Helping youngsters develop positive feelings about themselves and respect for others is among a parent’s most demanding and rewarding job. Here are some strategies for raising healthy children.
SETTING AN EXAMPLE
Children learn more from parents’ behavior than from their words. Knowing how to handle your own anger and frustration is a good beginning.
Keep criticism to a minimum. Most children try very hard to please.
Show your children respect. Knock at their closed bedroom door and wait for an invitation to enter.
Let aII family members contribute to nurturing the household. Even a three-year-old can pitch in, for example, by picking things up or putting clothes in the hamper.
Kids love to do real jobs that have genuine value to the family. Let them help you with home repairs. Young children can safely handle the smaller parts of fix-it tasks, like holding the end of
a tape measure or handing your tools. Or start a simple project together, such as building a toy box, a dog house, or a bird feeder. Draw up the plans, then let the kids do as much of the hammering, painting, and sawing as they want, under your supervision.
When friends come over for dinner, let the children sit with the grown-ups rather than at their own table. Children love to listen to adults talk-particularly adults who aren’t their parents.
Make a practice of introducing your children to others as you do with adults. This
demonstrates that the basic elements of respect and recognition apply to children as well as grown-ups.
Don’t let TV viewing take over your whole evening. Let children choose what they
want to watch (within reason), but then turn the set-off.
Find physical activities you can all enjoy together: biking, hiking, swimming, skating,
softball, or bowling.
Explore your own area with your children. Using public transportation, visit different
neighborhoods. Take a tour of a local firehouse, factory, or waterworks, eat at ethnic
restaurants, and attend street fairs and cultural festivals.
Take classes with your children-cooking, drawing, whatever. Learning side by side is fun for both parents and kids.
GUIDING YOUR CHITDREN
Self-esteem is considered by many the foundation for healthy emotional growth. It flourishes when parents give children love, support, and a chance to take responsibility’.
Give your children options whenever possible. This tells them you have confidence in their ability to choose. For example: “Do you want to do your homework before or after dinner?”
When your children make mistakes, don’t just correct them. Reassure youngsters that everyone makes mistakes now and then and that the important thing is to learn from them.
It’s hard to teach children self-discipline, but there are ways you can encourage them to stop and think before they act. For example, if your children accept an invitation to a friend’s party, don’t allow them to change their minds at the last minute and stay home
or go somewhere else. The lesson is: you have incurred an obligation, and you must
Don’t help your children too much. For example, it’s all right to provide some assistance when they get stuck on a homework assignment, but the actual work should be theirs. Too much help can undermine children’s confi.dence in their ability to handle their school assignments.
Foster self-reliance so that even younger children can manage without constant help from an adult. Build a sturdy box that will enable small children to reach the faucets at the bathroom sink; they can then wash their hands and brush their teeth by themselves. Add a bathroom towel rack at the child’s level. Put cereal boxes and bowls on a low kitchen-cabinet shelf.
Give praise immediately, preferably while the child is still engaged in an activity or as soon as it is finished: “Nice job straightening up the kitchen” or “Thanks for keeping the baby quiet while I was
on the phone.”
Compliment a child for a specific behavior or success an improved report card or learning a new piece on the piano.
Avoid such vague generalizations as “You’re the greatest” Overly praised, children can develop oversized egos.
Don’t spoil a child’s enjoYment of praise by adding a negative comment, such as “WeII,
you’ve finally done it right.”
Let your children know
about the realities of the family’s economic situation. You really can’t shield children from money troubles-if they don’t know what to expect, they may imagine the worst.
Enlist their help in managing family affairs. You can encourage thrift in everything from the use of electricity to returning bottles for the deposit money.
Don’t underestimate the importance of encouraging children to earn their own money to buy toys or clothes.
Be sure to reward notable examples of obedience, thoughtfulness, and generosity. For young children, gold stars on a wall chart will do the trick. For older children, a compliment or a warm hug may be the best reward. And young and old alike appreciate a small bonus in the allowance
Ask your children’s opinions on matters that affect them, but make it clear that your decision will be final. Even if they don’t get their own way, they will appreciate having an opportunity to be heard.
Provide a place where it is acceptable for a child who is furious to vent frustrations. Encourage such vigorous activity as pounding a pillow or a punching bag.
Remind yourself that everyone gets angry sometimes TeIl that to your child, too.
