You are not their friends
Parents aren't given an instinctive knowledge of how to raise a child. The appearance of a child does not miraculously give a parent sudden insight. There is, I think, a maternal and a paternal instinct. But the love that swells from the birth of a child doesn't come with a manual. As both a parent and a pediatrician I can tell you that ignorance and emotion lead to poor decision-making. It is lucky for us that children are so resilient because otherwise we'd all grow up damaged.
Fortunately some wise people have already written books for parents, so I won't try to write one for you right now. And, of course, a good pediatrician has many good ideas for you if you ask. The good ones try not to make too many suggestions unless you ask them to. It's usually a waste of time to give advice to people who aren't listening. But since you're reading this little article, I have a few words of advice that you might find useful.
Raising a child is hard, but it's not impossible. You don't have to be perfect at it, and you have lots of help. I have mentioned books and pediatricians. There is also your friends and family, but I hasten to remind you that while you should respect the family members who may forcefully tell you what to do, you don't have to agree with them. Thank them and make up your own mind.
It is important to understand children. At different ages they have different abilities. Please don't put a small child into a situation that is intolerable for him and then get angry that he is not behaving. If you have to take a two year old to a grocery store, expect him to get bored very quickly. This advice is true for ten year olds and 16 year olds as well. The older a child is, the more you need to respect their position. Again, you don't have to agree with them, but you need to show a little respect for their opinions.
In general, then, you should avoid being emotional in your dealings with children. Toddlers will do anything to get you to pay attention to them. If you aren't letting them know you are noticing them, they will do anything to get your attention. Breaking things seems to work. Why would you get angry at a toddler for your inability to follow the rules? Your job is to provide what doctors call positive reinforcement – praise and attention. This works for ten year olds and 16 year olds, too.
Something I emphasize a lot is the difference between discipline and punishment. Discipline is simply a set of rules for succeeding in a social situation like a classroom or a family. The expectations of behavior change as children get older, but parents need to be compassionate and flexible. Children are navigating their way towards adulthood. They also have no manual and must be forgiven for making mistakes. Punishment is usually an emotional response to a child's behavior because the parent takes children's acts too personally. It's not a contest that you have to win. Sometimes it's necessary to back down for a moment and try to understand why a child is acting out. Also, striking a child is never acceptable. I am unequivocal on this issue not just because I believe that hitting a child is wrong and an abuse of power. It's also useless and counter-productive. It may make you feel better temporarily, but you are only modeling the behavior of a bully for your child, and he will certainly copy that behavior eventually.
Finally, as I hinted in the title, you are not your child's friend. You have knowledge and power over a developing organism. You have tremendous responsibility. Sometimes your child will not like you. Parenting is never about being liked. And it's not about gratitude. Do you believe your parents did a good job? Did you ever thank them? If you can, why don't you do that now. But remember, they didn't raise you because they expected you to thank them.
Robert B. Golenbock, MD