Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Parenting the Healthy Child

You may notice that the title say 'Parenting THE Healthy Child', which is much different than parenting a child with disabilities or other difficulties that make the experience much more specialized. Every child is different, much like a snowflake, and as any parent who raises a large family will tell you, even if they come from the same two parents, children raised in identical living conditions often have very different personalities, needs, emotions, interest and talents. It is important that you as a parent don't try to fit your child into a mold you create, you have to figure out what your child needs from you to grow into a healthy adult, one with good judgment, good morals and ethics, social skills, education, goals and self-esteem. That's a huge responsibility to carry for just one child, so having more makes your job even harder.

I want to stress that when you decided to become a mother or father, you basically decided to accept a job for life. You may be saying in your head that 'oh, it wasn't a decision, it just happened', but unless the Archangel came down from heaven and told you that your child was the next Christ, you had sex, or invitro, or in some way exchanged bodily fluids containing sperm that reached an egg and a child was conceived. This may not be a paying job, but it is the most important one you will EVER have. If you screw this up, you could be raising the next Jeffrey Dahmer, or if you do it right, the next Nobel Prize winner...a child's upbringing and parental guidance has everything to do with who they will be as adults. Inmates on death row ALL suffered abusive childhoods, most so horrific that they cannot attach normally to other people with love, empathy or understanding simply because they never received it during their formative years. Criminals convicted of violent crimes report abuse of physical, emotional and sexual nature in childhood and teenage years from family members, as well as lack of fathers in the home. They also state that their parents abused one another physically, and education was never a priority in the home.

So there are a few facts about how important you as a parent are to the future of your child. It is YOUR job to give them what they need to excel in this world and not end up in a jail cell, or on the pipe or the pole. You may live in a beautiful home, have a good income, but work all the time and leave the raising of your children to the television and school, because you are interested in YOUR social life and YOUR career more than the nurturing of your children and it's easier to buy toys and electronics to entertain your children than it is to sit down every night and have a family dinner, see they do their homework and check it, and talk to them face-to-face for a while before bedtime each night to see how their day went. Those are the children who sneak out at night and get high with their friends...they have plenty of cash from their allowance and are bored, and really think you don't care so why not, right? These are the kids who go to college, maybe, but while you pay the bill for their tuition they are barely passing and spending the night hopping from bed to bed trying to find someone to love them because they don't know what real love is, and have no self worth. These are also the kinds of girls who attach themselves to older men because they are looking for a 'daddy' figure, and sometimes get abused or put into the strip clubs to earn ready cash. These are the sons who become addicts to forget the pain of not having any feeling of direction or worth in this world and become lost in a haze of smoke, pills and needles.

OK, if I've given you a bit of a shock, good. I don't think anyone looks at their pregnant wife and thinks 'I'm going to be a terrible father' or rubs lotion onto their stretching stomach and thinks that their child will one day grow up to be an addict or worse. What happens is parents get lost, they lose control and forget everything they know about parenting and start REACTING to their children instead of ACTING the part of a parent.

When my daughter was born, there were several pieces of advice that were given to me by the women of my family that actually made a lot of sense. My aunt told me 'If you don't have control by the time she's two, you've lost. Start out right and stay logical and sensible and she will always love and respect you, no matter what she says.' That certainly was a wonderful piece of advice to have. I didn't really understand it at the time, but as my daughter grew, I found that if I said 'Don't touch that' in a normal tone, and she asked 'Why?' I would take the time to tell her. If it was breakable and special, I would tell her about it, that it was delicate and not a toy, and that it was something just to look at but not to touch, and where it came from. I made sure to tell her she could look at it as much as she liked, but just not to touch it because it might get broken and that would make me sad because then it would be gone forever. If something was dangerous, like the toaster on the kitchen table, I explained that fingers did not go in the openings, that it would burn her little fingers and make blisters that would hurt and she would cry and I would cry too, because I never wanted her to be hurt! I did not 'baby talk' her, when she was a year old, she understood what I was saying perfectly fine and I did not have to put away things to keep her from getting into them. By taking time to explain things to her, she was able to respect that there were things she could do and not do in our home. She was not to run in the house...why? Because if she fell, there were sharp edges to coffee tables and end tables and chairs and she could really hurt herself, so running was for outside in the yard. Why did we have 'outside voices' and 'inside voices'? Because inside we like things quieter and it's nicer for everyone if we aren't loud and noisy inside, but outside is for hollering and yelling and running! Talking logically and reasonably made things sensible to her, even at a young age, and as she got older it became much easier to discipline her by using logic and talk than some crazy punishment.

