What is Calibration?

cal·i·brate [kal-uh-breyt]verb

To check, adjust, or determine by comparison with a standard; to make corrections in; to plan or devise carefully so as to have a precise use, application, appeal, etc.

We are finally (after perhaps the busiest two weeks I have ever had at work) getting to the definition of calibration.  While compassion is the “well duh” and consistency is the “oh my” of my three C’s, the idea of calibrating could best be categorized as the “huh, what”.  This is not a concept many of us have heard in application to parenting or child development and yet I have found that it is such an appropriate C-word to describe the best parents I know.  As previously done, I would like to spend some time unpacking this definition in hopes that you begin to think about and apply this concept into your everyday life.  When I ask parents to do a calibration check I want them to consider their understanding of research based child development, their expertise in the specific temperament and needs of their individual child,  their ability to “meta-parent”-reflect on the way they are parenting their children and the long term plans they have for their children.

For those of you who don’t know, I am a child development nerd.  While others of you may have hobbies like cooking, sewing and reading, my hobby, my profession and my personal life are all about gaining knowledge regarding the science and theory of children and families.  While I deeply believe that both compassion and consistency are intrinsically wired into many of us, calibration takes knowledge and not just pop-knowledge.  One of my biggest “pet peaves” in the world of parenting and children are the many old wives tales, traditions, and under-researched but over practiced methods of raising children.  There are many myths that have been passed down as fact, are written about in book by unqualified professionals, are taught in well meaning churches and schools, and are talked about in mommy’s groups.  My challenge for calibrating parents is to REALLY do the research and know about the science behind children.  If we really want to check, adjust or determine our parenting by comparison with a standard, we better make sure our standards are research based and appropriate for our children.  Three theories I really think parents need to know:  1.  Attachment Theory-John Bowlby/Mary Ainsworth/Mary Main  2. Developmental Theories of  Jean Piaget and Erik Erikson  3.  Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory. There are a few books I would really recommend:

Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain

by Sue Gerhardt

Parenting From the Inside Out

by Daniel Siegel

The Science of Parenting

by Margot Sunderland

Attached At The Heart

by Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker

Parenting: A Dynamic Perspective

by George W. Holden

Parents, my next message may seem contradictory to the previous paragraph but this is the tricky part of calibration.  YOU ARE THE EXPERT IN YOUR CHILD.  Being a calibrating parent means that you take in good information, process it, and apply it in appropriate ways to your child/children.  For example, a calibrating parent may read “Attached at the Heart” and feel guilty that she is a working mom and is unable to be with her child at all times.  A calibrating parent will take the information from the book and find the best childcare possible, with consistent caregivers, and will spend the time she has with her children being physically and emotionally present and meeting their needs.  There are so many books, blogs and websites for a reason, we are all looking for the right answers.  I am hear to tell you that the right answer for your child will not be found with any “expert”–even me.  The right answer for your child is found in your discernment and ability to anticipate, react and parent your child according to his specific needs.   I will discuss temperament more specifically in a later post, but understanding your child’s baseline temperament can be one of the foundational pieces to becoming a calibrating parent.

Third, learn to “Meta-Parent”.  I first learned about this concept in graduate school at the University of North Texas and have continually been drawn to the idea that the most successful parents are those who think about what they are doing and make adjustments based on whether their approaches are working.  One of the best ways to begin meta-parenting is to keep a journal.  I encouraged you last post to do a three day challenge writing down your parenting inconsistencies.  This week my challenge to you is to keep a three day journal of your child’s behaviors and how you reacted.  After the three days go back through your journal and assess what has worked (put a smiley face), what needs adjustments (write calibrate), and what needs to be thrown out (cross it out).  Build in accountability by going through this process once a month, making sure to go back and read how your parenting has been changing.

Finally, calibrating parents talk about their parenting with spouses, caregivers and friends.  They are willing to do the hard work it takes to raise a child well.  They take advantage of opportunities to learn more.  If you live in the DFW area I encourage you to come to The Parenting Center and attend one of our 2 hour Topical Evening Classes, 4 hour Saturday Seminars, or a 6 to 8 week series.  Check out our offerings at www.theparentingcenter.org.

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