Addendum—Parenting and Child Rearing
“Children are our most valuable natural resource.”—Herbert Hoover
Children are not only our future; they are our present and our past. Children are the most wondrous gift anyone can possibly receive. Whether you are young or old, you will eventually become a parent, aunt, uncle, or significant nurturer. I have been amazed at the transformation that takes place upon the birth of a child. It not only transforms parents but aunts, uncles, neighbors, and grandparents. It is one of the most magical epiphanies of life. We all have a responsibility to sober up to the fact that what we say or do will affect each child's future and eventually of society. The birth of a child can be a true blessing or a potential disaster. This enormous responsibility is reflected in your influence on the growth and development of a child. There is no greater reward or more severe punishment than being a parent. To ensure world harmony, we must take this responsibility very seriously. We must make every effort to preserve the child as the most precious undertaking of our society and its future. Love, kindness, and respect are the keys to happiness, which always begins with the family unit.
A parent's job is the most fulfilling and yet most excruciating work that one will ever encounter in a lifetime. Could there be anything that could compare to the joy and happiness of seeing your children grow into loving, caring, accepting, honest, hard-working, unselfish, genuine adults? Likewise, there is little satisfaction or pleasure in seeing your children face obstacles and learning bumps, mistakes, difficulties, challenges, failures, or defects. You want the best for them but must understand that life will always throw you curves and roadblocks. Your job is to do your best to prepare children to cope, overcome, make decisions, and become independent. Your ultimate job is to release your young adults to a world that they are prepared to conquer.
Many things contribute to a child’s happiness and success. Regular doses of love, confidence, support, listening, and having a sincere regard for them are just a few. Some parents overindulge their children with expensive gifts. Children thrive better on gifts that are simple and free hugs, kind words, special games, a story or fairy tale, a special smile, playing with pots and pans, snuggling, a pat on the back, or a high five. Children appreciate genuineness and gentleness. They most enjoy the simple everyday things that brighten their lives each day. Unfortunately, retailers and advertisers try to seduce children with glitzy presents. Their emphasis is on promoting “the greatest and the latest”. Realistically, many of these toys capture a child’s interest for only a short time.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with computers and video games, and high-tech goodies, but there is no substitute for human interaction. People will always trump machines. Parents should ration high-tech devices or allow a child to earn extra time as a bonus for acceptable behavior. This will enable parents and children to control their high-tech machines rather than having the machines control them. This approach also prevents children from becoming jaded and oversaturated with highly imaginative virtual games. Discerning parents know how to balance family interactions. Children don’t need to get everything they want but should receive everything they truly deserve, especially the most valued intangible—love, respect, support, and hope for their future.
Society sadly creates the Hitlers and Stalins, the sadists and rapists, the lazy and the unmotivated, just as it creates the Einsteins, the Salks, the Gandhis, the Abe Lincolns, the Mother Teresas, and the Joan of Arcs. Yes, children are indeed a tremendous responsibility!
Your job is to build strong and independent children capable of coping with daily stress and eager to make the world a better place for themselves and their progeny. It is far better to build rather than to repair and restore. You will, unfortunately, experience both. Your goal is to prevent problems, not rehabilitate them. This can only occur by building confidence through the use of limits, encouragement, and praise.
As you well know, child-rearing is far from a simple endeavor. It takes a great deal of patience, understanding, and a huge amount of work. Parents want to feel secure in believing that their child will grow up to be a constructive and happy adult. Their responsibility is to mold a child into an independent adult who can function autonomously. Parents can be likened to a sculptor who works diligently toward creating a pleasant image, not only to the creator’s mind but in the minds of others who will see the final creation. Raising children is a job of extreme responsibility that does not require a license or permit. Drivers’ licenses, medical licenses, gun permits, or permits to build or tear down a house all require special permission because these activities endanger people’s lives. No training or license is required to be a parent. Yet, doesn’t this ominous unlicensed task of rearing children greatly impact the future success of a village, state, nation, and world? Articles, books, and classes are readily available to guide parents. Unfortunately, those in most need of education and guidance seldom obtain them.
Bringing up a child is a grueling and demanding job. Many tools and much information are required. These tools are readily available for parents to help in the process. The list is staggering, so I’ll try to share those that appear most crucial.
All children require copious amounts of love, attention, affection, encouragement, a listening ear, self-respect, and somebody to emulate. They need to make mistakes, understand limits, suffer consequences, experience, endure, and savor the many bumps in the road. Of course, the simplest and least expensive thing a parent can do is listen. Parents don’t always know the answers to children’s questions, but making good eye contact and focusing on them sends an important message. Sometimes a parent who is distracted or multitasking is unable to pay attention to a child. Yet, the highest quality time a parent can spend listening. It is what Carl Rogers called “learning facilitation”. What he meant was assisting children in finding or discovering answers to their questions independently. Communicating and sharing experiences provides an incredibly strong bond that protects the child from unnecessary future stress. It is like a two-part epoxy! Good listening requires trust.
