Parenting does not come naturally. It is to be learnt. Just as we learn how to cook, ride, drive and swim, we must put an effort to master the attitudes and skills necessary for parenting. Unlike cooking and driving, parenting is much more challenging because children have a mind of their own. But it is also more rewarding.
Many parents believe that parenting is all about saving enough money to put a child in the best school possible and put her through every camp available to master every sport, art and hobby. That is not all. Most parents expect their child to top the class, ace the exams and get into the best college in the country. All to land a job with a six figure monthly salary.
Academics are important, nurturing talent is fine and ambition is good but making them life-pursuits for a child is surely setting up a child for a life-time of anxiety, guilt and insecurity.
Parents must work to provide happy childhood, secure adolescence and confident adulthood. Storytelling, pillow fights, picnic at a Zoo, somersaults in a swimming pool, playing Pictionary, an opportunity to look with wonder at the jetting aircrafts in an air show, children on your shoulder to catch a glimpse of a sports star and many, many other things you can do with your children can create a happy childhood.
A teenager will feel secure in a strong identity. What he or she can do, how they are noticed and acknowledged and how they are liked and loved contribute to their identity. When parents shower such attention, acceptance and time-space to discover themselves (with ample margin to make mistakes), they grow secure in an otherwise harsh world. They will then go out be able to accept challenges, take criticism in their stride and build healthy relationships.
As you can see there is no mention of outstanding marks, ranks, prizes and trophies, top schools or colleges and definitely not exorbitant salaries in a healthy parenting plan. Sometimes they happen and that is good. Most of the times, parents focus on these things to satisfy their own ego, overcome their anxiety and showcase their children as a proof of their successful parenting. It is not healthy parenting. In fact, it leads to unending conflicts between parents and children, develops a false sense of identity and misplaced priorities.
Children are not projects to be worked on and completed. They are personalities to be shaped, enjoyed and cherished.
This article is not about helping parents to make their children super successful professionals. Popular literature and social media is replete with it. My sincere appeal to you is to explore some practical aspects that get neglected resulting in parental deficit. And somethings not to be done that could actually be unintended abuse.
Parents, both father and mother must endeavour to practice the following:
- Talk to infants but listen to children. You can talk all you want to infants and toddlers. It is a valuable psychological pat for a fledgling soul. The child will bask in the attention of the parents. Listen to them when they begin to speak. It is life to the budding soul.
- Get physical with children. Hold them, hug them, kiss them, pat them, rub them, give them a horsy ride, do a mock arm-wrestling, etc. All these must be done delicately, sensitively and age-appropriately. Moreover, keep your cultural norms in mind. When they grow up appreciate them verbally and occasional hug, pat and touch.
- Patiently spend time with children in shaping physical habits. Potty training, personal hygiene like brushing teeth properly, washing hands before eating, bathing daily and twice if necessary in summer, eating meals and snacks at proper times, sleeping and getting up at designated times, playing, of use electronic gadgets for designated times, etc., are a few of them. Children develop a sense of personal value in addition to health benefits.
- Develop spiritual habits like having personal prayer times and family prayer times. Going to Sunday school and church regularly. Make memorizing scripture fun. Start with the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23. Help children to invite Jesus into their hearts as their Lord and Saviour. Age is no bar. Remember Jesus admonished His disciples when they were preventing children from coming to Him.
- Teach them to say ‘Thank you’, ‘Please’, ‘Sorry’. These are not just social graces but they are spiritual values. Remember kindness, meekness and gentleness are fruit of the Spirit. Many children refuse to say sorry as they feel their ego is getting hurt. Teach them these graces before the ego grows too big. If you can’t shape them when they are tender, they will break you when they are older. When you are wrong, please apologise. It’s good to set an example.
- Every child must be made responsible. They must be first taught to be responsible for their own things. Like carrying their own stuff, picking up things and leaving stuff in their designated places. Some parents do everything for their children right up to their teenage and adulthood. Most of the times they are saying, “I will do everything for you. You don’t have to do a thing. Just get me good marks.” Such children become irresponsible adults and terrible life-partners. At the end of the day job and money is not everything. Mutually satisfying relationships are important for satisfaction in life.
- Children must then be made to participate in household chores. Filling up water bottles, getting groceries and vegetables, booking cooking gas cylinders, paying bills, extending hospitality to visitors, dusting cars and motorcycles, planning gifts for cousins and uncles and aunts, Christmas decorations, etc. When they become team players at home, they know how to carry themselves and participate in social groups.
- Teach them simplicity. They can’t have special food all the time. It is neither good for body nor soul. Occasionally when you are sick, groceries have run out and the fridge is empty, teach them to eat a simple meal. Let them know what hunger is. Let them sometimes fend for themselves.
- Teach them contentment. To be satisfied with life that God has given them. Children look at others and demand similar things. Cell phones, bikes, dresses, jewellery, etc. A parent is the best toy a child can have. If you can spare time and play with a child, they don’t need a play room and a room full of toys. If you can remain their friends in growing years and honest with family finances, they will not demand ‘toys’ like expensive cell phones, bikes and accessories.
- Teach children to respect your personal time. Let them know that if you are happy and healthy you will be able to better relate to them.
Be sure not to ‘abuse’ a child. No parent does it intentionally but many do unwittingly. Beware!
- Do not compare one child with another. Whether within the family, church or community. It is not healthy. Parents justify it to motivate a child. It is a poor motivator. It actually breeds resentment, jealousy and inferiority.
- Do not make all your conversations about academic performance. They may develop an aversion to all things academic. Celebrate children not academic performance.
- Do not use scolding as a means to discipline. It is demeaning, unhelpful and a futile exercise. Have conversations and agree upon mutually agreeable performance standards. Concluding such conversations with prayer for God’s enablement will help.
- Never use bad words, names of animals or demeaning expressions while talking to children. You will be insulting God. It leaves an indelible scar on their psyche.
- Never wish death. No matter how frustrated you are never say you want to die. Or that all your problems will come to an end if you die. Some parents even say to a child: “I don’t know why you were born.” The pain would be unbearable to the child. Then they resort to all sorts of drugs and substances for relief.
- Don’t nag children.
- Never fight in front of children. It is fine for children to know that you differ on things but not in a disagreeable way.
- Don’t tolerate disrespect, rebellion and disdainful attitude from children. Be forgiving of all mischievous behaviour, tolerant of their clumsiness and forgetfulness. But do not allow your children to question your authority. Act swiftly and show who is in control.
The Bible says, “Children’s children are a crown to the aged; parents are the pride of their children.” Parents are the pride of their children.
Parents must lead an exemplary life to earn the respect of the children that He has demanded of them.
If, what they hear from their parents and what they see in them is one and the same, children will find it easy to behave in the same way. Let us make it easy for them. That way they may not become toppers in their classes but surely they would know Jesus, become confident adults to face challenges and build strong families.