Parenting 101: Four Phases of Parenting

As children grow and face different challenges, a parent’s role changes as well. What are some keys to becoming a successful parent at each stage of the process?

It’s ironic that one of the hardest and most significant tasks comes with zero training requirements. Most parents raise their children based on how they were parented, repeating what seemed to work and (hopefully!) avoiding what didn’t. But despite our best efforts, all parents make mistakes.

What does it truly mean to be a parent?

Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo address four phases of parenting in their book Growing Kids God’s Way (which accompanies their popular curriculum by the same name). In this blog post, let’s examine these four phases.

Phase 1: Parents as disciplinarians

Most child development specialists will tell you that the years 0-5 are crucial. In this phase “your primary goal … is to establish your (parental) right to lead” (p. 302).

It’s essential for parents to gain control over a child’s behavior early, because if they don’t, the child will be in control by default! Proper training cannot occur without control, which is why discipline is so important. Discipline is simply the act of training kids to obey rules or a code of behavior.

Discipline can include various forms of punishment to correct disobedience (Proverbs 29:15). Parents have to determine which forms of discipline are most effective with their individual child. Spanking, a very controversial form of discipline, can be a helpful tool for teaching obedience and respect, when used properly.

Elizabeth*, now 25, recalls that her parents tried time-outs with her when she was a misbehaving child, but spanking was actually more effective. “They almost always used their hand though, instead of a belt or other instrument. Whether they intended it or not, the cue to stop and not use excess force was likely the stinging in their own hand!”

Jake*, who’s 23 and getting ready to start his teaching career, says his parents usually only spanked for outright disobedience, and each time they would explain what he did wrong and why it was deserving of a spanking. By the time he was 10 or 11, they had transitioned to other forms of discipline.

For more insight into this issue, read “Disciplining Children: Seeing the End From the Beginning.”

Phase 2: Parents as trainers

When children are between the ages of 6 and 12, a parent’s role is to teach the hows and whys of behavior. “Children first learn how to act morally, and then they learn how to think morally” (p. 19).

A parent should always be in training mode, because our children learn first and foremost from our own example.An important biblical principle for parents is found in Deuteronomy 6:7: “You shall teach them [God’s commands] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” A parent should always be in training mode, because our children learn first and foremost from our own example.

“Mom was very hands-on with us at first,” says Elizabeth, when recalling how, after her parents’ divorce, her mom taught her and her brother. “She used repetition a lot because my brother and I would be really good for a while, then slip up.”

Training in every aspect of life helps children learn self-control, which, in turn, eventually helps them guard their thoughts, words and actions; better handle negative emotions; and make good judgments.

Phase 3: Parents as coaches

In the world of sports, athletes spend hours learning their particular game through drills, exercises and practice. They are taught to respect the authority and competence of their coach and how their individual strengths (and weaknesses) impact the team, not just themselves.

But at some point it’s game time. By the time kids have reached adolescence, they are “in the game of life for themselves. We can send plays in from the sidelines and huddle during timeouts, but we can no longer stop the game for extended periods of time and show them how it is to be played” (p. 302).

If you’ve been a loving disciplinarian and a hands-on trainer, there is a point you have to begin trusting your children to run their own plays. Don’t hover, but do be available for support, encouragement and the occasional course correction. Part of growing includes letting your children learn from their own successes and failures.

Phase 4: Parents as friends

Some parents try to be their child’s best friend first and parent second. While this is the ultimate goal of your relationship, it shouldn’t be a parent’s focus until he or she has successfully transitioned out of the first three phases. This fourth phase should naturally progress, as “tight boundaries … give way to responsible behavior, leading to freedom” (p. 303).

Jake says the biggest indication that he and his parents are now in this phase is that they confide in him. “Not to the level they do with each other, by any means, but they now ask me my opinions and thoughts on situations. When I was a kid, they kept stuff like that to themselves.”

To learn more about the later phases of parenting, read “Parenting Adult Children.”

The Bible teaches that children are a gift from God (Psalm 127:3). If you find yourself with the awesome and exciting responsibility of raising a child, remembering these four phases can help you navigate the joys and challenges of the parenting process.

We offer many resources on parenting. You may find these articles helpful:

*Names changed.

Read Part 2 of this series: Parenting 101: Just How Do You Parent Anyway?

About the Author

Debbie Caudle

Debbie Caudle

From Canada to California and then Wyoming to Texas, Debbie Caudle’s journey has taken a lot of twists and turns, but through it all she’s had a lifelong desire to help others improve their lives. She has worked over 25 rewarding years as a licensed counselor, working with individuals, couples, children and families. This experience has taught her a lot about the challenges people face in conquering their worst fears and hurdling their toughest obstacles. 

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