From the outside looking inward, couples never imagine how time-intensive parenting will be until they are swamped in diapers, homework and play dates.
Children consume a great deal of effort, energy and attention as they grow but it does get better. The more care and training invested in the first few years, the easier it will become at each age and stage.
Give Children Chores and Responsibilities
Assigning chores to children is to teach kids valuable life skills, responsibility and so that they feel invested in their family; kids hold a stake in the functionality, organization, health, happiness and success of their family unit. When parents do all the work, resentments and entitlement build and mom and dad feel used while children grow up dependent on others.
Allow Kids Room to Succeed or Fail
Katie was all over the map in terms of what she wanted to try: Writing, all kinds of art, playing different musical instruments and so on. After her first year in college she decided she wanted to travel the world and study how different cultures made and consumed bread. *smiling* That is not a typo – b-r-e-a-d – and we let her try. In their lives, kids need to try new things and to experiment to find out what they are capable of doing and also that if they fail, that it is not the end of the world. The hardest part of giving kids room to try new things is the fear of failure; when kids fail, though, they are inoculated against that fear and more often than not, it makes them succeed in life. (No, Katie did not get an opportunity to study bread around the world but she did learn to bake her own bread instead.)
All children attempt things: To make friends, making a bed, training the family pet, walking to school alone and so on. Trying to overcome shyness can be hard; parents coach and provide opportunities but the child may only get up courage to speak to one other child. That is progress, even if a friendship does not result.
Parents and family celebrating accomplishments are important to a child and can increase positive self-esteem. That is not saying that every small deed should get a round of applause and a marching band but when a child struggles to improve their math scores and does, then they deserve for parents to stop and say, “Way to go; you worked hard on that math! To celebrate you get to pick your favorite meal and a movie on the weekend.” Celebrate too much and the act loses its impact, though, and becomes expected. A parent once said that for the celebrations to have meaning they had to “be real” because kids have those built-in crap detectors.
Instill Gratitude and Manners
Pausing to reflect and appreciate things in our lives reminds children how different life could be without. Many give thanks for food before meals, there is Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Thanksgiving but it does not end there. Teach children to say ‘Thank You’ for courtesies or gifts and acknowledge those around us. Learning proper manners help a child become more confident in their surroundings and others.
To borrow the Boy Scout’s motto: Be prepared, means be ready for anything, especially having plans changed. Efficient parents like to plan every waking moment for a child but life and the child may have other plans. An enriching trip to a museum might be better spent letting the child create their own artwork. When parents are about to take the kids to see a great play, a virus may put one child in bed. Life changed the direction but parents can still lead to a memorable time by perhaps putting on a shadow-puppet play with the child. Parents who are flexible are generally happier, well-adjusted and model that flexibility for their children. Children brought up in a flexible household are less stressed.
Giving an allowance and teaching children about money is an important step to maturing and learning to manage their adult finances. Children will experience true gratification as the reward for planning, budgeting and saving. Whether parents give an allowance for doing chores, grades or just for being part of a family – kids need money to manage.
Trust Your Instincts
Nobody knows everything about bringing up kids but if you have no other trusted people to discuss an issue with – parents, friends or Parents Anonymous members – then parents must trust their own gut instincts. That unexplainable internal feeling can be a good guide in many areas having to do with children.
Teach Children Values
Parents decide the principles that they hold in high regard and live by: Truth, hard work, study, kindness, modesty, honesty, accuracy, cooperation, independence, stability, community, family, discretion, justice, efficiency and so on. Parents discuss as well as live by their values and children will often take on similar values. Children may also add or change values according to what fits their adult beliefs.
Many believe having faith in their lives is very important and that is wonderful. Teaching children about the parent’s chosen religion and taking them to church, synagogue, mosque or Kingdom Hall is a truly powerful message – but only if parents live their faith. Parents who party and get drunk with friends every weekend then go to church on Sunday may have a difficult time explaining the hypocrisy (Do as I say not as I do). Parents can be atheist and still live morally fit lives. Whatever parents’ choice of faith – even no faith at all – they need to be the example.
NOTE: My parents were the example above and it left me believing in God and Jesus Christ but to me it could not possibly be the religion I was brought up with. As a result I spent most my adult life wandering, trying to find the right one for me. I studied several religions including the Latter Day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses. I called my mother on the phone once to ask her a question. When she learned that I was studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses she actually screamed at me saying that her minister father taught her family to hate them with a passion. That outburst taught me all I needed to know about her religion. I did not choose Jehovah’s Witnesses in the end but I will say that they taught me more about the Bible in a few months than I ever learned in my entire childhood.