If your child seems prone to hostility, you may need to limit his or her television viewing. Studies show that TV violence can exacerbate hostile behavior in children with aggressive tendencies.
Try to see a confllct through your child’s eyes. Perhaps you can recall a simllar situation from your own childhood.
Set clear miles of behavior with appropriate disciplinary consequences. For example, many parents set a specific time for youngsters to return home in the evening. If the kids fail to follow the rules, they can expect to be “grounded.”
Avoid power struggles with your children. Discipline should not be a game with winners and losers.
If a child consistently fails to complete a task, such as cleaning his or her room, try dividing the job into several small parts. For example, start with putting toys in the toy box, then hanging up clothes, and so on, until the room is clean.
Avoid making rules sound too negative. Saying “I want you to stop roller-skating in the house” pits you against your child. Try, instead, “Use your roller skates outdoors,. not in the house.” Or say
“Speak quietly” rather than “Don’t shout.”
If your children complain that they are always being “bossed,” point out that everyone has to live with rules and limits-adults as well as children.
Periodically review the rules together. As children grow older, they should need fewer rules.
Be flexible. Consider making an exception to the rule if there’s a special occasion, such as letting a child stay up later than normal for a weekend party.
Take a child’s feelings into account, but do not cave into outside pressure or a child’s protest that “Everybody else’s parents let them do it.”
Let children contribute to making family rules. If they help formulate the rules, they are less likely to break them.
Show love and affection often. In the long run, nothing is as highly valued by a child as being hugged and hearing a parent say “I love you.”
Make it plain that your love is not contingent on achievement. You will always Iove your children whether or not they bring home prizes.
Time alone with a parent is very important to youngsters. If you have several children, plan individual excursions, just you and one child at regular intervals. Do this weekly, if you can. However, the point isn’t the frequency of the event, whether a trip to the zoo or dinner at a restaurant-but the certainty that the child will have some time alone with a parent.
Urge children to invite a friend to dinner occasionally. This is a good way to get to know your children’s friends and their friends’ parents.
Set aside a drawer, shelf, or box to collect your children’s treasured works; art, cards, notes, and such. Display some and save the rest to decorate the family photograph album.
THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK
Offhand remarks can damage a child’s self-esteem. Here are a few to avoid:
“Why can’t you be more like…?” Comparisons hurt, make your child resentful, and feed sibling rivalry. A better course is to compare a child’s present behavior with what he or she has done in the past. For example, “You were a very good sport yesterday when you lost the game. Why not be
a good sport about this now?” “Why don’t you act your age?” Consider whether you
are asking the child to perform beyond his or her level of maturity.
“Must you always look like a slob?” Criticism won’t improve a child’s grooming. A compromise that often works is to allow children to dress as they like when they are with their friends and to insist on higher standards only when they are with you.
“How could you be so stupid?” It is all right to tell children you are angry about their behavior or disappointed, but you should never resort to calling them names. If you, of all people, say they are stupid, after a while, they may begin to believe it.
“Do it, or else” Though menacing, a threat of this kind is too vague to motivate. Instead, state the punishment you will impose, such as “If you don’t stop yelling now, I’ll send you to your room until dinner.”
“Either you come now or I’lI leave without you.” Don’t play on a dawdling child’s fear of separation. Instead, give him or her advance notice of your departure. “You have five more minutes to play before we leave.”
Don’t give a direction by asking a question, for example, “Would you like to come in now?” The child’s answer would probably be no, which sets up a conflict. If the child has no choice in the matter, be direct about it by giving a clear order, not by making a request.
LISTENING TO YOUR CHILDREN
Talk less to be heard more. Few things shut down a dialogue more quickly than a lecture, which is, by definition, a monologue. If you are always preaching, your children will probably not try to talk to you about things that really matter to them.
Get into the habit of listening to your children without passing judgment. Fight the impulse to hurry them along, feeding them words, and finishing their sentences. And don’t interrupt when a child is speaking.
Children receive information every day at school and elsewhere that is really worth listening to. In many households, for example, the most ardent recyclers are the kids.
When a child makes you furious, the less said, the better. Usually, a quiet, thoughtful response leaves a positive, lasting impression on a child.
If you do occasionally erupt in anger at a child, don’t stew about it. An outburst signals clearly how strongly you feel about an issue. Sometimes that’s what it takes to get your point across.
