Synergistic Parenting

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A mother in one of my parenting groups exclaimed, "Now I use less time and energy getting the kids to do what they have to do, and at the same time we’re having more fun."

How synergistic parenting is different
parenting teaches you skills so you interact with children to help them learn to trust, to care, and to take responsibility for themselves and their actions. Synergy flows as your energy triggers their energy in positive responses.

Parenting your child is a relationship similar to how a team works, in which there is give and take, suggestions fly back and forth, and there is anger and reconciliation. You as a parent, like the coach or manager, has more experience than team members. The family is less a democracy, because parents know and understand more. Two parents can be complementary equals — contributing different skills and attitudes to the adventure and synergy of parenting your unique children.

If instead you order your children and punish infractions, your children are not prepared for the give and take they need to excel in school and later at work. The film Dead Poets Society shows the conflict between a blossoming teen and a demanding father.

For example, when our two children, in response to being called, said, "Just a minute," I often started a countdown, "59 - 58 - 57…" and the child came or explained why they wanted a few more minutes. That is Synergistic parenting, using humor and being open to what the child may need to finish. Dictatorial parents might say something like, "You come here NOW," or, "I said come here." Does that lead a person to resist?

Synergistic parenting means we plan for many events, such as taking children with us to the store, to reduce possible tensions and problems. You can work with them to develop the skills to fight against drugs and other problems. Pre-teens and teens will tell you how much they know; with your smarts and experiences you can out-think and out-wit them.

Two clues to learn to parent better
Two of your experiences may give you the best clues to explore how to parent.

First, what your parents did
As we remember experiences in our own childhood, we may find clues to help us explore how to be more effective parents. Remembering experiences when we were children and teens, and how we responded to our parents often gives essential insight. Remembering will also help us be sensitive to what our children are feeling.

An example, that will be repeated when you explore discipline, is my asking parenting groups if those who were physically punished as children are willing to hold up their hands. Generally many do. I then ask if any will share their experiences. Usually some share, and two reactions recur frequently. First, as adults they tell how their feelings about their parents were hurt. It hurt their trust and love of their parents more than it hurt physically. Second, many continued the punished behavior, but did it secretively.

You may find that you are acting as your parents did, or doing the opposite — perhaps for good reasons and sometimes just to be different. As you read and think about Synergistic Parenting, reflect on what your parents did, your reaction to what they did then, and how you feel now. Perhaps you will decide to thoughtfully create your own style of parenting, learning from what your parents did. Sometimes we respond to our children or to situations as parents because of experiences with our parents that we do not remember, but that influence us. Explore indirect effects of how we were parented in this book.

Second, explore clues to parenting in your work experience.
The best way to explore how much control we parents want, and how to do it, is to think about your work experience. Do you remember a supervisor or manager under whom you blossomed? Someone for whom you wanted to work better and do better? While working for some supervisor did you find more satisfaction in your job? On the other side, was there a manager who led you to use your energy griping, resisting, or looking for a different job?

Do some clients encourage you to work harder? And because of them the harder work is satisfying? One professional told me recently how he likes to work with most clients, but he gets a "few real doozies" who make it hard.

No matter how much we love our kids, what is the result of the ways that we parent? As parents we want our children to blossom under our "management" and find satisfaction in their lives, play, and school. We need to combine deep love for our kids with ways of management that help them to blossom. We can find ways so our children resist less. At the same time we can find some really good times with them.

Each child is unique and different from brothers or sisters. Each responds in their own way to our parenting. It is not enough to say just love your kids and the rest will happen. Skills and attitudes you learn in Synergistic Parenting can make the loving parent more effective.

How do you respond to your child who greets you in this way?


If you are reading this alone, grab a piece of paper to write different things you can say and do, and compare different possible responses for what they mean to your child. If you work with others, compare ideas of what to say and do, and their effects on your child. Compare responses; are some more glib and shallow? Do other responses ask the youngster to clarify feelings? Probe into responses and their effects on this youngster's feelings.

Three Parenting Styles
Have most of us said, "do it because I said so," to our children? But when a manager says that to us, we often resist. Managers or clients who led you to work better often involved you in decisions, or your accepting them. Are our children not the same?

There are three parenting styles, with variations around these central ideas.

  • dictatorial or authoritarian parenting in which the parent is boss,
  • laissez faire parenting that provides minimum direction so the child controls, and
  • synergistic parenting; the parents control with their understanding of parenting and insight into children. We seek to learn the best ways to work with our children so they mature into responsible persons. Parents use their clear goals and values. (Parenting studies often call this authoritative parenting. I find the words authoritarian and authoritative confusing, though you may see these in parenting literature.

Synergistic or knowledgeable parenting means exploring to find the ways that bring out the best in each of our children. We know that some children push the envelope of possibilities. We explore the many ways each child is different, and therefore reacts differently to what we do and say. We need to learn what their ages mean for how we act as parents.

If you have a daughter who excels in elementary school, you may find her grades drop with adolescence. A son at adolescence may becoming harsher and domineering. The values of our culture often break into our families, because of peer groups, movies, television, and music. We explore many of these dynamic forces later, seeking skills to help us cope with them, and examples from other parents.

We explore the best ways to communicate with each and to discipline – not punish – so they grow in self-discipline and mature as people. Synergistic parenting means we try to learn skills that make us smarter parents. Synergistic parenting involves children in give-and-take with parents and brothers and sisters. This experience shapes them to be better students in school, because they engage themselves with teachers and class mates in the same give-and-take.

About the Bible and religion
In parenting groups that I lead some ask what the Bible says about parenting. Perhaps they ask because I am a retired clergy as well as a social worker. They wonder about a few statements in the Bible that are really harsh. Some people and groups that claim to teach biblical parenting miss the full message of the Bible and are not sensitive to child abuse. Whenever you wish, you may click Bible above to explore what the whole Bible teaches.

Perhaps the most important parenting you can do is to spend time with each child, doing what that child wants to do. The activity is less important than your being together, listening, sharing in what your child wants to do at that time. You learn as you listen and play. This can be a time of discovery as a parent focuses attention on one child. Burton L. White, a Harvard educational psychologist, says, "The key seems to be the time that attentive, responsive parents spend with their children – parents who are on hand and enthusiastic, whether their youngsters want help, comfort, or simply a chance to share discoveries." Be sensitive to when your child wants to talk, then listen and reflect with your child.

And next…
You can now explore Goals or many different facets of parenting; click to read a summary, then decide what you want to read and study, or select one of those below.

Copyright © 2002, 2007 John F. Yeaman



Read more about parenting styles in Beyond the Classroom by Laurence Steinberg in chapter six. The book is an excellent and careful study of thousands of students. They found that the problems that schools have are really three problems outside of the schools. One was parenting styles which lead students to either become involved in school or to avoid interacting with teachers. Synergetic style of parenting led children to be comfortable interacting with parents and adults, questioning them, discussing with them; the result was they did far better school work.