When a child has a problem, it is best accomplished by neutrality. Taking sides, such as: “Yes, your sister is a pest, she always bugging you!” or stating a solution, “Just stay away from her, and she won’t bother you!” only further complicates an already volatile situation. Instead, allowing discussion, choice, and independent thought creates effective solutions because they are determined by the child, not dictated by the adult. A more appropriate response might include: “Both of you have a problem. Go into the bathroom (the most ‘neutral’ room in the house) and work things out. When both of you agree on a solution, you can come out, and we will eat dinner together.”
CONFIDENCE and DECISION MAKING
There are many types of child-rearing programs. Some strategies conflict with one another, but all agree that love and setting reasonable limits with consequences overcome many big bumps in the road. Building self-confidence and good decision-making assists in child protection and problem prevention. They allow for independence rather than dependence. They provide armor against stress and personal doubt. Acknowledging success and accomplishment through the use of hugging, clapping, smiling, and verbal feedback is crucial. Balance is also important. Children should not get superlative attention in excess for the same reason you should not excessively reprimand a child for every single transgression. Indiscriminate praise is as damaging as indiscriminate criticism.
Catching the child in the act of doing things right is far superior to paying attention to their every negative attention-seeking behavior. Devoting time to negative behavior simply rewards negative behavior. Young children want and enjoy attention, whether it is positive or negative. Remember, attention is attention! If children can’t get it from doing things right, they will easily accept negative attention for their inappropriate negative behaviors. This only further convinces the child that they are incapable and ‘bad’. Paying close attention to rewarding negative behavior is very important because negative attention begets more negative behavior.
There is no mightier force than the words and actions of a parent. All young children love their parents and want to be just like their parents. If their parents are constantly reprimanding them and considering them ‘bad’ children, their personal perception becomes “I must be a bad child”. Conversely, hearing positives with lots of “I Love you”, along with nonverbal responses, are often all that is necessary to send a very strong, positive message; whether it’s a hug, a pat on the back, or smile. They send a clear message of acceptance and encouragement to the child. I strongly recommend the use of these nonverbal recognitions as much as possible.
Attitude is 99% of everything! Attitude, as mentioned in previous chapters, is extremely important. Almost forty years ago, I was fortunate to be given a sabbatical leave. During that time, I visited all of the major industries in Silicon Valley. Over 90% of personnel managers said, “The single most important factor in job success is not intelligence, but attitude.” Thomas Dreier said, “The world is a great mirror; it reflects what you are. If you are loving, if you are friendly, if you are helpful, the world will prove loving, friendly, and helpful to you. The world is what you are.” Norman Vincent Peale, famous for his positive thinking, passed away at age 96. He must’ve followed his own words when he said, “You’re not what you think you are, but what you think you are.” The power of positive thinking has a tremendous benefit because we all know that our attitude predicts and perpetuates our performance.
Parents can instill in children a positive attitude by simply modeling their positive attitudes. Children, of course, desperately want to emulate their parents. They want to be just like them. As mentioned earlier, Dr. Terman’s longitudinal study found that the most successful have the greatest admiration for their parents. Parents who model positive attitudes about life and their world are more carefully listened to and copied by their children. Children likewise will follow their parent's example and develop positive attitudes about themselves and their future. It is a far better insurance policy than most companies offer!
Action speaks much louder than words! Corrective measures consisting entirely of talk can become ineffective. Children stop listening when nagging reigns. Continual reminders turn off the listening mechanisms of children. Children eventually stop listening until parental voices are raised. The new octave warns them of impending action. It’s at that time that children may respond. The ineffectiveness of most verbal corrections is to be found in the very function of words. Communication can only be effective if addressed to a willing and listening audience. Talking out problems is reserved only when both parent and child are balanced and rational. When a major crisis occurs, talking can only resume when rational thought returns. Never try to communicate when red rage or irrationality is evident; it only stokes the fire. Action will speak louder than words when silence is golden. Discussion seldom works when there are intense conflicts and a clash of interests. Talking in those situations is not communication but verbal warfare. Words at that point become weapons and cannot possibly result in favorable results. Action such as withdrawing or having the child take a time out speaks volumes.
Nagging only creates selective listening. The child who is told something more than once has gained a license to listen only after something more imminently dangerous might occur. Under those circumstances, words are not only useless but aggravate an already volatile situation. Generally, nagging does not bring the desired result but rather the opposite effect. Using excessive words as a correction is ill-advised. Conflict situations require action, not words, even if it requires silence.