One of the best times to talk with your children is when they are tucked into bed. They are more likely to feel relaxed. Ask if anything special happened that day. You may learn a lot.
LET THE PUNISHMENT FIT THE CRIME
Warnings and penalties should be administered to your child as privately as possible. No one likes to be criticized in public, and we react with open or hidden resentment when it happens. In accordance with the golden rule, treat children as you would like to be treated yourself.
If things begin to get out of hand, call a time-out. Send your child to a quiet room or corner with a warning that if this cooling-off period does not help him or her to calm down, there will be other consequences. For example, television time may be cut back.
Act quickly when a child misbehaves (but be sure you have the facts). Delaying discipline dilutes its impact.
Choose appropriate punishments for rule-breaking or repeated carelessness. If a child loses his or her lunch box, pack school lunches in brown paper bags. If one toddler hurts another in a fight over a toy, separate them.
Be fair: Is this the first time your child has misbehaved in this way? Was the misdeed planned or was it impulsive? Where there any extenuating circumstances? If, for example, your child was influenced by an older kid, the solution (as well as the punishment) could well be to prohibit your
child from playing with the older one.
Don’t assign as a penalty something you want your child to enjoy, such as reading
a book or playing the piano.
Make sure that you do not punish a child twice for the same offense. For example, if the teacher has punished the child, the parent should not, and vice versa.
Avoid corporal punishment. It may seem reasonable at the time to slap a child for hitting a younger sister or brother, but you are sending the wrong message. You cannot teach children that it’s wrong to hit by hitting them.
Heed the results of your disciplinary efforts. If your child persists in unacceptable behavior, try to discover why. If the child is cutting up just to get your attention, let him or her know that there are many better ways of doing this.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by your child’s misbehavior, get professional help. See a trained counselor or enroll in a parenting class.
Keep your sense of humor. lt can help you to put transgressions ln proper perspective.
Treat all fears seriously and consider how to alleviate them. For example, if a small child is afraid of shadows on the bedroom wall caused by passing traffic, move the bed, or get an opaque shade. Or teach the child to make shadow animals, perhaps a bunny or a bird.
Tell the child that sometimes parents are afraid, too.
Encourage your child to put his fears into words. Talking can sometimes make them vanish.
Help your child face a fear by exposing him gradually to what scares him. For example, if he’s frightened of dogs, periodically drop by a pet store or visit a neighbor’s puppy. Reassure him all the while, and recognize even the smallest improvements. How- ever, do not push too hard or
overwhelm a child who is not ready.
Don’t discourage your child if he or she needs a security blanket or other favorite object to feel safe. He or she will outgrow it in time.
Be sure that a child who has had a nightmare is fully awake so that he or she won’t slip back into the same dream. Emphasize that dreams can’t hurt you. Let the child fall back to sleep with a light or a radio on.
Occasionally, children become so fearful of bad dreams that they dread the approach of night. Parents should provide relaxing bedtime routines and regular sleep schedules. If these approaches don’t work, parents may want to seek professional advice.
A child who has night terrors (which are different from nightmares) will awaken abruptly, crying and screaming. The child may not recognize familiar faces and indeed may still be semiconscious.
Though the child may resist attempts at comforting, parents can try. Night terrors are alarming, but they have no serious effects and usually vanish by age eight.
If a child has persistent nightmares or fear of the dark, try putting a lighted fish tank in the bedroom. Watching fish is soothing, and the aquarium doubles as a nightlight.
Parents need to understand and accept the fact that rivalry among siblings is perfectly normal. It is as deep in the human psyche as an infant’s fear of abandonment and is based on the child’s need to get all the attention he or she needs to survive. What parents have to do is set civilized
Limits on this impulse.
Not every argument among children should be considered sibling rivalry. When kids fight, there may be a good reason for it, having nothing to do with sibling one-upmanship.
On the plus side, flghting within the family setting gives children experience in resolving conflicts and practice in making up-sayings “I’m sorry” or “I didn’t mean it.”
But when children are constantly picking on one another-teasing, prodding, and ridiculing-it may be time to seek professional help. An atmosphere of hostility can interfere with the development of friendly, enduring relationships.
RIVALRY-REDUCING RULES FOR PARENTS
Although rivalry is natural, you don’t want to exacerbate it.
- Be aware that even comments that seem positive can foster rivalry. Say what you have to say about one child’s behavior without reference to any other child.
