If parenting were easy, everyone would do it. Fortunately for mankind, some choose to abstain. But for those of us who decide that it is our duty to propagate the species, it falls to us to discover how to do it right, and earn the coveted title of a “good” parent. Since kids don’t come with a manual, generations of humans have taken it upon themselves to write one. Dr. Spock, Dr. Dobson, Dr. Laura, even Dr. Seuss have all given us insight into child rearing, for better or for worse.
Since there’s no lack of parenting advice out there, it becomes necessary to distill it down to a digestible size, removing the filler and leaving only the good stuff. To that end, here’s what you need to know to be a good parent.
Needy Children and your Role as Provider
Children aren’t born with everything they need to survive. There are animals who pop from the womb, ready to forage and feed from breath one. Human children are a different kind of animal. As a parent, you have a role to fill, first as provider, then as teacher, and finally as guide. Let’s begin with the basics.
Even before the child is born, the name you choose for it may have a big impact on how successful the baby is in life.
Children need three essential provisions from their parent to survive – food, clothing, and protection. But to thrive, these three mustn’t just pass for survival.
Proper nutrition is important for children to grow, especially in early development. The digestive system of infants is not fully developed at birth. Food must be introduced gradually, and at the appropriate stage in a child’s development. Even after a child is mature enough to handle most foods, a healthy and balanced diet is important for optimal growth of key organs, such as bones, muscles, the heart and the brain. Failure to administer a proper diet could lead to obesity, tooth decay, stunted growth, and a weakened immune system.
As any teenage girl with tell you, clothes are essential. Yes, as a parent, you are obligated to clothe your children as to protect them from the elements. But beyond that, you are also teaching them how to think about clothing, and appearance. Putting to much emphasis on clothing styles and brands may lead a child to attach their identity to what they wear. On the other hand, giving too little thought to what your children are wearing may lead to social awkwardness, bullying, or poor self esteem.
As mentioned earlier, clothes provide protection from the elements, but there are other things children need protection from as well. When a baby is born, one of the first tasks a parent must perform is to baby-proof their environment. Instead of protecting the house from the coming baby invasion, baby-proofing refers to protecting the baby from itself. This role continues throughout development, as you must protect your child from things that may harm them, even things they may not see anything wrong with. Your advanced age, er, wisdom, has likely given you a prospective on life which a child cannot yet have. In addition, you must protect your children from others, any external influences which you perceive to be harmful. This could be the internet, television, aunt Suzie, anything that might expose your child to risks they are not yet equipped to defend against.
Probably the most harmful thing in your child’s environment will be you the parent. You’ll make mistakes. So often we push to correct for some of the mistakes that our parents made that we forget some of their wisdom.
And while a new child may be a great source of joy, it will also be a source of conflict and stress. It is quite important that your child’s emotional state is protected by minimizing any sort of yelling or fighting in front of the baby. This, in turn, also means you as a parent will need to put in extra effort to maintain your health by exercising, eating healthy & sleeping as best you can.
Now that we’ve looked at three basic childhood needs, how about three more that are just obvious.
As a parent, there is a responsibility to pass on knowledge to your offspring. It starts simple, with helping them take their first steps, say their first words, and potty on their own for the first time. Then, the questions come, and the role of educator expands to include teaching right and wrong, how to learn, and the realities of a complicated world. School has a role to play in your child’s education, but there is no role as important as the role of parent.
Here is the My Brilliant Brain documentary by National Geographic, which delves deeper into the topic of education and brain development.
If you’ve been around children for any length of time, you’ll know that hygiene isn’t inborn. Children depend on their parents for instruction in how to care for their bodies. This is necessary to prevent infection, and to avoid any social damage unhygienic living evokes.
Human bodies are vulnerable, and human bodies get sick. But the bodies of human children get sick – a lot. Some parents see sickness through the lens of personal experience, comparing a child’s symptoms to their own. This can be dangerous, as children need extra care until their bodies build up immunity and strength over time. A parent must be sensitive to the medical needs of a child, and be quick to act if medicinal care is needed.
About 20% of children have colic. This can make any and all solutions seem moot as the child can cry for hours on end. Anti-colic formula bottles and gripe water drops may help ease some of the pain, however colic can last for many months.