Unfortunately, parents can, under these dire circumstances, only think of severely punitive actions. However, being enraged, and using punitive words, only causes provocation. Effective action at the moment of conflict should consist of natural consequences by either removing oneself or the conflicted party. Explanations are advised only if the child doesn’t know the circumstances. If verbal instruction needs to be given, it should be as short as possible. Never use ten sentences when you can say them in ten words. Talking should be restricted to friendly conversations and used sparingly in volatile disciplinary times.
Silence is an action. When negative attention is being sought, silence does not mean ignoring or neglecting the child, but only his tactics. The less attention a child receives when he is a disturbing influence, the more he/she becomes a more cooperative family member. Timeout, whether it be parent or child, is usually more effective. Giving him attention by various nonverbal responses can be much more effective than showing your pleasure through long-windedness when cooperating. The child might respond more to a hug than a constant dissertation of praise. Adults should teach, not preach, but instead, model acceptable behavior.
FIRMNESS vs. DOMINATION
Firmness will gain a child’s respect, while domination will make the child rebellious. Firmness indicates that by your actions, you refuse to give in to a child’s unreasonable demands. Domination implies you’re determination to impose your will upon him. He or she has the right to decide what to do, but you have no obligation to give in. The distinction between respect for the child and indulgence of their wishes is often subtle and difficult, as the distinction between firmness and imposition. Reasonable consequences are necessary and appropriate in extinguishing inappropriate behavior. For example, the child has a right not to eat if he doesn’t feel like eating, but you have no obligation to cook special food or skip to dessert; nor the right to press on and overwhelm with total domination. It’s just not a healthy form of ‘digestion’ for either the child or yourself.
EFFICACY of WITHDRAWL
Allowing you to withdraw from a child, demanding undue attention, is an extremely effective technique and a significant learning moment. It is equally effective when a child tries to involve you in a power struggle. There is nothing beneficial when a child loses his/her temper if there is no audience to pay attention. Nor is there any satisfaction in being annoying, either actively or passively, if nobody is willing to give attention to it. Withdrawal is not surrendering, but on the contrary, it is an effective countermeasure. It merely defeats the child’s bid for negative attention and prevents power struggles. Your choice is to either withdraw the child to a timeout or withdraw until calm prevails.
As a parent, you might, at times, be inclined to immediately respond to a child’s transgressions without much thought or consideration. Without thinking, you might feel compelled to correct the child, but actually may, in fact, be succumbing to his/her provocation by satisfying his/her need for negative attention. When you are annoyed and feel you must remind and coax your child, you are probably falling into a trap; just what was expected for special attention and service. When you are provoked and want to show the child that he/she can’t do that to you, they have has just succeeded in getting you involved in a power struggle. At that point, the child has effectively claimed victory. As long as your responses are based on your immediate impulses, you are more likely to fortify the child’s mistaken attitudes than correct them. Because children know your weaknesses, you must remember that few adults are a match for a child who can easily outwit you. Also important is that yielding to the child’s conviction that he/she is both bad and un-liked simply reinforces lacking self-confidence and a negative self-attitude.
In my book, Your Passport to Life, fear was discussed in detail. One of a child’s greatest fears is death, particularly the death of a parent. As children grow, they need to have experience with grief and mourning. This can be prepared and preempted by losing a pet or someone less well known before that of an intimate family member. Parents need to prepare children by sharing their prior experiences and feelings of loss. When a death occurs, parents need to share both their sorrow and period of grief. If these feelings and thoughts are not supplied, the child will fill the gap with their fearful explanations and imaginative thoughts. Sometimes children may even blame themselves.
Children have great difficulty comprehending that death is indeed permanent. If a goldfish dies, it is hurriedly replaced. However, losing a loved one, especially a close family member, can become a childhood tragedy. In order to help children face their loss, allowing them to express their fears, fantasies, and feelings is very important. Avoiding euphemisms like Auntie Rose went to heaven and is now an angel is not an appropriately comprehensive response. Allowing discussion, explaining feelings, sorrow, sadness, and loss are important in allaying fears. Because the greatest fear of a child is the loss of a parent, parents need to help youngsters buffering these fears by providing ongoing reassurances. Also, sharing your own rational and irrational fears as a child can be comforting. Regardless, a child’s fear of a parent dying is real and needs to be addressed. Dealing with the death of a pet is initially difficult for a child. The death of goldfish, hamster, cat, or dog offers parents great opportunity as a precursor in assisting children with anticipated vagaries of sickness, dying and death.
