Most moms have figured out a thing or two about life by the time they have a baby. Still, children rush headlong into childhood eager to test out the world around them, often learning painful lessons the hard way. Leaving us all wondering how parents can influence their children in a lasting way for the benefit and blessing of a child?
Five essential elements must be present for a healthy influence to occur from a parent to a child.
Relationship is the first and most powerful element needed to have a positive influence in your child’s life.
Since the parent-child relationship is where the majority of influential power rests, we’ll start with that.
At the very core of all parenting are two tools that we must have. These two tools are the keys to parenting well and raising good kids who grow to become great adults.
The tools, though available to all parents, are not always held by all parents. Usually, because a mom doesn’t know what they are or how to get them.
The first tool is your command or parenting authority, which is essentially the very basic fact that you are mom. You are older, wiser, bigger, stronger, and to some degree, have a “because I said so” button available to you. We’ll talk more about how to attain and correctly use your parental authority another time.
Today I want to talk about the second tool, the tool that answers the question of how parents can influence their children.
The second tool is connection. Connection is the relationship you have with your child.
The Source of Parental Influence
Influence has very little to do with authority. Think for a moment about a police officer. When you are driving along, it’s not likely the threat of authority from a police officer that makes you follow the speed limit.
If you follow it at all, it’s because of the threat of the consequence of not following it. Large fines, getting your driver’s license taken away, or hurting yourself or someone else has a lot more influence on your decision than authority alone.
What if you just left a loved one’s house after a sweet visit. Your loved one is worried about your safety as you drive home. She tells you, “Please drive safe. The roads are wet. Promise me you’ll do the speed limit?”
IF you have an amazing relationship with this loved one, and you agree to abide by the speed limits per her request, that relationship and mutual respect is more likely to influence your decision to honor your relationship than the police officer’s authority OR the possibility of a consequence!
When we take the time, spend the energy, and make the investment into intentionally building an amazing relationship with our kids, we gain a power of influence over our children that can’t be matched with any other parenting effort.
Imagine your child at 24 years old. She’s thinking about going on a date with a young man. You know the young man and have a bad feeling about him.
How likely is it that she’s going to come to you for an opinion in the first place, let alone truly listen to what you have to say if the two of you are distant and detached?
The only way she’ll come to you and actually absorb your thoughts, opinions, and advice is if the two of you have an amazing bond, leading her to value and seek out your guidance!
3 Simple Steps to Gain Parental Influence
To reach that level of relationship, there are some steps you should take. A healthy parent-child relationship may happen by chance, however, it typically takes work. Particularly if you and your child are different, and/or do not see eye to eye.
In that case, the bond can still be achieved, but it will require more intentionality on your part.
Let’s talk about a few ways you can build that bond so the ties the bind are strong.
#1. Speak your child’s love language.
I love talking about learning your child’s love languages here on mdParenting! You can buy your child a gift every time you leave the house, but if her love language isn’t gifts, it won’t mean much to her.
You can tell her all the nicest things, but if her love language is quality time and you’re not getting alone with her enough, the nice things you say mean less.
Every single child on the face of the earth needs a hug, a kind word, quality time, acts of service, and an occasional gift. However, we all have a tendency to feel a great loving impact from one or two of those things more than the others.
Learn your child’s love language so you can speak love in a way she feels and understands it!
#2. Listen more than you speak.
Humans have two ears and one mouth. We should listen twice as much as we talk. Though we typically get this backward, especially with our children.
Everyone wants to be heard. Children have a unique and incredibly valuable outlook on the world. They have feelings, thoughts, emotions, and opinions. And we should value them.
Even when they’re wrong. Even when we don’t agree, value is important.
Our children will feel the value we place on them when we actively listen.
Actively listen by listening to what your child is saying, WITHOUT THINKING ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE GOING TO SAY!
Doesn’t this drive you crazy?! You’re talking to someone and can see the words they want to say on the tip of their tongue, ready to jump out as soon as there’s a break in your sentence!?
That’s not listening, that’s impatiently waiting for a chance to make yourself heard.
I train my children on how to actively listen. We take time to understand that during a conversation, it’s good to have a few seconds of pause between the end of one persons’ sentence and the beginning of the other person’s.
When someone has spoken, in this case, your child, pause for a minute and absorb what he said. Let it sink it, have empathy, stretch to understand his point of view… then respond.
#3. Take Interest in His Interests
Children are so strongly attached to their toys, hobbies, and interests, that if you do not like their favorite/beloved toys, hobbies, or interests, they experience it as you not liking them!
That’s tricky when your tween boy loves video games, and you detest them!
You don’t have to love what they love, you simply have to take interest. Let your children talk about what they like. Allow them to share their favorite thing about a toy, why they prefer one sport over another, and why a hobby is intriguing to them.
Just share in the interest. Let your child talk about it while you listen. Ask questions and listen to the answers.
By taking interest in your child’s interest, you’ll help your child feel seen by you, as well as a sense of belonging.
These are essential for the kind of bond necessary for a relationship that leads to positive parental influence.
Taking interest in his interests establishes trust between you and your child and builds for yourself a good reputation with your child.