What do you do if your child just isn't listening, though? Turn OFF the television, take them into a quiet room and put them in their own chair and you sit in your chair and let them hold a stuffed animal or a pillow and say 'let's talk about this'. If their attention span is short, you may have to keep removing the distractions until they are able to focus on your words. You can put your message into a story they can understand, or use their stuffed animals to do the talking, but you have to get their attention one way or another. Let them be a part of the conversation, don't just lecture to them, that is the quickest way to lose their attention or blank out. Have a favorite animal say or do something relating to whatever they have done that needs correction, then ask your child what their toy did wrong. Ask them why they think their toy would do something like that, then ask them what the 'mommy' or 'daddy' toy should do to teach the misbehaving toy not to do that again. Ask your child if the misbehaving toy loves the parent toy. Ask if they did it because he/she was maybe mad, or sad, or just feeling grumpy. Then ask if they think the parent doll loves the naughty toy. If they answer anything but yes, you should correct that by saying 'Mommys and Daddys always love their children no matter what, but sometimes they don't like the things their children do and it makes them sad and disappointed.' A child's best motivation for good behavior is approval, not the fear of spanking, time-outs or losing toys and privileges They would much rather have you be happy with them and be totally secure in being loved and in your good graces than anything in the world. Yes, even teenagers do although they won't admit it!

So take the time, no matter how busy you may be, to talk to your child when things arise. No problem is too small to warrant a good conversation, and look at it this are getting to spend quality time shaping that little bundle of love into a better person!

The second piece of advice given to me that I found to be worth more than gold came from my grandmother. She is an amazing woman, had raised three children of her own, and was grandmother to seven of us. We all adored her and even now at age ninety has a mind as sharp as a tack! We were talking the other day about my childhood, and she was recounting memories she had of me to my fiance. She told him about my many shenanigans and how I loved to work along with everyone on the farm, unlike the other grandkids, and how I always was trying new things. Then she reiterated to him something she said to me when my daughter was born. 'You have to let children try new things, whether it's painting the fence, cooking, mowing the yard on the riding lawnmower, or climbing up high in the barn looking for eggs. If they don't try new things and take chances, they will never learn to be brave and not fear life.' That brought back memories from my long summers staying at her house with my grandfather, and I knew the times she was talking about. I was DYING to mow the yard on the new riding lawnmower, but she didn't know if I could do it alone, so she let me mow, but she walked beside me every step of the way, all over that two acre lawn. I had learned to bake biscuits from scratch from my other grandmother and was wanting to show her I knew how to do it (I was thirteen), but she didn't know if I would hurt myself on the hot stove, so she watched me like a hawk to make sure I didn't get hurt and then said I'd made the best biscuits she'd ever eaten! Then there was the time I thought there was a nest up in the tobacco barn, and wanted to climb the fifty feet up through the hanging tobacco and stacked hay to see if it indeed was there, and she didn't stop me! There she was, every bit of sixty years old, climbing up there with me to make sure I didn't fall and kill myself, and when we did indeed find that nest, she took off her shirt and we carried all those eggs down cradled in her blouse, her wearing nothing but her Playtex bra back to the farmhouse! Yes, I made messes, but we cleaned them up and I learned. I painted miles of wooden fence and came in covered in white paint looking like something out of a ghost story, but I got scrubbed off eventually. As for those eggs, we ate half of them and hatched half, and they were awesome looking Rhode Island Reds!Those were amazing times, not just because of the time I spent with my grandmother, but because I learned life lessons that are still with me to this day. I learned to never be afraid to try new things, but to be aware and careful not to get hurt in the process, and I learned beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was indeed loved!