Everyone experiences anger! When angry, it is best to describe what you see, what you feel, and what you expect. Avoid the personalization of anger through accusation and recrimination. Making “you” statements is devastating. Comments like, “You’re so clumsy and stupid…or, you are an idiot”. Instead, learn to express anger without doing damage, even if provoked. Don’t insult or humiliate your children. Don’t attack a child’s character or personality. Don’t assault his/her dignity. You can protect the child against this by using “I” statements. “I” messages express how you feel. It is okay to express anger with an “I” statement like: “I’m annoyed; I’m dismayed, I’m angry. I’m furious.” These are far safer than “You’re an idiot. Look what you’ve done! You clumsy ox! What’s the matter with you?”
When you are angry, children are attentive, and they listen. For example, a child who believes his parents feel that he/she is clumsy or stupid will listen carefully to the words clumsy or stupid. If that word is repeated regularly, the child will automatically assume that he/she is clumsy or stupid. Especially since it’s coming from the most credible of all sources—their beloved parent, the solution is that it is OK to get angry, but describe what you see and how you feel without incriminating the child with “you” statements. For example, “The milk spilled, and it’s all over the floor, or I’m really upset because the glass is broken and can hurt someone. We need a clean-up.” I can assure you the mop and broom will be on their way momentarily!
A HOUSE DIVIDED
If there are two or more adults in a home, it’s vital that they work together and not interfere or create additional conflict. Children are keen observers and know that a house divided is fertile ground to manipulate and conquer. Pitting parents against one another is often not just child’s play, but sport for discerning children. It is called “Divide and Conquer”. They enjoy pitting one parent against the other or asking the weaker parent for something they know would have been refused by the other parent. It is called “A parent with benefits!” If there is a conflict that needs further discussion, take a parent timeout with your partner and come to some common accord. Grandparents can also take sides and become divisive. Do not allow a grandparent or your child to put a wedge between you, your partner, or your other children.
Researchers have reported that the most successful take more risks and make more mistakes than anybody else. One of the most important things a parent can provide is a tolerance for non-injurious mistakes. Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM, said, “The quickest way to success is a double your failure rate.” He and others refer to mistakes as both necessary feedback and significant learning moments. Mistakes and momentary failures are required for progress and ultimate success. Parents, if able, are best to bite their tongue and secretly celebrate their children’s mistakes. Coping with mistakes is beneficial for both the young and their parents because they buffer stress and make their children stronger and more mature.
One of the best treats that you can provide for yourself, your spouse, and your child is a cultural trade or exchange with another local family. For years we had a cultural exchange with another family. Our children spent a night with their family celebrating Hanukkah, and their children came to our house for Christmas. As long as you have a trusting relationship with a friend, neighbor, or relative, this works wonderfully. It is important to teach your youngsters about other cultures, other families, and other communication modes. Exchanges involve sharing various foods, learning about other households, traditions, cultures, sports, hobbies, and family interactions. It promotes social and emotional maturity, individual differences, equality, respect, understanding of cultural differences, and an opportunity to awaken new horizons. You will get to know other families, their customs, differences, and similarities.
Let’s admit it; in today’s society, life is in many respects much easier than at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, Great Depression, or WWII. We are now able to protect our youth from unfair child labor laws and severe corporal punishment. Yet earning is still sacred. Chores are necessary to develop a reasonable work ethic. Parents can, without realizing it, make rewarding a rare treat or a rather humdrum affair. Wielding the carrot rather than the stick while maintaining clear-cut directions followed by consistent consequences will not only yield huge dividends but bond your relationships. It can also be a precursor of work ethic and be a precursor and transition to adolescence issues.
Getting a special treat can and should occur spontaneously, especially after any favorable event. The true standard should be, “I’ll give you what you want if you give me what I want--- “quid pro quid”. A special ice cream, favorite food, sought-after toy, puzzles, or games should be partially earned. As children get older, providing progressive levels of responsibility and rewards are important. However, it’s also equally important to be very clear in terms of your expectations.
A series of small jobs, good behavior, kindness, or excellent schoolwork should earn rewards. All actions should have consequences. Poor behavior, such as an argumentative response or unreasonable anger, should also have been followed by a consequence, usually a timeout, or not watching a favorite program or a favorite activity. Egg-timers are great tools for parents. Instead, consequences, not verbal power struggles, should follow. Don’t argue, and the less said, the better. Let the timer do the talking. Talking to an angry child gives them inappropriate attention, is time-consuming and futile. Avoid them at all costs.
The importance of community service cannot be overvalued, particularly in our suburban culture. It is important to understand other races, cultures, religions, languages, socioeconomic groups, and different age groups. Working with the blind, severely retarded, homeless, physically handicapped, or senior citizens can be enormously rewarding. You need to move out of your ivory tower and understand other people. I remember a friend asking me to work with extremely high-risk children from a very impoverished area. Initially, I was reluctant. Since then, I have volunteered regularly to work with these children. It has been enormously gratifying and enlightening. In a similar vein, the best education my son had was the 100 hours of volunteer time required by his high school. It was the best education anyone can obtain. He said it was his most enlightening and edifying experience ever encountered.
Every adult must be aware that their behavior is being carefully observed and often copied. Adults, teenagers, relatives, friends all play critical roles in modeling either appropriate or inappropriate behaviors. In particular, parents sometimes forget that their children idolize them and want to emulate them in every possible way. As youngsters age, they recognize that the behaviors they observed eventually become near photocopies of their parents. The responsibility is enormous. Kindness, sensitivity, and courtesies are often copied.
Conversely, so are physical and emotional abuse, opinions, racism, and fears. All are inculcated by a child’s listening and observation. Modeling positive and healthy behavior should be demonstrated regularly. Parents’ words may be as effective as their actions; both are extremely influential in a child’s ultimate imitation. In retrospect, all of us recognize the mistakes that our parents made. There are no perfect parents! It would be an admirable goal to be the kind of parent you wanted to have as your model parent. Getting honest feedback from your partner and close friends can help guide you and shape your molding behavior.
Children are constantly watching and hearing a parent's every action. If you reflect your very best behavior, they will, in turn, reflect it to you. A friend once sent me an email entitled “Eyes See It All….”. Here are a few excerpts from the eyes of the astute:
“Children have more need of models than critics.”—Joseph Joubert
“EXAMPLE is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”—Albert Schweitzer
Of all the parenting issues, the most prevalent and certainly the most destructive are dependency and overprotection. They are my greatest of all child-rearing concerns and my number one pet peeve. It creates entitlement, probably one the gravest of all handicaps and the most debilitating of all childhood impediments. Ann Landers, over many years repeatedly announced her very first rule of raising children: “It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that makes them successful human beings.”
Children who depend upon others for continual assistance become invariably demanding. They use their weaknesses to get undue service and attention from adults, including parents, teachers, and friends. They can do many things for themselves, but they frequently don’t need to because of the continued service accorded them. These children have a disability; because of their insatiable need for helplessness, they cannot do it for themselves. The most recognized gold standard from both educators and psychologist is, “NEVER DO FOR A CHILD WHAT HE CAN DO FOR HIMSELF.”
As an adult, beware of activities that permit a child to impress you with assumed weaknesses. Children have many more abilities than you might give them credit. You must understand that you make others irresponsible when you become an enabler by allowing them to give up and underwhelm you. Stepping in and doing for a child what they are capable of diminishes confidence and creates entitlement. However, when children recognize their abilities, significant learning moments occur, and trust is built. When children regularly display weakness and inability, they are mired in frustration and anger. They lack confidence and motivation because they are encircled by doubt and fear of failure, prompted by their lack of independence and others' enablement. Encouragement and support for independent action create success. It overwhelms fear and bolsters lacking confidence.
The reliant child avoids new situations for safety because they’re very fearful of unknowns. When fear is obvious, the best statement might be, “I know you are afraid. I will help you deal with the situation.” However, the help should only involve guidance by providing support and encouragement, but not by completing the task. When the dependent child enters kindergarten, he or she will continuously need one-on-one attention. In addition, is prone to school phobia.. They constantly ask the teacher for assistance to tie shoes, find a coat, request additional individual directions, and are often fearful of entering new social situations. The dependent child is continually losing or forgetting things such as a sweater, mitten, or toy. This youngster has very poor self-confidence, is too fearful, impatient, and usually very frustrated. To help them by continued assistance only maintains the vicious circle of dependency.
Also, a dependent child tends to become very hostile when someone does not play the game, their game(s), or cannot get their way. By the time the over-reliant child reaches the upper grades, his/her feelings of self-worth are extremely low. For example, when asked to do a social studies assignment, the reliant child will ask his/her peers, his/her parents, or teachers to assist them. Even if the youngster receives a high grade in the assignment, he/she still does not feel good about themself, because somebody else has completed it.
Dependency breeds contempt, rage, and irresponsibility. It can be a major cause of decreased productivity and lacking self-confidence. Youngsters need to feel that they are capable of accomplishing things. It is very easy for adults to think or do for these children, particularly when it saves time, whether it’s cleaning their room, getting into power struggles, or completing everyday chores. The exhortations that I frequently heard from parents who insidiously promote and enable dependency are: “But I gave him everything, I did everything for him. How can he be so angry or so demanding?”; “He uses his weakness to get service from me and others.”; “He’s always forgetting.”; “He is fearful of new situations.”; ”He’s constantly seeking my individual attention!”; ”How come he has such poor self-confidence?”; or, “He is always blaming others for his irresponsibility.” Yes, these are some of the endless excuses. These kids frequently say, “I didn’t do it,” and act helpless. Homework is frequently a start and stops sequence, usually a result of both lacking stamina and a need to request regular assistance from an enabling audience. Dependent children can’t seem to think independently; thus, they are frequently searching to donate their problems to someone else.
