The Intentional Parent: Becoming a Competent Family Leader by Peter Favaro, Ph.D. - HTML preview

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The Broad Strokes

Here is a brief overview of the leadership framework or “go to” principles involved in becoming an intentional parent.

The Intentional Parent concentrates on these principles:

Principle One: Effective parenting is a function of competent family leadership

Principle Two: Competent family leaders ...

• lead with intention

• motivate their family members with love, high expectations and structure

• communicate their expectations clearly and consistently

• set limits which outline the natural consequences of breaking family rules

A Time for Leadership

Todays parents are more oriented toward the concept of leadership than the parents I worked with 25 years ago when I first

started a practice in child psychology. Women play more important roles now in business, commerce and world leadership, and

hopefully will gain even more ground in these areas. They can relate more with leadership roles than my mom clients did in the past.

Men appreciate the roles of women in the family more now than a quarter century ago, and are more willing to “co-chair” the family team, making stronger efforts in family chores that were more traditionally occupied almost solely by mothers.

These are some of the sociocultural reasons that parents might embrace a parenting approach that emphasizes leadership -- but there is also a much more practical reason. When parents speak to me about what frustrates them most, it is that they struugle 3

with what role to play in the lives of their children. They do not want to be too strict. They want to give children “choices,” (even though some of the choices they are given should not be made by kids). They do not want to be disliked by their kids and are afraid their relationship might not ever be reconciled if they show anger or resentment. If anything, todays parenting is often passed through filters of anxiety, guilt and regret.

I hope to influence parents to see an advantage in looking at their roles with the more positive perspective that “leadership” implies as opposed to the more negative connotation that “disciplinarian” might suggest to some. However, good leaders are good disciplinarians, and it is my intent to help you learn that being a good disciplinarian does not mean you have to bark at, punish your kids, or stifle their spirits.

Breaking a Child’s Spirit or Promoting Clear Expectations?

When parents tell me “I don’t want to break his (or her) spirit,” as an excuse for not wanting to introduce parenting expectations a child might see as negative (like clear boundaries and high expectations), what they are telling me is that they are afraid to lead their children.

Unless parents have clear intentions about what kind of behavior is appropriate and what is not, they develop parent-child relationships that tend to be chaotic and driven by the whims of their kids. They ignore behavior that represents poor judgment, disrespect, impulsivity, and aggression, believing that these negative behaviors are merely a function of “self expression.” As a result they parent with a blind eye as to how these behaviors shape their children’s futures, or worse yet they parent with fear of rejection from their kids, and anxiety, walking on eggshells whenever they want their children to behave.

This can make children feel as though they are the most powerful people in the family, and so kids become insulted when they are not permitted to exercise whatever wish is floating around in their heads (i.e. “I want to eat cookies for breakfast.”) You can pre-serve your child’s curiosity, “spirit”, independence and personal flair but at the same time you also have to teach your child that part of their future success will be adjusting to the demands of certain environments where rules and boundaries are important --

like school, on the playing field and when they are someone else’s house.

When you are uncomfortable telling your child to stop talking, be respectful, stop misbehaving, pay more attention, do chores, etc., there are lots of other authority figures who won’t hesitate to, and they will often do it without the love and affection you would deliver those messages with. Inevitably parenting criticisms are directed at you when your child ignores the admonitions and you get 4

called up to school for a good talking to. Then the guilt comes; or you might assume the teacher or other significant adult does not really understand your child, or that your child deserves a break at home given the pressure and stress of other environments.

Good work habits, respect for others, and self-control all “follow the leader.”`

Parents As “Friends”

I have often found it quite ineffective to try to persuade parents to be more strict, expect more from their kids, stick to the consequences they lay out, and incentivize kids without giving them too much “up front,” without them earning it. Sometimes, parents tell me, “I don’t want my kids to feel the way I did when I was growing up.” When parents tell me they don’t want to feel the way they did growing up I answer back, “How do you know your kids won’t feel worse because you were not the kind of “friend” that they wish you were?” Kids rarely stay close to their childhood friends, but you are a parent forever.