Trust and reputation are the second and third necessary elements for parents to gain influence in a child’s life.
How Parents Can Influence Their Children’s Behavior at Three Stages of Childhood
During the toddler, preschool, and school-aged years, parental influence comes from a combination of wisely using your parental authority and building a healthy parent-child relationship.
During these early years, your authority as a parent and the relationship you have with your child are used in (roughly) an 80/20 ratio.
The majority of how parents can influence their children during the first 6 years comes from training and discipline. During this time, you are using your authority to control behavior and steer your child’s choices while working on building the relationship.
During the second stage, consisting of later school-aged years through early teens, the work you’ve put into the parent-child relationship begins to pay off.
The ratio begins to shift to 60/40, authority/relationship.
More and more, you will see your children are influenced by the relationship (or lack thereof) you have with them.
This connection, if it’s healthy, will help you influence their choices toward wise and healthy decisions.
The goal is for your child to choose judiciously without you around, so it’s important that you begin to see evidence of his internal moral compass calibrated well by the tween years.
You’ll know this is happening when you can catch him doing good without being told or directed to!
When that happens – celebrate!!!!!
Finally, during the third stage, when your child is in his middle to late teens and beyond, the ratio has typically flip-flopped what it was during the toddler years.
Your influence now comes only 20% from the authority you have on his life and 80% from the relationship you have with him.
During this phase of childhood, your teenager will be faced with a lot of challenging decisions. Though you should do your best to limit his exposure to a disproportionate amount of grown-up situations, he will be confronted, at some point, with a decision that he’ll have to make without you around.
The goal: Your voice to be in his head, to trust that voice, that voice to be saying the right thing, in the right tone, influencing him toward the right decision.
How Parents Can Influence Their Children’s Decisions Later in Life
Lastly, your child will be completely grown someday. He’ll have children of his own, and you will want to be a significant part of the lives of those children.
Ask yourself what it will take for your child to want to bring his children around you (and leave them in your care from time to time) as much as possible.
The scripture says in Proverbs 17:6, “Grandchildren are the crowning glory of the aged.”
This helps us understand that often, we see the fruits of all our work as parents in the blessing we enjoy with our grandchildren.
Unfortunately, the opposite can be true, as well. If we don’t take pains now to cultivate and nurture strong, healthy, and trusting bonds with our children, we may not have the contact and relationship we long for with our grandchildren when the time comes.
Your child will have children, and they will decide how, when, and even if those children see you.
You’re going to want them around, so parent accordingly now.
Furthermore, your child has a lot more life to live outside of your home than he does inside it.
The childhood years are short.
We hold the hands of our children for a brief moment.
All the little words he says that only you can understand, the fun games she makes up with wacky rules, and the little chubby arms that wrap you in a tight hug will be a memory before you know it.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the day to day of keeping our children safe, getting them educated, and keeping them (and ourselves) mentally and physically healthy.
As a result, it doesn’t take long each day to forget that a child is a person who will live a whole life. One that you are responsible for preparing them for.
Parents can influence their children during their adult lives in a mighty way.
To influence your child in a positive and lasting way, connection and relationship are your best allies!
Those instruments of parenting have to be built. They are not handed to you the way parental authority is.
Be mindful to establish connection and relationship with your children when exploring how parents can influence their children now and later.
The repeated and unrelenting effort you put into you and your child’s relationship will display consistency to your child.
Consistency is the fourth essential element in how parents can influence their children.
Consistency cannot happen without a lot of time. A significant length of time is required to show a consistent and repeated attitude or behavior.
What This Means for Mom
You’ve heard it said a million times, children are sponges. They literally absorb all the see, hear and feel from the world around them.
Those things they absorb, along with how the process and possess them, make a child who she is
The largest and most notable of those experiences come from you.
From the moment her ability to hear is formed in the womb, your child hears the way you speak and the tone of voice you use.
From the moment she’s born, she sees the way you treat people.
In her infancy, she begins to feel your love when you hold, feed, rock, and bathe her.
Your child is absorbing the world around here, but she won’t absorb anything else, quite as much as she’ll absorb you.
No one and no thing has the level of influence over your child as you do.
This fact leads us to the fifth element necessary for influencing your child’s life in a positive and life-giving way: integrity.
Raising a child who you can influence toward honorability and righteousness requires a mom of integrity.
And you’re just the mom for the job!
The Best Part of How Parents Can Influence Their Children.
I’ve heard it said that for the majority of people, once our time on earth is over, we’ll be forgotten within three hundred years.
Truth is, life is fleeting.
Each of us gets just a smidgen of time to make a positive impact on the world.
I believe the most powerful impact a mother can make on the world is through her children.
The effort that we put into connecting with our child to build a beautiful relationship will produce a ripple effect so far into the future, it’s impossible to measure.
The trust, reputation, consistency, and integrity we strive to build will serve your children, their children’s children, and years beyond.
My favorite part of how parents can influence their children and the work that we get to put into our children is in knowing we are equipping them to stand firm in their convictions as they raise their own children in a future more uncertain than the one we’re living in now.
It will be tough. Our little ones need our best effort, for today, but even more so, for the years to come.