To avoid falling into the dependency trap, it’s important to review the overly dependent child's signs and symptoms. Here they are: highly demanding, angry/hostile, constantly forgets or loses things, fearful of new situations, demands individual attention, has poor self-confidence, is a poor listener, irresponsible, impatient, frequently have endless excuses or blames others, acts helpless, gives up quickly, has difficulty making decisions, shares problems with anyone who will accept them. As teenagers, they display strong elements of entitlement. It is at this time that rage raises its ugly head. The highly dependent are enraged because they recognize their weaknesses and blame others. To whom do they direct their irrational anger? Of course, to their enablers, their parents! They are also very prone to peer pressure, and soon peers replace the parents as both their new leaders and nascent enablers. Dependency soon becomes the sibling of entitlement, particularly the need to get things without effort or earning. Why? Because the new peer enablers are allies, who have replaced their parents. These new enablers will now become parent surrogates and soul siblings. Dependent adolescents' low self-confidence makes them weak, and they often find comfort in escaping reality, sometimes via alcohol or drugs.
THE TEN SECOND LAPSE
Another characteristic of both dependent and impulsive children is often referred to as “a ten-second lapse”. This short lapse in judgment can result in disastrous occurrences. The media often report cases of lapses of judgment caused by impulsive action resulting in hospitalization or death. For example, an attempt to dive into a pool with shallow water can result in paralysis, or the challenge of drinking copious amounts of alcohol, or stealing a boat or car are examples of 10-second lapses. These tragedies strike regularly and cause parents severe pain. Children who are taught to think ahead and respect rational fear can prevent their occurrence and dire consequences. Understanding the consequences of actions is an essential part of the learning curve. Parents must inculcate cautious thinking and appropriate decision-making into their child’s learning. Teaching children to stop and think for at least ten seconds before making a decision can help prevent impulsivity and potential disaster.
The concept of “delayed gratification” has been researched extensively by both psychologists and sociologists. Their overwhelming conclusion is that youngsters able to wait before receiving a reward or obtaining a benefit were much better adjusted than those who were impulsive and unable to delay gratification. Other studies have those children who learn to be patient and able to delay decisions received better grades, had more friends, related better to peers and adults, and had fewer school problems. Studies also found that children who were able to delay gratification were also better at planning, problem-solving, and goal-setting. Youngsters need to learn and develop focus, patience, thought, and sequential planning of their activities.
IMAGINATION & PLAY
Of all ages, preschool and kindergarten children are the most creative, dramatic, imaginative, and spontaneous of all youngsters. They have wonderful energy, filled with inspiration to be or become anything or anybody that their spirit desires. They can be teachers, astronauts, Ninja, superheroes, mothers, fathers, or grandma. Their flight to fantasy takes them into new worlds and new dimensions. They can pretend to be a wild animal or storekeeper, a stoic teacher, a doctor, or a nurse. They rescue lives, save helpless animals, and fall in love with fuzzy toys. Is it no wonder that creative high-tech firms try to emulate them by supporting imagination, creativity, and individuality? The magic of the young represents the discoveries and creations of the ages.
Surely Galileo, Einstein, Michelangelo, Darwin, and da Vinci re-created those precious moments of magical imagination and played when they were allowed the freedom to create. Being playful, spontaneous, open, imaginative, and free are the major characteristics of young children and the geniuses of creation. Encourage your child to continue to be imaginative, creative, open, and spontaneous because, by fourth grade, it is usually squelched. You need not worry about reality, and it comes soon enough. Learning with restrictive free-thinking, pedantic instruction, lacking critical thinking, discouragement of curiosity, forced rigidity, or other painful experiences causes the creative flame to be extinguished. Please remember, it is the child’s play that helps him or her manage their stress and progress to creative excitement, curiosity, and discovery. Support creativity and imagination, encourage it, and most of all, enjoy it while it lasts!
THE GOLDEN RULES OF PARENTHOOD
In reviewing the large volume of saved material, I found two copies from my longtime hero Ann Landers. Both articles referred to her Golden Rules of Parenthood. The one below was dated 1/12/1991, referred to as the original (now, my deep yellow and brittle copy) of the first printing at least twenty years prior. Below are the salient parts of Ann Landers original rules written approximately 44 years ago.
Remember that anger and hostility are natural emotions. Help your child to find socially acceptable outlets for these normal feelings, or they may be turned inward and create or erupt into physical or mental illness.
