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Developing the 7 Traits of Effective Parenting

By Danny Huerta, MSW, LCSW, LSSW
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Thank you for taking the Focus on the Family 7 Traits of Effective Parenting Assessment. This free resource is available to help you continue to grow and develop as a parent. Once you use this outstanding tool, consider next steps for the areas where you scored high or low:

Areas for growth in adaptability Areas of strength in adaptability

Areas for growth in boundaries and limits Areas of strength in boundaries and limits

Areas for growth in grace and forgiveness Areas of strength in grace and forgiveness

Areas for growth in gratitude Areas of strength in gratitude

Areas for growth in intentionality Areas of strength in intentionality

Areas for growth in love Areas of strength in love

Areas for growth in respect Areas of strength in respect

Areas for growth in adaptability

If you scored low on adaptability you may have difficulty adjusting to change, handling stress, responding to failure and imperfection, and/or having “unexpecteds.‚” You may even find it tough to go on a vacation. Imagine what it would be like if you were able to handle whatever life brings your way . What would this be like for you and your family? Does this sound impossible?

Think about Abraham Lincoln for a moment. Lincoln’s road to the White House included failures, several defeats and a nervous breakdown. And yet his adaptability, among other traits, allowed him to stay the course, put an end to slavery, and preserve the Union. He is regarded by many as our greatest president.

We may not walk paths as grueling as the one Abraham Lincoln trod, but as parents we have to constantly be adapting—adapting to different personalities, failures, conflict and unexpected illness and loss. We have to adapt to the ages and stages of our children as well as the onslaught of activities, demands, and technology. It is a constant wrestling match. But we can persevere and be successful.

According to a recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association, Millennials and Gen Xers report the highest stress levels out of the four generational groups (Milennials, Gen Xers, Boomers, and Matures). Both Millennials and Gen Xers report a lot of work-related stress, often resulting in anger. Were these groups able to cultivate greater adaptability, many of the stresses that plague them—both in and away from the workplace—would be more easily managed and have a lower impact on their lives.

The great news for parents is that our brains are designed to change when we have kids. Moms’ brains begin to change during pregnancy, and dads’ brains are altered as they spend more time with their kids. These changes represent just one of the ways we are designed to adapt.

Our brains and bodies are incredibly adaptive, but we can still sometimes be overtaken by stress. Stress, over time, can take a toll on our brains and bodies, and we end up becoming reactive instead of responsive. In other words, stress robs us of our patience and emotional self-control.

If saying “no‚” is difficult for you and your pace of life is constantly draining you, you will not adapt well and will most likely burn out. For parents to be effective, self-care is crucial. Likewise, one of the great lessons your kids should learn from you is how to handle adversity, pain, stress, disappointment and uncomfortable feelings through an unrelenting trust in God.

Considering your assessment, a low score in adaptability most likely means that stress tends to control you. A great way to increase your level of adaptability is to

  • Line up your will with God’s will. Pray for God to make His will clear in your life, and that He would help align your heart and desires with His. This is the ultimate level of, and route to, adaptability. This type of wisdom is an essential component to healthy adaptability.
  • Set small goals and celebrate along the way. Accomplishing small goals can lead to a string of successes energizing you toward larger ones. For example, if you are not particularly tech-savvy you can set goals to learn more about technology. You can then adapt and implement proper parenting techniques and use your newfound understanding to set appropriate limits on your children’s technology use.
  • Learn to be flexible and creative. Families love it when inflexible and traditional-type personalities work on being a little more accommodating and imaginative. Find ways to let others be in control. Allow things (and people) to be imperfect. Put your focus on relationships rather than tasks.
  • Pause to see the bigger picture and learn to see situations from multiple perspectives. Ask yourself if there are other ways to look your circumstances.
  • Manage your “barrel.‚” Pretend you have a barrel with a spigot, and draw it on a piece of paper. The demands on you are what come out of the spigot. Write those out. Demands could include attention and time your kids want from you, demands at work, from church, and so on. The more that comes out of the spigot, the emptier your barrel becomes. If you don’t refill your barrel you’ll eventually run dry. Ways to refill could include exercise, quiet time, walks, sleep, reading, watching movies—whatever recharges you. List those things that energize you and pursue them. Work diligently to refill your barrel regularly.
  • Let go. The more you hold on to something with an outstretched arm, the heavier the object becomes. Even a light object held this way for a long time begins to feel like a huge burden. The same principle applies to unforgiveness and resentment. Some people create unnecessary stress by holding on to grudges and bitterness over past wrongdoings from others.
  • Don’t let emotions occupy the driver’s seat. Emotions influence the way you think and can result in poor decision-making. Slow down enough to think rather than simply ride your emotions. Strive to have an optimistic perspective.

Adaptability is not easy, but it’s necessary. Your growth in this area will help you lower your stress level and make it much more pleasant for your family to be with you in times of challenge or change. It requires wisdom and energy, but will be well worth it. You and your family will both benefit.

Areas of strength in adaptability

Congratulations! Scoring high on adaptability means you are able to handle what life throws your way. You are flexible, which helps you see situations from multiple perspectives. This can help keep you from getting stuck in a negative frame of mind. You are resilient, bouncing back from hardships more readily than most others. You are able to lead your family through difficulty, adversity, and stress. You are also able to teach your kids how to gain a more accurate perspective when times get difficult. Adaptability is an essential ingredient in relationships.

While parenting undoubtedly has its stresses, you are willing to face life, and you do not avoid stress. Instead, you see it as an opportunity to grow and learn. You help provide your family with a balanced outlook when life gets complicated or out of control.

Your family benefits from your ability to find creative solutions to problems and new ways to approach difficult circumstances. You are the emotional “Swiss Army knife‚” in your home, versatile and equipped to assist others in times of trouble.

You are able to adjust your plans in response to whatever your family is facing. However, adaptability relies on all of the other six traits in order for it to work best.

You can share your strength in adaptability by

  • Being an example for your kids of how to effectively manage stress. Teach them healthy ways to reenergize and take care of themselves as they encounter stress and adversity in life.
  • Teaching ways to let things go. Show them how they can move toward grace, forgiveness and optimism even when their brain wants to go toward anger, unforgiveness, and negativity. Love, grace, and respect are essential traits that should be emphasized as you teach adaptability.
  • Modeling and teaching how to handle different personalities, opinions and ideas. Each family has different personalities, and family members may have widely varying opinions and ideas. This is where love and respect have to be present in order for adaptability to yield its greatest benefits.
  • Demonstrating a positive attitude toward unexpected changes or circumstances. Each day truly has enough worries of its own, as Scripture reminds us. Counter the worries by purposely focusing on the positives.
  • Modeling and teaching how to pause and maintain an appropriate perspective when life is chaotic or stressful. Read Philippians 4:8 with your family, and talk about what is right and good in your situation. Again, this is an opportunity to emphasize gratitude and positivity in tough times.

Modeling and teaching adaptability can help your family become more resilient. Be intentional about imparting these skills to your kids and they will thank you some day.

Areas for growth in boundaries and limits

Scoring low on boundaries could mean that you are exhausted, disorganized or a conflict avoider, or you may simply have a more playful and aloof personality. There may be various other reasons why you scored low, but the fact is your family and society need your growth in this area.

Boundaries take a lot of energy, time, focus, relationship, balance and communication. It is not easy to face conflict and uncomfortable emotions when kids don’t like your boundaries or when people don’t like your “no.‚”

In a study from the University College London, researchers discovered that we tend to pursue the path of least resistance. We tend to select the option that requires the least amount of effort, which draws attention to two specific needs: the need for intentionality and the need for focused attention. Intentionality requires planning and energy and helps with setting, defining and reinforcing boundaries. Focus requires disciplined attention and is important in establishing and pursuing goals.

You probably already know this, but other people’s love and approval are for them to give, when and how they want to. Yet some of us try to gain love and approval by easing up on limits and not setting proper boundaries. Likewise, other people’s happiness (including that of your kids) is up to them. It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to make our children happy by letting boundaries lapse. That is an exhausting, never ending road and a losing proposition. The truth is, we can never make someone a happy person—not our children, not spouse, not anyone.