Curiously, when I ask parents if they would like to learn to be better “leaders,” and to be able to teach their children the importance of being “successful leaders,” almost everyone can listen to that and guide their children through all sorts of challenging life experiences. The two relationships, friend and leader are simply not on the same plane.

The basic framework of the parenting education approach I lay out in The Intentional Parent is so simple, that even the most anxiety ridden parent can pull it off. Hopefully, the benefits you reap from this approach will bring you to your next level of evolution, not only as a parent, but as a person as well.

Intentions, Actions and Outcomes and The Leadership Framework

The leadership framework I present in this book, revolves around three simple ideas:

• intentions

• actions

• outcomes

After this framework is laid out, I will focus you on how to be an effective motivator, how to communicate effectively and how to help your children understand the relationship between behavior and consequence.


In my parenting approach, I ask parents to think and ask questions:

“What do I want to happen in this interaction with my child?”

What do I have to do to make what I want to happen, actually happen?”

“Did I do it? Did I make it happen? Why? Why not?”

You might be wondering, “Is this really a method? Isn’t this what I do all the time, anyway?” I find that most intelligent people ask themselves these questions, but they don’t do it enough and they don’t do it with purpose, and frequently, they abandon perfectly good parenting strategies because they don’t work the first time, or they don’t work every time.

I want you to interact with your kids in ways that are purpose-driven and methodical. You, in turn, can teach and share strategies with your partner, and your kids will in turn model this behavior and live their own lives in more purposeful and methodical ways.

Encouraging a Thinking Methodology In Your Kids

Part of the way your kids will benefit from your leadership style is that they will model (imitate) it. The other way they will benefit from your leadership style is that you will shape it by bringing their intentions, actions and outcomes into your parenting talks and discussions with them.

Doing this is as simple as focusing your children on their intentions, actions and outcomes, often with some very simple questions: What were you thinking about when you...[did whatever you did].

What could you have done differently instead of...[whatever you did]

What do you think about how things turned out?

Parents worry about how they will approach their children when trying to encourage insight and behavior change. Breaking things down to intentions, actions and outcomes is a simple and effective strategy that will allow you to approach your children from a position of leadership throughout their lives.


You will find that kids are often at a loss for being able to respond to these questions, but getting an accurate answer to them is not really all that important. If they could answer those questions, they would probably have not misbehaved in the first place!

Like many parenting strategies, you have to wait for a “payoff.” But you will see that questions like these “prompt” intentional thinking because you are encouraging the habit of self awareness in your kids.

Tell Me What You Are Thinking

When I ask parents what they think about when they are interacting with their children, they either tell me something very vague like “I want my kids to know I love them,” which is a very wonderful goal, but it isn’t a very complete goal and it usually doesn’t stop children from whatever misbehavior might be going on. Or, parents tell me something like, “I want them to stop nagging me,”

which is important for parents if one of your goals is to keep from losing your mind, but achieving this alone might not teach kids anything. I would consider both of these goals to be great secondary goals, but they do not address building strong character or navigating the difficult times in life.

You can get your kids to feel love and you can get them to nag you less -- and you can do it while teaching them to be:

• smart risk takers with good judgment

• hard workers

• excellent partners in many different types of relationships

• comfortable with who they are

In my program, parents and children learn together, learn from one another, succeed together and fail together -- as a team, with the parents as the team leaders, the driving force in helping kids meet life’s challenges.

Warm up: Know Your Child’s Temperament

Before you undertake any attempt to be coached or educated by anyone about parenting, know that you are the ultimate expert, because you know your kid(s) better than anyone else. No one knows your child’s basic style of temperament as well as the people who spend every day with them.,


In the debate over whether we are more the products of our genetic make up or the environment around us, the best conclusion science has to offer is that we are certainly strongly influenced by both.

To be an effective parent it is very important to your success as well as your sanity to understand that your child came into this world with predispositions in their behavior and approach to the world.

Temperament is the genetic contribution to behavior and can, at least in part, reflect whether your child is an easy going, good listening, calm, flexible, attentive and happy child; or whether he or she is difficult, stubborn, oppositional and even grumpy child.

Parents are almost always aware of what their children's temperaments are, but often do not realize that difficult behavioral traits do not always come from what you are doing, right or wrong, as a parent. Before we knew that children had temperamental qualities it was common for people who were experts in the field of child development to attribute the cause of difficult behavior in children to "parenting mistakes." Now we know that children who are spirited, oppositional, rigid and stubborn, and even aggressive can be born with tendencies to be that way, and even if there were a way to do things perfectly, it would not have much effect on a child’s behavior.

Does this mean that behavior that is influenced by temperament is impossible to change? No, not at all, but it might mean that many, many more repetitions or corrections might be needed to create that change, and it might mean that your "workload" as a parent might be higher than a child with a more easy going temperament.

We don't know why yet but some parents are blessed with children who are easier to raise. It is entirely possible to have several children with very different behavioral styles.

Here are some typical behavioral traits which can be influenced by temperament:

Shyness - doesn't seem to like to meet new people, anxious. This child doesn't like to be singled out. Does not want to socialize with peers.

Stubbornness - hates being told what to do. This child won't do what others are doing in a group, and wants to do “her own thing.”

Also, this child hates being told what to do and often out at authorities.

Intense - emotionally reactive. This child can be dramatic and grandiose, and likes to be the center of attention.


People pleasing - socially aware. This child is motivated to please. She is compliant, and has a natural sense of gentility. She is sensitive to the needs of others. She wants to impress.

This is not a complete list but rather descriptions of some behavior that is influenced by temperament.

Sometimes temperament is observed as a "tendency" in a child who might be a bit left or right of average, and sometimes temperamental behavior shows itself as a moderate to extreme behavior. If your child is an extremely difficult child to raise, consider speaking with your pediatrician about it, or consulting a child behavior expert.

Turning Concept Into Action

Throughout The Intentional Parent you will find that my tendency is to present an idea, give you some examples of how to turn that idea into a parenting action, then further discuss and summarize. Your first example of this is right here, in this discussion about temperament:

If you have a spirited, difficult child pick and chose your battles. You will exhaust and frustrate yourself if you make correcting every bothersome behavior a battle of wills.

Remember that it is important to always try to bring your child's focus and energy to your level. Do not "stress up" to your child's level because chances are he or she will raise the bar and escalate the situation even more.

Try not to punish a child for what he cannot control. It is better to help your child improve behavior by rewarding effort for good behavior than to punish for bad behavior.

Knowing your child’s temperament has little bearing on the practical advice I try to give here. You will probably want to try almost everything, though not everything will lead to immediate success. When it comes to evaluating the “outcome” of how you parent your children, you might want to reflect on your child’s temperament, and know that if you lead with intention, it might take time and a lot of repetition but eventually you will get results!

The Format and Style of This Book

As you will see by how many times I refer to the notion, “less is more,” is a very important concept to me. After writing a dozen “paper and ink” books with traditional editors and publishers, I am now interested in developing books that connect me with my audi-9

ence through social networks on and off the internet. Electronic publishing has made it possible for me to add value to my writing by updating, adding and revising continuously. As I talk to more and more people, I will provide more feedback and value added information through the website associated with the book. The book itself will ultimately become updated and revised based on what my audience would like to see. I also look forward to taking my show “on the road” in the form of coffee talks and seminars so look for me in your neighborhood. Better yet, invite me to your small or large group!

I am currently in Revision 1.0

Visit the website to download the newest version and to get your value added content.

Let’s begin!