Beyond the basics, and outside of the obvious, there are a few needs that a good parent should fill, which really make the difference between a surviving child and a thriving child.
There are many ways to define love, but it is often best to look at it in terms of what it does. Love is affectionate. Love puts others before self. Love extends compassion. Love is vital for a parent to understand a child from an emotional perspective, rather than simply an academic one. If you want to make a difference in the life of your child, give love. It never fails.
Passing on values from parent to child is necessary to give the child a center of gravity, and provide them a base set of guiding principles from which to start. The things you value represent wisdom gleaned from generations of your predecessors, as well as experiences in your own life which have made an impression on your view of life and living. Children will rarely adopt all of the values of their parents, but they will use them as a means to orient themselves to the world and as a foundation to build their own unique set of values which they will eventually pass on to their children.
Transition to Adulthood
One of the most necessary, yet often overlooked, roles of a parent is to assist the child in the transition to adulthood. When a child turns 18, they do not automatically have all the skills they need to successfully navigate the adult world. Skills like running a budget, choosing a career, maintaining a home, and raising a family are not generally part of the high school or college curriculum. These skills have been honed over time by the parent, some through costly and time-consuming trial and error. The parent can save much headache and expense by passing some of these learned, life skills on to their children. The child will most likely test this advice, and make some of these mistakes anyway, but they will recognize their errors much faster, and maybe skip a few grades in the school of hard knocks thanks to their parent-teacher.
To The Principle! Some Guidance from your Counselor
Raising children isn’t just about filling needs. Parenting is an art, and to properly craft children into healthy, happy adults, there are a series of time-proven principles that should be applied throughout the life of a child. A parent who provides food and shelter, sends their child to school, clothes them and cares for their basic needs, may still end up with a child who is resentful, lacks confidence, and is generally unprepared for real life. Here are some principles every parent needs to employ.
The Time Value
One of the most consistent findings by child physiologists, when studying areas such as behavioral influences, emotional stability, and sense of well-being as it relates to children, is that the amount of time the parent spends interacting with the child significantly affects all of the aforementioned areas, with more time having a positive effect and less time having a negative effect. Children crave it, and parents find it hard to give it, yet time might be the most important factor in the development of a healthy child. Something as simple as sitting down at the dinner table every night as a family can dramatically effect the child’s sense of security and feeling of value as a part of the family whole. Time spent helping children with homework is also an excellent time to bond, and keep up with day-to-day events in the child’s life. Some feel it is also important for families to take at least one family-only vacation per year, with minimal electronic distractions. This trip could be as simple as a campout to as elaborate as Disney World. The point is to get the family in a context of fun and relaxation, where the worries of work and school can be left behind.
Honesty is the Best Policy
An atmosphere of truth is critical for any parent-child relationship to succeed. A parent must demand truth from their child, even when the trash is uncomfortable or inconvenient. Lying cannot be tolerated if the parent hopes to maintain respect and control over their children. On the other hand, lies must also be avoided by the parent. A pattern of deception modeled by the parent will damage the relationship, even if the deceit is not directed at the child or the deceit is considered to be a “white lie”. As a parent, always demand truth, from yourself and from your child.
Leading by Example
Speaking of modeling behavior, when it comes to your child, what you do is far more important than what you say. Life lessons which you attempt to pass on to your child verbally will fall on deaf ears if they are not exemplified in the way you live and how you act. For instance, trying to instill in your child the importance of not smoking will likely be dismissed if you yourself continue to smoke. Children inherently adopt the behavior of their parents, sometimes intentionally, but often subconsciously. Be careful what you do, because the next time you look at your child, you might see a little you.
The Zen of Awareness
If a parent wants peace of mind, they will seek to become aware. When children are young, it is vital to be aware of things like what your child is putting in their mouth, the location of every staircase in the vicinity, and how many times they pull on their ear in a given day. As they grow, the need for awareness does not diminish. Knowing how your child is doing in school, who their friends are, who their friend’s parents are, and what game or fashion trend they are currently into can mean the difference between success and failure in your role as parent. The art of awareness is closely related to principle of time. Often the time spent with your child will give you insight into the key areas of their life and set off alarms when lines are being crossed.