Discipline your child with firmness and reason. Don’t let your anger throw you off balance. If he knows you were fair, you will not lose his respect or his love. And make sure the punishment fits the ‘crime’.
Present a united front. Never join with your child against your mate. This can create in your child emotional conflicts. It can also create feelings of guilt and insecurity. It promotes manipulative behavior.
Do not give your child everything his little heart desires. Permit him to know the thrill of earning and the joy of achieving. Do not deny him the greatest pleasure of all, the satisfaction that comes with achievement.
Do not set yourself up as the epitome of perfection. This is a difficult role to play 24 hours a day. You will find it easier to communicate with your child if he knows that Mom and Dad can make mistakes, too!
Don’t make threats in anger or impossible promises when you are in a generous mood. Threaten or promise only that which you can live up to. If a child loses faith in his parents, he will have difficulty believing in anything. To a child, a parent’s word means everything. Avoid negative labels!
Do not smother your child with superficial manifestations of “love”. Do not smother your child with gifts and lavish surprises. The purest and healthiest love expresses itself is in day-in, day-out training. Consistency builds self-confidence, trust, and a strong base for character development.
Teach your child there is dignity in hard work, whether it is performed with callused hands that shovel coal or skilled fingers that manipulate surgical instruments.
And, do not try to protect your child against every small blow and disappointment. Allow him to get a few lumps; adversity strengthens character and makes us compassionate. He is bound to have some trouble in his life. Let him learn how to handle it. Trouble is the great equalizer.
Education from parents and school is a child’s lifelines to understanding his/her world. Without them, children experience life’s daily hard knocks and can slowly wither away. The challenges of learning allow children to gradually expand their horizons from their inner family to the very ends of the world. It is the parents’ responsibility to teach by words, stories, shared values, and modeling. These learning moments help youngsters understand their role in society, develop bonding relationships, and gain a moral compass, all critical in a child’s development. The youngster’s initial character is first and foremost molded at home.
It has been very explicit to me that a child learns not only based on his intellectual ability but also to a marked degree on what he and others perceive his or her ability. For example, a student who feels like a failure ends up with the poor grades he predicted he would receive. Soon studying becomes unnecessary because the child believes, “Why should I study for failing?” Children’s behaviors are governed by personal perceptions, which have been inculcated at home, at school, and play. Children learn words like smart, clumsy, cute, ugly, skinny, fat, and so on during childhood. By the tone in which these labels are assigned, they soon develop perceptions of themselves. Fortunately, these perceptions are learned and, as such, can be relearned, changed, or clarified. Please be aware of the labels you choose to use to identify your loved ones. Choosing your words carefully is a very important tool; use them wisely.
The school has an enormous role to play in developing positive associations in academic subjects and bolstering students' positive self-perceptions. Teachers typically make more than 400 decisions a day. They disperse acceptance, rejection, praise, and reproof on a wholesale basis. Except for the home, the school contains the mightiest of all audiences, peers, and teachers, for it is here that the youngster faces his/her most critical test of approval or disapproval. Research is replete with evidence indicating that academic success is enhanced by positive self-perception. They are the hallmarks of valuing oneself and the value of education. Mistakes and academic errors are important and necessary for learning. These errors and mistakes are dealt with by parents, and teachers create either positive or negative associations with learning. Support, encouragement, and success will create positive associations. Teacher and parent feedback welds those associations.
Of course, the schools' most important responsibility is to teach children the basic 3 R’s. Therefore, it is the teacher's responsibility not only to teach the material but also to affect learning positively. Each of us has probably experienced negative feelings due to poor teaching, which “affect our effect” towards the subject being taught, like algebra, history, biology, geometry, physics… We must help our children understand the difference between failure and being a failure. Teaching with love and care excites the child’s curiosity and ignites his willingness to approach more and more learning. This approach provides the sustenance necessary to germinate the seeds of success. Parents and teachers have but a short period of time to spend with their individual children. On his deathbed, Aldous Huxley reportedly said, “Please remind them that time is short.” It doesn’t take long to spark the eternal light of learning or likewise snuff it out. Nor do we have forever to celebrate our children’s mistakes as steps towards growth, not regression.
The major motivation in teaching children should not be wanting them to get more, but rather to become more! Quality always outperforms quantity. Today is a different time in history. Families, schools, stores, jobs, and neighborhoods are all very different than ever before. In many cases, the family has gone from an extended (aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins in close proximity) to a nuclear (mother and father and siblings only) unit. At least one out of two mothers work away from home. One out of five families moves each year. And more than two out of five families end in divorce. Few children know specifically what their parents do; even fewer have ever spent a day watching their parents at work.