We all desire approval and love, but it’s important that we get them in healthy ways. If we seek love and approval by setting weak (or no) boundaries, we end up hurting ourselves and others. When we set good boundaries, though, they actually provide freedom. In the Psalms, David shows his love of God’s commandments and rules. He says they keep him safe. These are good, healthy boundaries that provide the freedom to become the best he could be. Those same boundaries allow us the freedom to become our best selves.

When we lack boundaries with others, many times it means we lack appropriate boundaries for ourselves. For example, many parents struggle with boundaries on themselves when it comes to technology, and it can be very difficult for, say, a dad to impose limits on his son’s video game, computer, or smartphone use when he is unwilling to curb his own use of these technologies. Consistently model limits on yourself with technology, food, media, time, or anything else about which your child may ask “Why do you get to partake in that and I don’t?‚” This will help improve your relationship with your children greatly. Ask yourself what limits you should place on your phone or computer use. What about eating junk food or time spent playing video games or watching TV? By the way, do your children see you setting proper limits between work time and family time?

A lack of boundaries can result in exhaustion, confusion, frustration, and a loss of respect. But it takes energy and effort to institute proper limits, and even then you may still face opposition. Jesus led a life of balance yet still faced persecution, tiredness, betrayal, and suffering. He held strong to His boundaries even when it made other people unhappy. This is seen clearly in His dealings with the Pharisees and other antagonists. Jesus was not concerned about making people happy. He was concerned about their souls and their relationship with God.

You can work on boundaries by

  • Resting enough so that you have sufficient energy to set and hold limits. One of the purposes of sleep is to prepare our brains for the next day. In addition to mental renewal there is physical repair that happens as well. Make sure you make time to stop and recharge so you will have enough energy to set boundaries on yourself and your children. Limit-setting takes a lot of mental and physical energy.
  • Learning to be friendly with the word “no.‚” “No‚” can provide breathing room and respect. It is ok to say “no‚” to others when you need to. It doesn’t make you a bad person, friend, spouse or parent. When you say “yes‚” to something, you have to say “no‚” to something or someone else. If you say “yes‚” to another task at work, being out with friends, or another project around the house you are saying “no‚” to time with your spouse or kids, or to time you might otherwise use to recharge. It is important to keep your focus on balance as a parent, spouse, employee, friend, and servant of Christ.
  • Establishing rules and consistently reinforcing them. Our homes have fences around them that show the boundaries of our land. They don’t move depending on how people feel. The boundaries are there and people learn to respect them. In the same parents need to set clear limits and enforce them consistently. In a study out of Pennsylvania State University, researchers discovered that it is important to teach children about good moral decision-making with respect to the Internet at an early age (intentionality) so that they are able to more easily understand and follow limits on technology. These children who experienced limits were also more willing and skilled at placing limits on themselves. The researchers also found that younger teens were more compliant.
  • Learning from other people you respect who are able to provide boundaries with love and respect. Watch what people with good boundaries tend to do. They fill their emotional tank in order to most effectively and genuinely engage with others. Learn from these people and don’t be afraid to take notes. Pay attention to what disciplines and/or skills you are missing that can make it difficult to follow through on setting and enforcing boundaries.
  • Establishing what is most valuable to you. What is it that you make time for? What do you spend your money on? Where do you give most of your energy? Rearrange your priorities so that what is truly valuable in your life is treated that way.

Your family will love the results of you working on this trait. It will have long lasting impacts on you and your family. In fact, it will increase both your level of self-confidence as a parent and the level of trust your spouse and children have in you.

Areas of strength in boundaries and limits

Congratulations! This means you are friends with the word “no.‚” Your goal is not your children’s happiness as much as their growth. You are willing to go through the difficulty of training your kids to respect boundaries and limits. This takes consistency and intentionality.

Two traits that are crucial for the long-term success of boundaries are love and respect. Keep in mind that if you are low on either or both of these traits it could lead to resentment, rebellion, and big-time confrontation in your home. If you scored low on either of those, make sure you work really hard on them before you start establishing and enforcing more boundaries.

If you’re providing your family with the wonderful trifecta of love, respect, and boundaries, you are a gem to your family! Even if there is conflict, your kids will gain security in your home. They will learn to love, respect, admire, and thank you someday. You are truly providing a great foundation for your kids to learn about what it means to be an adult.

Some people hold to the misconception that boundaries only serve to suppress our freedom and squelch creativity, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we were created to thrive within certain boundaries—obeying God, living with His truth in our hearts and minds, and by listening to Him to gain much needed wisdom. Psalm 119 provides a wonderful example of the benefits of loving God’s commandments and living within their boundaries.

There are many things in our lives that we need to set limits on—relationships, the words we use, the way we use our time, the media we consume, and our use of technology.

Technology use among children continues to rise, and the average age of individuals who use digital technology on a daily basis continues to skew younger. Technology demands boundaries and limits. This can take a lot of energy and effort on your part as a parent, but fortunately you have the required skills.

Because there are many demands on time, your ability to say “no‚” is important to your sanity and to your family’s. There are so many good things to get involved with; you can help your family choose the “great‚” things to pursue.

You also, most likely, help your family set clear limits on what media is consumed. This is important because of the impact of media on our children’s minds and souls. Media influence belief systems; beliefs influence thoughts; thoughts and emotions influence one another resulting in actions. In other words, media has the potential of influencing our children’s beliefs and actions. While there may be some conflict with your children over media boundaries, just realize that you are investing your energy and time in a very important area of your children’s lives. (Plugged In can be a great support to you in this area. This online resource helps sift through the culture’s never-ending barrage of media to provide you the best information possible as you develop boundaries for entertainment in your home.)

Since you scored high in boundaries, you are able to help your family by

  • Modeling consistency of rules, limits, boundaries, and expectations. Your children learn that your “no‚” is “no‚” and your “yes‚” is “yes.‚” This makes it less likely for your children to attempt manipulation if they don’t appreciate a certain boundary you establish. Your consistency helps them learn to respect boundaries. It is interesting to watch coaches and players argue with referees. You’ll almost never see an official change a call because a coach or player whines or complains about it. The call remains the call and everyone moves on. In the same way, your consistency helps your children not get stuck on the call.
  • Teaching your kids responsibility. You can teach them that the words “no‚” and “yes‚” help set important boundaries in life. They’ll learn how to tell if they have energy, time and resources to do certain things. They will also gain trust and respect from others by being able to say “no‚” when they need to. A lot is learned about people by what they say “yes‚” to. Help your children become mindful about the sorts of things they agree to.
  • Modeling and teaching respect for rules, limits and boundaries. This will help your children more effectively navigate friendships, dating, marriage, work, parenting, and society.
  • Teaching what is right and wrong. Don’t be afraid to have conversations about the reasoning for various boundaries. This helps define the purpose of the boundary, and it allows your children to feel heard as they try to adjust to a boundary that they may not like or want.
  • Guarding your family time. This is important. It is very easy to get busy and scattered. Family time is essential. Your family needs not just quality time but quantity time, and your ability to set strong boundaries helps safeguard this precious commodity.

Boundaries are vital, even if we don’t always like them. In that sense, it’s a good thing that emotions don’t always run society because it would be constant chaos, fluctuation, and conflict. Thankfully, you are not controlled by emotions as you set necessary boundaries with wisdom, love and respect. Your family and society will thank you.

Areas for growth in grace and forgiveness

It’s exciting to work on such a transformative trait as grace and forgiveness! This process will change the lenses of how you see people and the world around you.

Bob, a middle-aged man, used to see me for counseling. He told me he hated his dad, couldn’t forgive him for what he’d done. Bob had come to see me because he frequently yelled at his family, slammed doors at home, screamed at drivers, was short with co-workers and was struggling to maintain his second marriage. Bob couldn’t put to rest memories of his father’s absence, screaming, yelling, hitting, and eventual abandonment of his home. He was a wounded man and was readily wounding others around him. Bob told me he feared becoming his dad, even though it was clear that is exactly what was happening.