Leverage isn’t just for Bankers and Architects
If lines are being crossed, what can a parent do? It is of great value to recognize that every parent has some leverage that can be applied when correction is needed. Some of the best forms of leverage are stuff, access, and freedom. As a parent, you hold the cards. You can take away toys, video games, even special foods to pull your kids back in line. You can limit access to cell phones or television, and you can certainly restrict freedom of movement, either by grounding or banning certain activities. It is important to apply leverage gradually, in order to give your child time to change and to leave new options for use in the future.
Consistently being Consistent
Leverage only works if there is follow through. If a parent says they are going to take toys away for a week, then gives them back in a day, the child will learn that the threat of grounding for a week only means one day’s restriction. Be consistent. Think trough ahead of time how you are going to handle correction. Create a plan and stick to it. Children do not respect weakness, so show them you know what you’re doing by lovingly maintaining order through consistency.
Listening for Communication
In trucker speak, Parent, you got ‘yer ears on? The parent-child relationship will be fraught with difficulty if the line of communication are not open. Many times, the child is speaking, but it is the parent who isn’t listening. Children communicate in many different ways, and it is the job of the parent to try and understand what they are saying. Is your child crying out for help? Do they feel comfortable talking to you about difficult issues? Are you available to listen? Communication gets more and more difficult as the child gets older, but it also gets more and more significant, so provide opportunities to share openly with your child. Remember, if they can’t get advice from you, they will get it from their friends, and that may not be the advice you’d want for them.
Navigating Thorny Issues and Smelling like a Rose
Raising children can be complicated, even when everything is perfect. But it can get difficult and frustrating when factors outside of your control begin to interfere with the relationship between you and your child. Here are areas that you might want to think about ahead of time.
Friends don’t let Friends have the wrong Friends
Children make friends, and they tend to spend a lot of time with those friends. But not all of those friends are the kind of friends that you as their parent would want for them. In the early part of your child’s development, you will be the single most influential person in your child’s life. But are the preteen period, things change. Your child’s friends then begin have more influence over your child’s direction, beliefs, and activities that you do. This may be a scary thought, but it doesn’t have to be when you understand that you can influence whom your child chooses as their friend. The key is to influence their peer group, or the pool of friends from which they can choose. Team sports are often a good place for your child to find friends because those kids are busy, working toward a goal, and required to maintain good grades. Church youth groups are another good social outlet. Instead of encouraging your child to be friends with certain people, encourage them toward activities and organizations that tend toward the friends you would want your child to have.
To ensure that your child gets what they need when they need it, it is useful to pay attention to key periods of development in the life-cycle of a child. There are two periods that have been found to hold enormous importance in how children ultimately turn out. The early years, between three and six years of age, have been shown to have a great impact on essential language skills, basic habits, and general personality. Then later, around sixth to eighth grade, another development leap occurs in the areas of cognitive development, critical and abstract thinking, and growth in the frontal lobe area of the brain. Understanding these key periods can help you focus your efforts on the right training at the time that their minds are ripe to receive it.
One To Many
Having one child is tough. Having many is rough. All of the issues we have looked at so far are multiplied with each child added to the family. To be sure, multiple children aren’t without their benefits. They are built-in playmates for one another, and bonded together for life by their family ties, but there can also be added stress. With multiple children, it is important to avoid any type of favoritism, whether due to age, gender or personality. Children become keenly aware of their place within the family, and it is important to give each one a well-defined role to play in the family whole. Like nations or business, children compete for resources. Make sure that each child feels that their needs are being met, at least as well as those of their siblings. Try to spend time with each child individually, rather than treating them as a group, as is the case much of the time. Remember to plan ahead, because what you do for the oldest will be expected for the youngest as well.
Help! I’m a Parent – Where to go from Here
Becoming a good parent is a process, and it will take many more articles like this to equip you with the skills needed to master the fine art of parenting. Thankfully, learning to be a parent isn’t limited to the written word. There are many people in your life who can guide you down the path of parenthood. Seek wisdom from your parents; they raised you, remember. Talk to other parents; they have often been there recently and can give you timely advice. Consult with leadership at your local religious institution. Read books on the subject from educators who have devoted their lives to the study of parenting. And finally, keep up your search on the web. There is an unending sea of html out there ready to solve all of your parenting queries.
Go forth, young parent, and prosper.