GUARANTEEING LEARNING SUCCESS
School success is an important element of life’s journey. Ensuring academic success is critical if confidence and positive associations with school are to be fostered. There is something often forgotten in learning. It is frequently the missing link to successful learning. The key to learning is task selection. Task selection, similar to shoes, should be individualized for a good fit. Classes of 30-40 children make it difficult to individualize learning tasks that fit each student's scalable task. If the task can be successfully scaled, it will be a confidence builder and result in successful learning. This will also prevent boredom for more advanced students and increase motivation for the less advanced.
Choosing the most appropriate learning task is extremely important. Perhaps the easiest way to describe it is to use an example of a physical task. If a child is able to successfully high jump a 3 ft. bar, setting the goal at 3 1/4 ft. is probably a reasonable mark for successful clearance. It’s not only a possible goal, but very achievable. If, instead, the bar is raised to 5 ft., the task is obviously beyond reach and results in failure. Even in the game of professional baseball, the pitcher throws differently to each hitter. It is called an individually defined matchup. When tasks are appropriately selected, failure is averted. Continued failure causes not only the loss of motivation but poor self-confidence.
It would be far better to reach a plateau of learning by successfully achieving tasks, not just once but multiple times. This is what educators call “overlearning”. It will create confidence and ensure a successful base for the next ‘raising of the bar’. Any task that goes beyond the child’s ability results in a discouraging personal failure. Growth, success, and confidence can only be guaranteed by choosing tasks that can be accomplished. Instead of placing artificial standards based on age, grade, or level, starting at known appropriate basal levels will not only guarantee success but will ultimately eliminate failure.
PARENTS’ ROAD TO SUCCESS
After all of the above comments, opinions, and supportive quotes, I always defer to iconic research facts. It is a fact-driven armor parents so desperately need. These early child-rearing guidance facts will buffer and hopefully prevent the turbulence of the teen years from spinning out of control. Below are those invaluable recommendations made by the most comprehensive scientific studies ever conducted. It was begun by Dr. Lewis Terman, psychologist emeritus at Stanford University. His study was the longest longitudinal study ever undertaken in educational research. It continues to be maintained by his students and their students, even after 80 years—the study involved over a thousand intellectually gifted children identified in Northern California.
The reviewers of the study concluded after eight intense decades of data that the most successful came from homes where:
There was lots of love and affection
The parents were better listeners and guided, not pushed their children
The fathers were active, encouraging, and not passive
Education and learning were promoted as extremely important
Children wanted to emulate their parents
The parents were very social and socially minded
Parents strongly supported independence and initiative
Parents promoted self-confidence and self-esteem
Parents assumed success and advanced degrees by their children
Parents read to their children prose, poetry, humor, current events, and fables throughout their school years
Parents allowed for trial and error and expected mistakes
Parents took their youngsters to libraries, museums and had many books, including encyclopedias, dictionaries, Fairy Tales, classics, novels, and other reference books
Parents enjoyed challenging their children with brain teasers.
Parents took them to art galleries, museums, exhibits, and historical sites
Parents enjoyed and supported humor, new words, and riddles
And finally, these parents respected silence by allowing quiet time for their children to think, read, and problem solve. They also went to go to plays, concerts, and various community events.
Admittedly, some parents of these successful children were themselves exceptional. Many of the children in this study became locally or nationally recognized in their appointed fields. The above information is a trove of gold and treasure available for concerned parents to devour and implement in their fashion and their own homes. Heed their findings and employ their tools to help expedite your youngster’s journey. Needless to say, those children who were identified as less successful came from families that didn’t follow the above criteria.
Since this has been such serious stuff, I’d like to finish with some appropriate child and parent humor from unknown authors collected over several decades. And finally, a bit of levity to balance the seriousness and parental responsibility of child-rearing. Enjoy:
“The difference between a high-spirited child and a juvenile delinquent depends on whether it is my child or yours.”
“We spend the first years of our children’s lives teaching them to walk and talk, and the rest of the years to sit down and shut up!”
“Parenthood has two stages: when children ask all the questions, and when they think they know all the answers.”
“I’m sorry,” the youngster said to his friend, “I can’t come out to play right now. I got to stay in and help my dad with my homework.”
“Nothing seems to make a child as destructive as belonging to your neighbor.”
“Parents of teens now understand why some animals eat their young.”
“Be nice to your kids. They will choose your nursing home.”
“If you have a lot of stress and you get a migraine headache, do what it says on the aspirin bottle: TAKE TWO ASPIRIN AND KEEP AWAY FROM CHILDREN.”
“It was never going to be easy; otherwise it wouldn’t have started with something called labor!”
“There are three ways to get something done: do it yourself, employ someone, or forbid your children to do it.” —Monica Crane