I let my daughter follow her dreams, but I supervised just like my grandmother had me. When she wanted to dance I didn't just drop her off, I sat and watched and worked on business paperwork while she practiced. When she wanted to audition to perform with the Moscow Ballet for their performance, I got her ready for the auditions, held her hand before, then while we waited for the announcement, and celebrated when she got the role. I attended every rehearsal and performance, so proud I could burst! When she wanted to cut her hair shoulder length from the long beautiful blond style that reached halfway down her back, it nearly broke my heart, but it was her hair and I made the appointment with my hair dresser.Some things I said no to, like when she wanted to put ten holes in her ears at age ten, but when she wanted purple hair that summer, I went and got the tube of color and I must say she certainly was easy to spot in the pool that year!

These were positive things that you may be thinking 'Oh, that's no big deal, I'd let my child do that', but when you look at the fact that I had to rush home from work every day to get her quickly, make sure her dance bag was packed the night before with rehearsal clothing, snack, water bottles, proper shoes, hair ties, and all the other necessities, and then sit during the hours long practices working on business proposals while sitting on a concrete floor with a briefcase of papers on one side, laptop on my lap and notebook on the other, all while trying to look like I'm being attentive when it was time for my child to do her part, it was no easy feat. My job supported us, I was divorced at the time and managing a media company and my job did not end at five. But my job that gave me a check was only one of my responsibilities, my other job and the one I considered equally important was that of raising my child the best I could. If your child is interested in something, anything at all, you need to learn about it and encourage them in their pursuit of their goals. Children try all sorts of different things, and sometimes you may have absolutely no interest in what they find fascinating, or it may be something you doesn't matter one way or another, whether you love or hate their hobby, you better learn to love it because it is important to your child!!! You love them, so you better learn to be supportive! Too many parents want to relive their own dreams through their children, and all that does is make the kids miserable or even worse, like take a talent they may have gravitated to naturally and make it out of the question simply out of rebellion! Offer options to your child whenever possible, such as when after-school activities begin in the fall or spring, take the time to go over the list and see what might appeal to your child. Local community centers and recreational facilities regularly offer programs for youths and teens, so be sure to have an open mind to different types of programs they also have. Never discourage your child from trying anything new, no matter what stereotype you may have in your head! Remember, today's kids don't feel the same boundaries that were in place twenty years ago, boys who take dance and ballet are not labeled any more than girls who want to participate in chess or football. Gender boundaries are disappearing, and it is a wonderful thing! Don't force your child into things 'for their own good' but encourage them to give new things a shot if they seem to have a talent or interest. Go easy, though, because if you push kids, they have a tendency to push back.

OK, so you have the talking instead of yelling down, the encouraging your child to be free to express themselves in various activities, but what do you do about discipline and respect when your child refuses to do what they are told? What happens when your kid suddenly does a turnaround in front of the visiting family and his head spins and green pea soup stars spewing? Your first reaction is of course horror, then anger, then embarrassment...and if you were a parent twenty years ago you might have reached for the belt! Eh, but now that will get a call from Child Protective Services, and a lot of hullaballoo, so what do you do when your normally sweet little girl goes insane and throws her cellphone at you and tells you she hates you?

First off, as hard as it is going to be, please remember you are the adult in the situation and going ballistic is not going to get you anywhere. Your child is doing this for a reason, either to manipulate you, act out due to something else going on in her life, or anger. Unless there are mental problems (and this is not the time to go into those just yet...remember what I said earlier about this being about parenting the healthy child), your child is acting out as a symptom of a problem. The acting out and being a pain in the butt is not the actual problem, even though it certainly is annoying and can leave you wanting to wring their necks!

The first thing to do is walk him or her to their room. Take the phone, laptop, keyboard to the desktop computer and any means of communicating to others away for the time being. Turn the TV off and take the remote or in some way make it impossible to turn on. They need a 'time out' just like when they were two. Give them an hour of silence, without you yelling at them, or discussing it with the family or anyone. You stay calm and tell them that they are to stay in their room, calm down, and when that time is up, and they are rational and in a better condition to discuss things both of you parents will be in there to talk about the misbehavior.

