Bringing Up Children

Conceiving a child is one of the great miracles of life. Bringing that child up to be all that you want and hope for, is nothing short of another miracle. The fact is, bringing up children is probably one of the greatest challenges you can ever face. Yet it can also be one of the most satisfying and rewarding experiences you will ever enjoy.

To provide love, security, discipline and a good example, is a full-time commitment requiring all your energy and often taxing all your patience. Few parents get it right all the time. Yet most agree that there are some basic principles you can apply; practical tips you can follow on the road of parenthood. By taking some time to consider them, you’ll be able to feel confident about making the choices that are right for you as you take up the challenge of bringing up children.

The most important role of parents is to love and really care for their children. This not only gives a sense of security, belonging and support, but also smooths out the rough edges of childhood.

Parental love should be special in two respects.

First, it should be constant and unconditional – which means it is always present, even when the child is acting in an unlovable manner.

Second, parents should be open in expressing their love so that children are never uncertain about its presence.

Moreover, love and faithfulness between spouses promote security for the family. A household in which love is openly expressed is a household in which children flourish. Parents should make every effort to let their youngsters see warmth and tenderness in their marital relationship. This will provide an atmosphere which encourages the same kind of affection in the hearts and minds of the children.

Discipline gives children clear direction by setting and adhering to standards of behaviour. In fact, it is an essential preparation for adjusting to the outside world – it makes a child better behaved and happier.

Research shows the two most important aspects of discipline are firmness and immediacy. You should thus be certain that you punish when you say you will. And punish as soon after the misdeed as possible; don’t put an extra burden on Dad by saying, “Just wait till your father comes home”.

Apart from firmness and immediacy, the following qualities of constructive discipline should be applied:

  • Be consistent. Don’t undermine the rules set by your spouse. Disagreements regarding childrearing must be resolved in privacy – never in front of the children.
  • Be clear. Establish a few simple rules and spell them out clearly in advance. This way, your children will never be confused about what rules they are expected to follow.
  • Administer in private. If possible, never punish a child in front of anyone. This tends to antagonize the child and he or she may continue to misbehave to ‘save face’.
  • Be reasonable and understanding. Explain the reason why a child is being given direction. In addition, try to understand a child’s point of view and meet him or her halfway. This will give you a closer relationship.
  • Be flexible. With adolescents, bargaining is an effective tool. On occasion, it is good for both parents and children to be able to bend the rules a little. Also, what works with one child will not necessarily work with another.
  • Be authoritative. Never let a child talk you out of a punishment you believe necessary. Have the courage to call on and trust your own common sense.
  • Discourage continued dependency. Try to give your child an ever-expanding role in making decisions affecting his or her life. This will encourage independence as they grow up.

Spending lots of time with your children is one of the most important facets of bringing them up in the best environment for their all-round development.

Spend time playing. And the sole purpose of this play should be enjoyment – not to influence them.

Spend time talking together. Have real conversations with the kids – times when you listen and sincerely react to one another.

Spend time teaching. Imparting such workday skills as cooking and car repair can be fun, and will stand your children in good stead in the future.

Spend time in family activities. Enhance family spirit and a sense of belonging by having regular family outings, family dinners, and family holidays. Conduct family council meetings and make decisions together.

Indeed, the family that spends time together stays together.

Teaching your children basic values and manners will help them get along well in society.

Assign them chores and other responsibilities at home. Talk to them about always treating others with kindness, respect and honesty. Impart table manners and other social graces in the home. Teach them about having respect for others and their property, and for older people. Emphasize the value of truthfulness.

Above all, set a personal example yourself. Your children look up to you – there can be no better teacher.

Parents can set the right tone for the household by insisting that all family members treat each other with respect.

This means that parents themselves should apologize to a child when they are wrong, show an active interest in the children’s activities, be honest and sincere with the children at all times, not favour one child in the family, follow through on promises made, and show basic trust in a child’s character and judgement. In return, parents should insist on being treated in a respectful way by their children.

If parents treat their family with respect and love, and teach the children to respect their parents, a solid foundation will be laid.

Parents should really listen to their children from his or her earliest years. This means giving individual attention, putting aside one’s own thoughts and beliefs, and trying to understand the child’s point of view.

Talk your child’s language, too. This encourages the expression of feelings – both good and bad – and allows the child to show hostility or anger without fear of losing your love.

Children will welcome your guidance when they have problems, provided you don’t force your opinions, likes and dislikes on them. Offer them strictly as your opinion, not as law. And state your thoughts in a few sentences, rather than making a speech.

It is also helpful to help your children understand that, although your door is always open to discuss difficulties, before you will offer solutions you expect them to have thought about the problem and have tried to come up with possible solutions themselves. This will discourage laziness and over-dependence.

One of the most difficult aspects of bringing up children is letting them go. But by gradually allowing freedom and control over their own lives, you will gain their everlasting affection and respect.

Remember, though, that children have a continuing need for parental support and encouragement throughout adolescence and young adulthood. Phase yourself out of the picture when your children are old enough; but always be near when they need you.

Finally, an unusual yet vital aspect of bringing up children: personal adjustment. To relate well to children, adults must be comfortable with themselves. By treating yourself well, you will avoid the feeling of being mistreated, used unfairly or over-burdened when things go wrong.

Research in this area has revealed significant findings: that a husband and wife are apt to be successful parents when they give their marriage first priority. It may seem that the children are getting ‘second best’ from this approach, but they rarely are. A happy mother and father are most apt to have happy children when the children’s roles are clearly and lovingly defined. Child-centred households produce neither happy marriages nor happy children.

These findings reflect a seldom-acknowledged truth: that children tend to detract from, rather than enhance, the closeness between husband and wife.

A couple’s satisfaction with marriage and with each other tends to drop sharply just after their first child is born. With minor variations, it stays at a lower level during the childrearing years, and only increases after the youngest child leaves home.

Thus, there is a need to work at maintaining closeness with a spouse by such means as weekly nights out together, occasional weekends alone together, tender greetings and thoughtful surprises. By keeping your marriage in good shape, you’ll be keeping your home in good shape, and providing a haven in which children can grow and develop.

There are two lasting gifts we can give our children. One is roots; the other is wings. If you can give your children the foundation of love, and the freedom to soar, you will have provided the best upbringing they could ever hope to have.

Adapted from an article entitled “Facts About Raising Children” by the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation.