Every child is a unique and special individual, but how he or she learns to react to life’s daily events is highly dependent on both what they observe in their environment and how they learn to understand and manage their own emotions. The following are suggestions to help promote positive developmental surroundings for your child:
Allow Your Child to Become Aware of Their Own Feelings
A good example is a child learning to take their first steps… They will inevitably take a few spills. If a parent panics and goes into a frenzy at every tumble, the child will learn to react to the fall like it’s a horrible thing, regardless of whether they got hurt or not. From here on out ANY fall is a bad fall. This learned behavior continues and creates a tearful outcome to every bump and bruise. A parent then faces a “Boy Who Cried Wolf” scenario… never really knowing if a child was hurt or not. A better parent reaction would be to allow the child to express whether or not they were hurt first and then respond accordingly. Now, the child has learned how they themselves felt about the fall and whether or not it merited a good cry.
As the child gets older and begins to have their own opinion, let them know that it’s perfectly fine to have tastes that are different than yours. For example, you can’t stand country music, but your five year old says they love it… you certainly don’t have to say you love it too, but you can tell them that it’s perfectly fine if they love it, and how great it is that they have their own opinion. Children seek endless approval from their parents. If approval’s only received when they agree with the parent’s opinion, they won’t be learning the valuable lesson of thinking for themselves later. Permitting a young child to express their personal tastes lays the foundation for teaching them to trust and acknowledge that their own opinion is just fine.
Be Aware of Your Own Issues and Don’t Pass Them On
Babies are born with a clean slate. We, on the other hand, have most likely developed personal “issues” about something or another. Issues can range from mild quirks to major difficulties, but an awareness of the “issue” can help keep things in check when we’re parenting.
Since, we’re a society inundated with food issues, we’ll pick that one for a common example to deal with… The golden starter rule for this one is, “Baby Knows Best.” Feed them when they’re hungry, let them stop when they’re full. This keeps the child in-touch with their needs and satisfactions and establishes eating habits they’ll carry with them to adulthood. (This is also the recommended feeding method by the American Academy of Pediatrics since 1997.)
On the other side of the spectrum… According to nutritionists from the Vancouver Island Health Authority, parents who are too controlling with their children’s food prevent children from taking natural cues for hunger, which can lead to “hoarding, stealing, and secretly eating food later”… a definite set-up for a life long weight problem.
This doesn’t mean that if your child has a pediatrician confirmed weight problem, you sit by and let them eat whatever they want whenever they want, as you would an infant. Quite the contrary, steps must be taken to establish more positive eating habits… less goodies, more fruits and vegetables, better sized portions etc. The key is making those changes without emotionally burdening the child. Changing what foods are available in the house removes much of the “oh no, you can’t have that” dialogue. Continual comments regarding food or appearance, can translate to the child as, “I’m not OK” and a poor self-image has never helped to improve anyone, child or adult.
Everyone’s personal issues are different… perhaps it’s fear of water, abandonment, or bad relationships… whatever the issue, just try to stay aware that your fears and hang-ups belong to you alone and make a conscience effort not to project them onto your children.
Your Reaction is Their Reaction
Children gauge their reactions accordingly. If you’re OK with something, they’ll be OK, on the other side of the coin, if you’re troubled, they’ll be troubled too. Now, we may be parents, but we’re still human, and yes, there are going to be times in life where we are legitimately troubled, but how you cope with those times is what makes the difference.
Also, it’s important to be aware that even if you are coping with adversity gracefully on the outside, children are naturally intuitive and will still sense something is wrong. If they ask about it and you answer, “nothing’s wrong,” children will not only feel confused, but begin to doubt their own instincts. Even more damaging, they may believe the parent is unhappy or upset because of them. So stay honest with your kids… let them know they’re right… you are having a tough time (no need to burden them with all the adult details – give them a kiddie version), then, assure them that the tough time will pass. Now, you’ve taught the lesson that there are ups and downs in life, that their feelings were right, and they are certainly not the cause of the “tough time.”
When we see our children expressing kindness, gratitude, and compassion, nothing makes us more proud and quite honestly we’ve earned that pat on the back because children reflect our behavior. The other side of the coin is, hard as it may sometimes be to acknowledge, when we see our children behaving rudely, greedily, or obnoxiously, they very well may be reflecting our behavior too. This is the “Right Back At Ya” parenting lesson.
Remember the “little pitchers have big ears” saying? That about sums it up… kids see all, hear all. Nothing gets by them. If you’re seeing behavior you don’t like in your kids, it’s always good to take a look in the mirror and make sure you haven’t unintentionally set the example for it yourself.
Yes, the “Right Back At Ya” can either be the harshest or most rewarding parenting lesson of them all, so heed the warning signs early.