As parents, we never want to give our children reason to rebel. In fact, we should give them every reason not to. ~ Randi G. Fine
I would venture to say that every good parent’s ultimate goal in parenting is for their children to grow up and be self-sufficient, successful, happy adults.
We want to give our children the tools they will need to thrive in a life that will certainly have many challenges. We all look forward to the day we can step back and proudly say, “That’s my daughter or son.”
We plant many seeds in our children and hope they will grow. It is difficult to know how we are doing as parents and what the end results will be, because these seeds take many years to cultivate. We may feel like we are not getting through or making a difference, but have no fear—we get out of our children exactly what we put into them.
It is often not until they leave the nest that we see the ripened fruits of our labor.
While raising children there are ten important areas that I believe parents should focus on. My daughter and son benefited from these philosophies and I hope your children will too.
1. Always think before you speak.
Your child will absorb every word you say, whether it appears that he is listening or not.
Choose your words carefully, especially around young children. Children are like sponges; they learn from what they hear and see. What parents say and do becomes imprinted on a child’s subconscious mind forever. Children believe everything you tell them.
If you do not want your child using profanity, do not swear. Do not say hurtful or insulting things to your children in the heat of anger. You cannot take those hurtful words back, so think about how your child will interpret what you say before you say it.
With all the potential our children have, we never want to pigeon hole them by name calling or negative labeling; it is never worth the risk of compromising their burgeoning self image. When a parent is hostile or angry toward her child, or someone the child loves, the child will absorb the negative emotions, whether or not those emotions are directed at him. Those angry words reverberate inside of a child’s impressionable young mind and create life-time scars. Whether it seems like it or not, if your child is within earshot, he or she is listening to your every word.
2. Teach by example.
Your children will do as you do. If you yell, they will yell. If you hit, they will hit. If you make unhealthy choices, they will do the same. The most important influence in a child’s life is his parents.
Children idolize and trust their parents; they learn more from what their parents do than what they say. Children observe their parents’ behavior, their values, and priorities, and then mirror them. Anyone who parents with the motto, “do as I say, not as I do” is only kidding themselves.
Have no doubt—your children will do as you do. Everyone loses control now and then, but parents who always over react, yell, or scream teach their children that it is acceptable to behave in this manner when things do not go their way.
If children observe unhealthy interactions between their parents, such as hurtful words and physical violence, they receive the message that love hurts. They will repeat those patterns in their own adult relationships. Model a
healthy lifestyle for your children; do not abuse alcohol or drugs, smoke, or over-eat. Your children are watching. Always lead by example.
3. Be clear and consistent in your expectations.
Children feel safe and secure when they know and understand their limits.
The three most important rules in child discipline are consistency, fairness, and firmness. Without these rules children never learn to think for themselves or take responsibility for what they do. Though all children will test the limits, they feel most loved and secure when they know that those limits are reinforced. Denying discipline means depriving children of the tools they will need to get along in life.
Every household should have logical and clearly established consequences for misbehavior that are known and understood by the children. Some parents rashly act out in anger, using their power in an attempt to frighten their child into behaving, but then fail to follow through with the threat. Some parents punish randomly and inconsistently. And some parents make promises to their children in the moment just to pacify them and then renege or never bring those promises to fruition.
These inconsistencies send mixed messages and are confusing to children. When parents do not follow through, children learn that they cannot trust and count on the word of their parents. That leads to behavioral problems inside and outside of the home, and later on in society.
Parents are not perfect.
We all lose our temper from time to time. When you unfairly lash out at your child, just apologize for your own behavior. Make it clear that the anger was about you, not about them. Your child will learn that parents are human and make mistakes, and they will learn how to show respect for others. Our goal as parents is to create a bond of trust with our children so that they can feel safe in this world.
4. Teach your child to develop clear emotional boundaries.
Children should have a healthy sense of what is and what is not acceptable behavior to tolerate from others. Show them by example by demonstrating the boundaries that exist between the two of you.
Do not mesh with your child. More often than not, parents with healthy boundaries will raise children with healthy boundaries. To teach children how to respect themselves and others, respect must be shown to them.
Physical boundaries such as privacy in the bathroom, privacy when they dress, unwanted touching, and having their own bed to sleep are most easily taught by demonstration. When children are at an age where they can be alone for five or so minutes, teach them that when Mom or Dad goes to the bathroom they will close the door because they need their privacy. And when the child goes to the bathroom say, “I am going to close the door to give you your privacy. I will be right here if you need me.”
Teach them to knock on closed doors before opening them by doing the same yourself. Every child should have a separate and unique identity within their family that he is loved, supported, and respected for. Let children make decisions by giving them choices. Allow them to decide how they will share their personal things with others.
Teach them to communicate their thoughts and feelings about what makes them uncomfortable, such as being touched or having to kiss someone they do not feel affectionate towards. Never burden children with adult issues or discuss them when the child is listening. If children are anywhere in the vicinity, assume that they are listening.
And as children go through the stages of separation on their way to adulthood, encourage their growth—do not stunt them. Never make them feel guilty for pulling away from you. Do not take their withdrawal from you personally. Our ultimate goal is to teach our children to be independent adults.
5. Be strong as steel for your children.
Give them a secure, safe place to land when life hurts. Never let your child see you fall apart when he is hurting. That is when he needs you the most.
When a child is hurting, physically or emotionally, it is about him; not about his parent. If a parent falls apart every time her child is suffering, three things will happen: the child learns to bottle up his feelings so he will not hurt the parent, the child learns to hide all his pain from his parent, and the child learns to put the needs of his parent before his own.
Children should never feel more concerned or responsible for their parents than their parents are for them. Do not be needy with your children. Let your children know, while showing them with your actions, that you will always be there to support them in whatever they go through—no matter what.
Your home should be a peaceful sanctuary for your children; a place of love and trust, and a soft place to land in this harsh world. Children will feel secure when they know that their parents can weather any storm.
6. Be your child’s greatest advocate.
Put your own insecurities aside and always stand up for your child’s best interests. There is a fine line between advocating and being overprotective.
We should all encourage our children to handle their own issues when possible, but when their efforts are not effective we must step in before things spin out of control. Bullies abound in a child’s world. Bullies are masters of deception and can be very dangerous. The problem often escalates quickly; your child may be goaded into retaliating and getting into trouble.
If the school administration will not help you, take action. Do whatever it takes to protect your child. It is every parent’s responsibility to advocate and speak up for their child whether they are comfortable with confrontation or not. The school system will not protect your child’s safety or insure their ability to learn in a non-hostile environment.
There are many wonderful, encouraging teachers in the school system, but there are also teachers in every school who pick on students and are verbally abusive. These teachers may be sugar-sweet to your face, then turn around and verbally abuse your child in the classroom.
Listen to what your child tells you about his or her day at school. Ask questions. Be focused and informed when it comes to the specific needs of your child. Speak up and be persistent in managing those needs.
7. Encourage the development of your child’s inner beauty.
Teach children to be kind, understanding, fair, and loving. In the scheme of things, that is much more important than their outer beauty.
To quote Judge Judy, “beauty fades but dumb is forever.” As in every aspect of life, good parenting requires balance. True beauty does not lie in appearance, it lies in character. It is essential for your child’s self-image that he receive compliments for looking nice.
Never deprive your children of hearing you say how beautiful or handsome he or she is. But just as importantly, never fail to acknowledge your child’s beautiful inner qualities. Do not over focus on the child’s beauty and never tell your child that he or she is perfect.
In fact, you should send a clear message that nobody is perfect and nobody needs to be perfect. Catch your children doing good things; praise and reward children when they act out of kindness, show compassion towards others, and express love or forgiveness. Let them see you practicing what you preach. Show kindness, humility, and compassion inside and outside the home.
Reward, but do not spoil. Teach your children to appreciate what they have and how to be giving to others. Teach them to respect the fact that every person is unique and important; never to judge a person by their outer appearance.
Accept your child for who he is, whatever his strengths or weaknesses, and encourage him to accept, be kind to, and love himself. Be a shining example of inner beauty yourself so you can model it for your child. Plant seeds of self-love and self-esteem in your child. If your child is not as successful as he can be in school, tell him that he is smart anyway.
Accentuate his strengths and potential for success. He will eventually incorporate that truth into his self-image and rise to it.
8. Use every life example possible to demonstrate faith and hope for your children.
Give them a spiritual foundation that is relatable and something they can interpret on their own. This is an invaluable tool that they will rely on for the rest of their life, one that helps them develop their inner strength. Allow them to experience some disappointments so that they develop the skills to deal with whatever challenges life may throw at them.
We have all heard of helicopter parents; parents who hover over their children to maintain control of every situation. This type of parenting is selfish; it is based on fear and insecurity. And it is irresponsible because it results in the stunting of children’s coping skills. Coping is a behavior that is learned and developed through the experiences of life’s hard knocks.
If children do not experience small, managed doses of disappointment along the way, they will never learn to cope in life. It is a parent’s job to teach her children the importance of faith and hope in learning to accept life’s disappointments.
Parents should use every opportunity to show their children how life has a way of working things out; that even though they may not always get what they want, what they end up with might even be better. It is our job as parents to open our children’s eyes to all the possibilities that life has in store for them. We want them to always have hope for a better tomorrow, especially when they reach their emotionally charged teenage years and cannot imagine how much their life will change in the future.
9. Be open, available, and nonreactive.
If your child fears the reaction he will face when he tells you the truth, he will learn to lie. When children lie they are in danger of making bad decisions and succumbing to negative outside influences. Keep one thing in mind; expect that your children are going to do things wrong and make mistakes.
We all do.
It does not mean your child is bad, it just reinforces the fact that children have a lot to learn. When your child does something wrong, never tell him that he is bad. Never compare your child’s weaknesses to someone else’s strengths.
Remember, children believe what you say.
If you tell them they are bad they will be bad. If you tell them they are inferior they will feel inferior. Just say that you did not like what they did, how they acted, or the way they handled a situation, but always reinforce how much you love them. It is fine to tell them that you feel frustrated or angry. It is not okay to fly off the handle.
Losing control teaches your child that it is okay to resolve issues that way. It is important for parents to always keep the lines of communication open, to know who their children are and what they are doing.
To accomplish this, parents should make a conscious decision never to show a negative reaction or act like they are uncomfortable when their children share feelings, tell the truth, or come to them with a problem—no matter how shocking.
Children, especially teenagers, will not talk to their parents if they have learned through previous experience that they will be subjected to anger, ridicule, lectures, or judgment when they do. The last thing we want them to do is repress their emotions or feel like they have to make difficult decisions on their own out of fear of what our reaction will be.
Some parents tell their children that they can come to them with anything, and then over react when they do. As the primary figure of authority in our children’s lives we want to be respected and trusted, not feared. Never withdraw love.
Your children need your support. Praise your children every time they tell you the truth. Talk openly and honestly about the reality of the issues they bring to you; use them as teaching tools to help your children learn right from wrong and problem solve.
There is no better way to protect your children than through a constant stream of open dialogue.
10. Admit some of your mistakes past and present; discuss the negative consequences of your choices.
Only use examples that your children can accept, process, and understand at their level of maturity. If you share things that you did when you were younger, whether right or wrong, your children will relate to you better. They will find you more approachable.
Knowing that their parents are not perfect takes the pressure off of them to be perfect. Sharing some of our mistakes is a great way to encourage our children to talk to us about what is going on in their lives and the lives of their friends. It makes it more comfortable for them to tell us about mistakes they have made but have never shared.
The decision to bring children into this world is not one to be taken lightly. Parenting is a lifetime commitment that is arduously demanding but incomparably rewarding. It is joyous tender love, and deeply painful heartbreak. It is failure at its worst and success at its best.
Children are miraculous blessings that are entrusted to our care.
Though they are small when they arrive here, children have souls that may be older or more developed than ours are. They are unique human beings with minds of their own. They are not here to please us, make us look good, or take care of our needs. They are not here for us to vicariously live through.
Good parenting is selfless parenting. There is no “I” in the word parent. We do not own our children. It is just our job to teach, nurture, and unconditionally love them, even when they are not so lovable.
Tell your children that you love them at least once every day. Tell them that they are special and that you believe in them. And when the time comes, it is your responsibility to step back and watch as they spread their wings and fly.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman