LITTLE THINGS ABOUT
"Wonderful children, they have been brought up so well" or "Parents have really put in a lot of time and effort in rearing the little ones." Raising children is one of the toughest and most fulfilling jobs in the world - and the one for which we may feel the least prepared. Let's look at some ways to tackle child-rearing responsibilities that can help us feel more fulfilled as parents - and enjoy our little ones more, too.
We need to nurture their self-esteem. Children start developing their sense of self as babies when they see themselves through their parents' eyes. Our tone of voice, our body language, and our every expression are absorbed by our children. Our words and actions as parents affect our children's developing self-esteem more than anything else. Praising their accomplishments, however small, will make them feel proud; letting them do things independently will make them feel capable and strong. By contrast, belittling comments or comparing our children unfavorably with another will make them feel worthless.
It is good to avoid making loaded statements or using words as weapons. Comments like "What a stupid thing to do!" or "You act more like a baby than your little brother!" cause damage just as physical blows do. We should choose our words carefully and be compassionate, and let them know that everyone makes mistakes and that we still love them, even when we don't love their behavior.
We have to catch our children being good. Have we ever stopped to think about how many times we react negatively to our children in a given day? We may find that we are criticizing far more than we are complimenting. After all, we have not felt good about a boss who treated us with that much negative guidance, even if it was well-intentioned.
The more effective approach is to catch our children doing something right: "You made your bed without being asked - that's terrific!" or "I was watching you play with your sister and you were very patient." These statements will do more to encourage good behavior over the long run than repeated scoldings. We have to make a point of finding something to praise every day and be generous with rewards - our love, hugs, and compliments can work wonders and are often reward enough. Soon we will find we are "growing" more of the behavior we would like to see.
We have to remember to set limits and be consistent with our discipline. Yes, discipline is necessary in every household, and we all know that. The goal of discipline is to help our children choose acceptable behaviors and learn self-control. Children may test the limits we establish for them, but they need those limits to grow into responsible adults. Establishing house rules will help our little ones understand our expectations and develop self-control. Some house rules might include: no TV until homework is done, and no hitting, name-calling, or hurtful teasing is allowed.
We may want to have a system in place: one warning, followed by consequences such as a "time out" or loss of privileges. A common mistake we parents sometimes make is failure to follow through with consequences when rules are broken. We can't discipline children for talking back one day and ignore it the next. Being consistent teaches our children what we expect.
We surely have to make positive quality time for our children. With so many demands on our time, it's often difficult for parents and children to get together for a family meal, let alone spend some quality time together. But there is probably nothing they would like more. Let us get up 10 minutes earlier in the morning so we can eat breakfast with them, or leave the dishes in the sink and take a walk after dinner together. Children who are not getting the attention they want from their parents often act out or misbehave because they are assured of being noticed that way.
Many parents find it mutually rewarding to have prescheduled time with their children on a regular basis. We could create a "special night" each week to be together and let them help decide how we will spend our time. And also look for other ways to connect with them - put a note or something special in their lunchbox.
Adolescents seem to need less undivided attention from their parents than younger children. Because there are fewer windows of opportunity for parents and teens to get together, we should do our best to be available when our teenagers express a desire to talk or participate in family activities. Attending concerts, games, and other events with them communicates caring and lets us get to know about them and their friends in important ways.
And yes, we shouldn't feel guilty if we're working parents. It is the many little things we do with our children- making popcorn, playing cards, window shopping - that they will always remember.
Yes, they need good role models. The truth is our young children learn a great deal about how to act by watching us. The younger they are, the more cues they take from us. Before we lash out or blow our top in front of them, we need to think about this: is that how we want our children to behave when they are angry? We need to be constantly aware that we are being observed by our children. Studies have shown that children who hit usually have a role model for aggression at home.
So, we have to model the traits we wish to cultivate in them: respect, friendliness, honesty, kindness, tolerance. It includes exhibiting unselfish behavior and doing things for other people without expecting a reward, expressing thanks and offering compliments. Above all, treating our children the way we expect other people to treat us.
Let's make communication a priority. We surely can't expect our children to do everything simply because we, as parents, "say so." Our children want and deserve explanations as much as we adults do. If we don't take time to explain, children will begin to wonder about our values and motives and whether they have any basis. Parents who reason with their children allow them to understand and learn in a nonjudgmental way.
So, let's make our expectations clear. If there is a problem, we should describe it to our children, express our feelings about it, and invite them to work on a solution with us, and be sure to include consequences. And make suggestions and offer choices, and remember to be open to their suggestions as well. And negotiate. Children who participate in decisions are more motivated to carry them out.
Let us be flexible and willing to adjust our parenting style. If we frequently feel "let down" by their behavior, it may be because we sometimes have unrealistic expectations. Parents who think in "shoulds" (for example, "He or she should be potty-trained by now") may find it helpful to do more reading on the matter or to talk to other parents or child development specialists.
The environment our children grow up in has an impact on their behavior, so we may be able to modify that behavior by changing the environment. If we find we are constantly saying "no" to our 2-year-olds, we have to look for ways to restructure their surroundings so that fewer things are off-limits. This will cause less frustration for both of us.
As our children change, we will gradually have to change our parenting style. Chances are, what works with them now won't work as well in a year or two.
Teenagers tend to look less to their parents and more to their peers for role models. But we have to continue to provide guidance, encouragement, and appropriate discipline while allowing your teens to earn more independence. And seize every available moment to make a connection!
Showing that our love is unconditional is a great miracle drug. As parents, we are responsible for correcting and guiding our children, but how we express our corrective guidance makes all the difference in how they receive it. When we have to confront our little ones, it helps to avoid blaming, criticizing, or fault-finding, which undermine self-esteem and can lead to resentment. Instead, we need to strive to nurture and encourage, even when we are disciplining them. And we have to make sure they know that although we want and expect better next time, our love is therewith them no matter what.
Yes, we have to be aware of our own needs and limitations as parents. Let us face it - we are imperfect parents, all of us. We have strengths and weaknesses as family leaders. So, we have to recognize our abilities - "I am loving and dedicated," and vow to work on our weaknesses - "I need to be more consistent with discipline." And try to have realistic expectations for us and our children. We don't have to have all the answers - we can't. So, it will help to be forgiving of ourselves and try to make parenting a manageable job. Focus on the areas that need the most attention rather than trying to address everything all at once. Admit it when we're burned out. Take time out from parenting to do things that will make us happy as a person (or as a couple). Focusing on our needs does not make us selfish. It simply means we care about our own well-being, which is another important value to model for our children.
Dr Gayatri Bezboruah is Professor of Paediatrics, Gauhati Medical College, Guwahati. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com