Let me preface this by saying that the rule for time-outs that used to be in place, where you sit a child in a chair for the number of minutes equal to their age is not recommended anymore. It causes shame and humiliation, and in the end is not effective. Spanking doesn't do any good, in fact there were times when my mother would talk to my brother and me about us getting into trouble and we would actually say 'Could you just spank us and get it over with?' A spanking doesn't do anything but hurt for a while physically, leave a child hurt emotionally and distance them emotionally from you. How would you feel if someone you love hit you because you made a mistake? Well, children feel the same way, and you need to keep that in mind. Plenty of parents say 'my parents spanked me and I turned out ok', but think how much better your childhood would have been and what a better relationship you would have had then and now if you hadn't suffered physical pain at the hands of your parents? So when dealing with smaller children, say under the age of five, don't give time-outs by putting them in a chair in the corner for a specific amount of time. It is better to call it a 'cooling down period' and taking them to a room where there are no distractions, with a stuffed animal to cuddle, maybe a blanket and a soft chair or sofa where they can calm down and relax for a bit until they are ready to have a talk with you.

That time out is going to give them breathing room. You have no idea what is happening inside them at this point, they may be having problems with friends, in school, with a teacher, or any number of things, but this cool-down period will give them time to settle down and get a grip on their emotions. It will also give you the parents time to not overreact and handle this calmly and logically. When the time comes, both parents need to knock on the child's door and ask permission to enter. This goes for four-year olds as well as seventeen-year olds. You have to give them some respect so they learn how to give you respect, and knocking on their door and asking if you can enter shows respect for them. If there are two chairs in addition to the bed to sit on, then you can have the talk in the bedroom, otherwise go to a family room or the home office, wherever there is privacy from everyone else and it is comfortable. It should never be intimidating to talk to you parents. Your child should feel you are ON THEIR SIDE, not the enemy!

Start out easy, with natural voices, no shouting, and no accusations. You need to find out from your child what caused the outburst and how to work together as a family to resolve what is causing your child to act out in this manner, not go in with guns blazing. That will make them clam up and tell you nothing and probably exacerbate the problem. You want your child to trust you, but you have to earn their trust, and that means caring, really caring about what they have to say. So you need to listen, just shut up and listen. Let them get it all out, if they have to rant, cry, yell, accuse, or sometimes call one of their friends or enemies bad names, just sit there and don't judge. Then when they have vented, you need to let you kid know they aren't alone, you were their age once and even though it's been a while you understand their feelings. You should discuss how to handle emotions, positive solutions to their problems, how to work with what they have so they don't have these types of outbursts. Children don't scream and act out at their parents for no reason, they do it to get their parents to pay attention to them as a last resort. So listen to your children and be the parent they need you to be. And don't take away their things for being honest with you...if you punish them for opening up, you defeat the whole purpose and they will never tell you anything again for fear of losing privileges or phones or whatever. Reward them for being honest instead, and hug them and tell them to come to you when things get to be too much.

If you don't like the way your child is turning out, you need to look at yourself and how you are doing as a parent. Don't try to blame it on the school, don't blame it on other people...they are your kid and you are the number one person in their life. If you think their friends are bad influences, then you need to figure out a way to change who they hang out with, or better yet, keep them from running around unsupervised. If you think the school needs to do a better job educating your child, how about sitting down at night and doing homework with them and seeing exactly what they are or aren't learning? It is YOUR responsibility to be proactive in raising your child, and you can either do the job and do it right, setting a good example for them to follow and teaching them how to live in this world, or you can throw your hands up and pretend that all you need to do is see they have cool sneakers on and food on the table and pretend your job is done. It is up to you.

If you have questions about specific issues you're having with your child, I am always happy to work with parents interested in raising great kids! So send in your comments and I will answer them either privately, or if you like as the subject of a parenting post! Thank you all for your time and I hope you all found support and strength in this. Remember there are no perfect parents or children, but there certainly are some amazing ones! Make it your goal to be an amazing Mom or Dad!!! That's where those amazing kids come from!!!!

Good luck, and May God Be with Everyone Blessed with Raising Children, Their Own By Birth, or Blessed by Adoption, or Grandparents who are Parents the Second Time Around! Love to All!!!
Dr. Beth

No comments:

Post a Comment