- Forget the 50-50 split. Children have different needs, so don’t try to treat them exactly the same. Focus on each child as an individual, meeting special needs as they occur, and strive for overall fairness.
- Rotate chores so one sibling doesn’t feel he or she has a harder job than the other.
- If your children constantly complain to you about each other, give them “gripe books,” personal notebooks in which they can write or draw whenever they are angry.
- Hold the labels. When parents say “Lisa’s the artist, and Pete’s a real athlete,” they may make their children (whose interests often change from one day to the next) feel locked into roles. Though this would seem to be giving each child his or her own special niche, it implies that there’s room for only one artist or athlete in the family. The “artistic one,” for example, may suppress her athletic abilities. And a child who has been labeled “the smart one” may feel pressure never to fail. Those with less complimentary labels-such as fresh, fat, or lazy-may find themselves shackled to an unflattering image, one that has a way of sticking with them all their lives.
- I Don’t get locked into teams.” If you’re the one who always brings your son to his guitar lesson while your spouse shepherds your daughter to soccer games, play “musical parent” and rotate.
- Don’t let others overlook a sibling. Well-intentioned but insensitive friends and relatives can incite rivalry. If someone gushes over the new baby or compliments only one child, help out by steering the conversation the other youngster’s way.
WHEN CHILDREN FIGHT
Obviously, you must stop a fight when there’s danger of one child’s inflicting injury on the other.
When you intervene, don’t spend a lot of time trying to find out who started the fight You’ll hear “He said,” “She said,” and so forth, but there is seldom a single, true answer to the question.
Separate children until they are calm enough to talk sensibly. TeIl them they can disagree all they want, but they can’t hit one another or throw things and they must be civil. Their fight can’t be allowed to disturb the rest of the family. In other words, they’ll have to keep it down.
Aside from that, it’s best to remain vigilant but invisible, letting squabbling siblings settle things for themselves. After all, you don’t want to play referee all the time.
Then, too, when parents intervene in a conflict, it almost always ends with one child as a villain and the other, victim.
A villain-versus-victim showdown can easily transform an ordinary flight into sibling rivalry. The children now begin to compete for the coveted Victim Award, which only a parent can hand out.
Discourage tattling, a bad habit for a child to get into. The exception is if a child does something dangerous.
Remember that the worst rlvalry occurs in the presence of a parent and is often staged to push parents into taking sides.
TWINS: A SPECIAI CASE
Parents of twins should expect sibling rivalry at its most intense since neither twin ever has the parents’ exclusive attention.
Be especially sensitive to the feelings of older siblings. The birth of not one but two rivals who demand parents’ time can cause resentment.
During the twins’ infancy, alternate routines to ease the workload. Instead of bathing both daily, for example, bathe them on alternate days.
As twins develop, support the emergence of individual identities. Encourage them to dress differently, have different friends, participate in different sports.
WHEN SIBLING RIVALRY GOES TOO FAR
Unhealthy rivalry may require professional help. Be alert to the following behaviors, especially if they tend to recur:
- A child takes delight in a sibling’s feeling bad.
- A child talks about hurting a sibling.
- A child resorts too often to physical or emotional abuse or humiliates the sibling in front of others.
- Both children consistently avoid each other.
- A child shows signs of depression or withdrawal plummeting grades or changes in such daily routines as sleeping and eating. This may indicate that the rivalry has gone too far and is cutting into the child’s self-esteem.
ADULT SIBLING RIVALRY
Childhood competition isn’t always outgrown. It can remain a potent ingredient in relationships throughout life. However, there are ways to get beyond it.
If you were the favored child, realize that your sibling suffered. If you were the less-favored, know that it wasn’t your sibling’s fault.
Be aware of the need for tact in situations that can easily revive old rivalries-such as holidays.
Meet your sibling on neutral turf instead of in your parents’ house, where childhood roles are often perpetuated.
Discuss any long-concealed feelings, such as anger or jealousy, but also talk positively about improving your relationship. You might first try putting desired changes in a Letter to help clarify your thoughts.
Show your affection. A hug, a compliment, or a thoughtful gift can heal many wounds.
If your spouse quarrels with a brother or sister, be supportive but remain emotionally neutral; you
want to help your mate to be more objective, rather than lnflaming feellngs any further.
HANDLING TEARNING PROBLEMS
Certain learning problems, such as dyslexia and attention deficit disorders, can severely impair a child’s ability to perform in school. However, with proper diagnosis, these conditions can be treated effectively.
Dyslexia is characterized by difflculty in recognizing words and letters. Children with this disorder have trouble learning to read, write, and spell. How- ever, many have normal intelligence and some have an above-average aptitude in art, music, dancing, or sports.
Parents of dyslexics should seek out teachers who have been trained to deal with the problem. With the right kind of help, many such children overcome their disability. Though it can be terribly frustrating, dyslexia is not an insuperable obstacle to success. Nelson A. Rockefeller, who
was dyslexic, became governor of the state of New York. The important thing is not to avoid the problem.
Children with attention deflcit disorders generally exhibit a short attention span, difficulty listening, an inability to complete tasks, impulsive behavior, moodiness, and distractibility.
Many of them are also hyperactive. Medication can lessen symptoms in up to 80 percent of these children, who are predominantly male.
Take care not to overstimulate a hyperactive child, especially at bedtime.
Be skeptical of claims that link hyperactivity to a diet
high in sugar and artificial colorings and low in vitamins. Clinical studies have failed to
prove any such link.
Consider family counseling if relationships between the hyperactive child and other family members have become strained.
A PLACE TO STUDY
Good study habits are the cornerstone of a solid education, so it’s important to start your school-age children off well. Begin by providing a quiet area for homework. With minimal effort, you may
be able to transform a relatively small space, even a closet, into a study area that your children can call their own.
Consider using a canvas shower curtain, bookcases, or a folding screen to partition off the homework area from the rest of the room for times when children really need to
Take a look at your children’s study habits. Do they naturally seek out a quiet place to study, or do they prefer to be with the rest of the family, for example, at the kitchen table? Are they able to tune out noise, or are they easily distracted? Do they like to spread out their materials, or are
they more comfortable in a smaller, more organized space? Asking these questions of your children and yourself will help you to create the best work environment for your child.
Ask your children to help choose and organize their own space. Their involvement will ensure its success.
Although children have very different studying styles, there are some basic necessities for any workspace.
Adequate lighting: Strong direct illumination is the most important element; it reduces eye fatigue and helps children to concentrate.
Comfortable seating: A chair that encourages good posture is a must, especially if your children work for extended periods. Choose one that allows the feet to touch the floor and arms to rest comfortably on the desk. Adjustable chairs are your best bet since they will accommodate your children as they grow. Alternatively, an adult-size chair with a cushion and footrest will work well.
Worksurface: Almost any desk or table can be equipped for a child’s use-the the kitchen table, a desk made from a piece of plywood atop two file cabinets, an antique writing desk.
Storage: Encourage order with painted wooden crates or wire or wicker baskets. Even color-coded cardboard boxes will serve as storage devices for books, folders, pens, and art supplies. A hanging pegboard with small storage compartments is a good way to take advantage of wall space.
In adolescence, youngsters strive for greater autonomy, often asking for more freedom than they are able to handle. It’s the parents’ job to help them gain independence and to develop a sense of
The issue of teenage sexual behavior is one that parents need to discuss frankly with their children. It’s not enough to hope they are not active sexually or to get angry if you think they are. Teenagers need to know what you consider responsible sexual behavior, including a discussion
of your views on safe sex.
Teenagers need to hear, clearly and often, why teenage pregnancy is a disaster for all concerned for the baby and for the youngsters themselves, both female and male. Adolescents are not equipped emotionally or economically to rear a child.
Ultimately, young people make their own decisions. Make sure your youngsters know where they can get reliable information about disease prevention and birth control. The source of the information can be a doctor, their school, or the parents themselves.
Teenage drinking-often exacerbated by peer pressure- is a problem that won’t go away on its own. Talk to your teenagers about the hazards of drinking, particularly when driving.
Let your kids know about the designated driver-the person in the group who agrees not to drink so that he or she will be able to drive. They should never get into a car with a driver who has been drinking. Be sure they have money with them to take a taxi or tell them to call you to come to pick them up.
Examine your own use of alcohol, nicotine, and even prescription drugs. What kind of example are you setting? If you have (or had) trouble to quit smoking or you have an alcohol problem, for example, a frank discussion with your children may help them avoid these pitfalls.
Like alcohol, drugs are a grave danger to the life and well-being of teenagers. (For signs of drug abuse) If your son or daughter has this problem, it is important to get professional help at once.