you want your child to be resilient in the face of failure, let them see you mess up, and use the moment to show that it’s what you do after that counts," says Laura Kottkamp, LICSW. "If you want your kids to have a good balance with technology, then have periods of time when you’re home and not on your phone, tablet, or computer. If your family values community engagement, volunteer, engage your kids in the activity when appropriate, or find kid-friendly ways they can give back. Our actions as parents speak so much louder than our words."

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