Practical versus Theoretical

The Bible iterates that children are a gift from God - “children are a heritage from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). When a child is born into the family, he or she has the right to be nurtured, provided for and have a safe environment in which to grow.

Apr 01, 2022

                             Purposeful Parenting Christine Fernandez

The Bible iterates that children are a gift from God - “children are a heritage from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). When a child is born into the family, he or she has the right to be nurtured, provided for and have a safe environment in which to grow. However, many times, work schedules and other interests keep parents very busy and, often times, the child is crowded out. When it comes to guiding and parenting, you want to be an effective parent who will influence the outcome of your child, be where your children are; “in their frame of mind.”

Why is that so important? It is important because knowing where your children are at, helps you to know your strong points, your limitations and, it helps you to be creative in your parenting style, while giving you a chance to learn and improve on your weak areas. We make assumptions about our children and think that they see things the way we do. We are wrong. Therefore, see things at their level, just as Jesus did. Jesus came down to our level in order to lift us up. So, be a practical parent, not a theoretical one. Customise solutions based on the problems your children are experiencing.

Erik Erikson, a psychosocial theorist emphasises that, as human beings, we experience eight stages of development over our life span. At each stage of development, the ego makes positive contributions through mastering attitudes, ideas and skills. Children develop into healthy, well-adjusted adults by mastering the eight stages only if they can overcome the psychological conflict during each stage. According to Erikson, successful completion of each stage results in a sense of competence and healthy personality. However, failure to master the skills of the eight stages leads to feelings of inadequacy. Guided by these stages, let’s explore this particular facet that has been pleasantly enlightening to me - the psychosocial theory of Erik Erikson.

The ten commandments teach us habits that we need to develop to live life in right relationship with God, self, and others, by creating priorities, giving respect, recognising dignity and maintaining integrity. It tells us Christians how to live. In the same way, psychosocial theories provide a frame work for understanding human behaviour, thought and development.

When parents have a broad understanding about the how’s and why’s of human behaviour, they will understand themselves and others better. Isaiah 31:1-3 talks about Trust versus Mistrust, where God wants for us to go to Him when necessary. It is the same with children and parents or caregivers. Just as God wants us to turn to Him in times of crisis, so too do we, as parents, want our children to turn to us in times of crisis. Erik Erikson emphasises that, from birth to 12 months of age, infants must learn that adults can be trusted. This is the Trust versus Mistrust stage of an infant’s life. Your child is dependent upon caregivers and if you, as a parent or caregiver, is responsive and sensitive to your child’s needs, then a sense of trust is developed. Your child will see the world as a safe and predictable place. However, unresponsive caregiving can lead to feelings of anxiety, fear and mistrust. Moreover, infants whose needs are not met appropriately, or who are treated cruelly, will grow up with a sense of mistrust for people. The profound consequence of need not met during childhood will often be carried into adulthood and can manifest as: low-self-esteem, lack of healthy boundaries, struggles with relationships, and difficulty with moderation, just to name a few. Therefore, help your infants develop trust, without completely eliminating the capacity for mistrust. You do not need to be a perfect parent, just be reliable.

So, how do we parent positively? Firstly, help your infant feel safe and secure by responding positively to their cries and cues because safety and security builds trust, and trust builds hope. Secondly, provide responsive care that matches the needs of the infant. Thirdly, support the developing skills of your infant by giving just enough help so he/she can master the skill and take on the challenge without becoming overwhelmed. Limit changes as much as possible, since routines are important for the safety and security of your child. Finally, practise good self-care — mentally, emotionally and spiritually, because parenting is hard work.

It is essential that we keep in mind that God created the universe and everything in it in stages and, at each stage said, “It is good” (Genesis 1:31). This sense of will to live and flourish is evident in the second stage of Erikson’s theory, Autonomy versus Shame. Between the ages of two through to four, your sweet, innocent bub becomes a selfish, defiant toddler and this stage is also referred to as “the terrible twos”. At this stage of the child’s life, there are rapid changes and advancement in motor skills whereby the child experiences some control over the world while experiencing and expressing both positive and negative feelings most passionately with primary caregivers. They will test their limits with you. Here is where you set your boundaries lovingly. Since your child has yet to learn discretion and self-control, be the reliable parent or caregiver by setting limits and providing a safe and consistent environment. Be mindful that at this stage of your child’s life, the goal is for the child to develop a sense of self-control without losing self-esteem. However, as a parent, if you are over controlling and discourage exploration, the result often will be: anxiety, fear, shame, defiance and low self-esteem for the child.

Therefore, how do we parent positively? Firstly, allow and encourage safe exploration of current environment that is age-appropriate by offering minimal assistance as this is a learning process and failure should be regarded as a learning curve. Secondly, even if the task is not completed “just right”, use positive affirmation and praise while focusing on righting the wrong without shaming the child. Thirdly, instead of giving vague mandates, give clear specific options and choices by verbalising the specific behaviour that is unsafe/unacceptable and outline a replacement behaviour that would be acceptable. Finally, communicate with your child about his/her feelings, both positive and negative and offer options of how they can control the negative ones and use praise for a job well done. As your child progresses through this stage, a delicate balance of encouragement and support, coupled with guidance and protection, is vital. Therefore, “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10).

This is part one of the article and will be continued in my next column.

(Christine Fernandez is a social worker, counsellor, chaplain, parent and grandparent. She would love to hear your parenting stories. Do drop her a line at:

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