One of the most important adjustments I made as a classroom teacher early in my career was to do things that increased the perception that I was a “real” teacher. Because many new teachers are young, they often are perceived by their students (and the parents of those students) that they aren’t a “real” teacher that deserves the kind of cooperation and respect that older, more established, “real” teachers deserve. So there are a few tricks one can do in this area. Things like have rules, follow through on consequences, dress professionally, speak like an adult, and maintain high academic standards. The flip side to this, though, is to maintain a likeable reasonable-ness. So like when a student does act out (or whatever), instead of flipping out on them, you just handle it. You act like you’ve been teaching for 30 years, you act like you’ve seen this before a million times, and you just handle it as a seasoned [and also effective] teacher would. You bridge the divide. You have a conversation with the student. You try to figure out the root cause of the disruption. Having original, creative, and engaging (often humorous) lessons is part of the puzzle (and will often be enough to keep much of the unnecessary distractions at bay). But sometimes students just need to see teachers make a little extra effort to show them (the students) that they matter, that someone cares about them, and that they belong in their (the teacher’s) classroom. A lot of students wrestle with insecurity issues, and having a teacher who goes the extra mile helps to give them the kind of relational security that many students need first in order to learn.
Similarly, as a parent, one of the many tricks we can master is to take a balanced approach (as I learned to do as a teacher). We can be a real parent while being a reasonable parent. And we can be a reasonable parent while being a real parent. One doesn’t have to replace the other. And, in fact, this “trick” only works if there is balance. So what this means is that, yes, we have certain expectations of our children to keep them safe and healthy. And we consistently follow through on consequences (which honestly includes addressing the issue in conversation—not every “consequence” has to be big and bad and mean and “punishing”). We are real parents. We watch over our children. We supervise them well. We take care of them well. We do what good parents do. But if we also want to be effective at being good parents, then it’s going to be very important for us to embrace the reasonable-ness that makes child-friendly parenting what it is. If all we do is over-react or be rigid or be forced or be staged in our parenting actions, then we really aren’t accomplishing much except to appear to be a good parent. But if we really want to actually be a good parent, it is going to require that we make reasonable an applicable adjective of our parenting approach.
What this means is that, as used as an example above, we don’t always have to resort to punitive measures to enforce a consequence. Since many of us grew up in these sorts of environments (and turned out relatively okay), it might not make much sense to us to not be punitive. But if you’ve been doing this for very long (or have experience working with a large number of minors, such as in a school), then you learn very quickly that punitive measures don’t really work. Punitive measures might feel good to the person in charge because they make he or she feel like he or she has a little more control over the situations that he or she encounters. But they really don’t work. Not in the long-run (and even the short-run). Reasonable-ness is going to be needed. And to add to that, relational-ness. Treating those under your watch and care as people, who have feelings and wants and desires and a psyche. Part of the art of motivation is earning trust (real trust, not a fake kind of trust to scam others into merely doing what you want them to do). And trust is earned in points of connection, in conversation, in little tiny efforts to show that you notice them, hear them, think of them, and won’t hurt them. Large grand gestures aren’t even necessary. It’s the everyday stuff that carries its weight here and returns your investment many times over.
So what I have found as a parent so far is that our children benefit so wonderfully when we reflect on our parenting practice and can find practical ways to be a real parent with them, to be reasonable with them, and to be relational with them.