In parenting, the trait of grace and forgiveness is essential for the love of God to shine into your kids’ lives. It gives your family the ability to repair relationship when your imperfections clash. Research shows that choosing forgiveness helps our brains grow in empathy and in our ability to see the positive side of a situation.

In the context of parenting, developing this trait will help you understand that kids misbehavior or mistakes is not a personal attack. Children are still growing. They need patient and understanding guidance and forgiveness.

Grace also frees us from our past, allowing us to live in the present. The following are some ways you can begin working on grace and forgiveness in your life:

  • Make a list of events or individuals you have difficulty forgiving. You can put this list in your wallet, purse, Bible or any other place you will look. Ask yourself: Why do you have difficulty forgiving these people? What is your benefit by bitterly remembering these events? What is the benefit if you do forgive?
  • Make a list of past moments that you can’t seem to let go of. Next, try to hold a cup filled with water for 5 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes and 10 minutes. Did you notice that the longer you hold the glass, the heavier it gets even though it is the same weight? Likewise, remembering the pain and anger inflicted by others gets so much heavier the longer we hold on to it. You will be free emotionally “lift‚” your family if you are able to free yourself from the burdens of the past. Picture yourself physically letting go of each past event. What does it feel like to make this list of burdens shrink?
  • Learn to see imperfections in your family as opportunities. Everyone makes mistakes, and when we see these moments as chances for love, learning and growth, we develop skills in patience and grace.
  • Continually ask yourself, “Is there another way to look at this?‚” This helps train your train in forgiveness, in the ability to see the same event from multiple angles. For example, if your daughters says, “I hate you‚”, it likely means something completely different. Perhaps she hates the fact that she can’t have what she wants. It is not personal. She is still learning how to handle his emotions. Once everyone has calmed down, rephrase her words to teach her how to more respectfully communicate frustrations.
  • Look at the bigger picture. Grace is really God’s territory. He has freely forgiven us, giving us the ability to forgive others. Since we have received this forgiveness, why are we often unable to extend forgiveness ourselves? Our brains seem to get stuck on the negatives. We can’t let it go! Challenge yourself to look past the negatives to the positives of a relationship, especially with your children. You’re helping to create an adult. What an amazing opportunity! Find a place to calm your emotions, so that you can see far enough to find grace. Grace and forgiveness will help you develop humility and foster love in your home. It is worth the hard work!

Areas of strength in grace and forgiveness

Scoring high on grace and forgiveness is a true blessing to your family. They have a peacemaker in leadership, one who provides a healthy example of God’s ministry of reconciliation. You are helping your family learn how to handle differences, conflict and even possible betrayals. Grace and forgiveness is an antidote to anger, frustration and disappointment that you’ll often face in family life.

Grace inspires compassion when others hurt us. It brings calmness to stress. Jesus provided us with a powerful example when, while in excruciating pain and humiliation, He yelled out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.‚”

Grace helps your children know that they can make mistakes while still continue growing in their identity in Christ. Here are five ways you can help your family through grace and forgiveness:

  • Teach your family ways to learn from mistakes, to see them as opportunities to grow. My 11-year-old daughter was acting up recently and spilled frozen peas all over the kitchen floor. We all stopped for a moment and looked at her. She seemed paralyzed, waiting to see what was going to happen next. We could tell she felt bad. My wife said, “the dogs are going to be very happy.‚” My daughter laughed and watched as the dogs ate every green pea on the floor.
  • Model ways to let go of grudges. It is easy to hang on to events where we’ve felt wronged. It takes a strong person to apologize,

© 2014 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.

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Understand How to Respect and Love your Son Well

Why doesn’t my son listen to me? Have you ever asked that question? The truth is, how you see your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. In fact, we’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.
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About the Author

Danny Huerta Media Profile
Danny Huerta, MSW, LCSW, LSSW

As vice president of the Parenting and Youth department, Danny oversees Focus’ initiatives that equip parents to disciple and mentor the next generation, so that they can thrive in Christ.

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