The complex nature of raising Children
Raising children (the one’s you’ll publically own up to) is probably the most complex job you'll ever have. As a parent you’ll be given advice, whether you ask for it or not, you’ll be praised and you’ll be criticized. What we know for sure is that it can be made easier when the core people in your children’s lives agree on how it’s going to be done.
Whether your baby is still in the womb or they’re already taller than you, it’s not too late to develop strategies that will help you moving forward.
It’s important to remember that children are NOT mini adults. Their brains are not fully developed and they learn every day from their experiences. Knowing they are loved, cared for and safe is a good start. Balancing how you show them they are loved, cared for and safe while enforcing rules and boundaries is where most people find it tricky.
As adults we can have arguments that usually finish with an outcome where one or both parties compromise. We’ve negotiated the compromise and agree on the outcome. Children won’t necessarily understand this process so you have to teach them how to negotiate and compromise. Explain to them what happened so they don’t think that screaming, fighting and rude behaviour will result in them getting their desired outcome.
Remember, you are their first role models. Children need consistency, boundaries and routine, however what works for one child may not work for another. If you have siblings you’re sure to remember a time where one child has complained to a parent that “I was never allowed to do that!”
Children need limits, choices and consequences
Children need rules and limits to help them feel safe. As parents you need to have a clear understanding of what those limits are and appropriate consequences for breaking these limits. Remember, you are the parent therefore you will be making the decisions on important issues that impact on their life. Decision making is an important skill to learn however a child needs to learn this skill so start with little things. When teaching children decision making skills provide clear choices; do you want toast or cereal for breakfast? Don’t be tempted to ask open questions such as ‘what do you want for breakfast?’ Why? What child doesn’t want chocolate or ice-cream for breakfast! If you’re not going to allow them to have ‘whatever they want’ for breakfast, then don’t ask the question. Provide them with two choices that you already approve of.
As they get older, you might give them more choices or get their input into possible choices however it’s important that they know, ultimately, the parent has final approval. When children make poor choices, be sure there are proportionate consequences. It’s important that you don’t ‘rescue’ your children from their poor choices; we learn as much and sometimes more for our poor choices as our good ones. Keep in mind, they are children so they will push the boundaries, break the rules and make poor choices, how you help them learn from these behaviours will determine how they develop as adults; ones who take responsibility for their behaviour or ones who blame others for the things that go wrong.
Mean what you say
Don’t threaten a child with consequences you’re not prepared to or that you can’t follow through on. For example; If you don’t clean your room, I’ll cancel Christmas. Unless you genuinely intend on cancelling Christmas, don’t use it as a threat. As a parent, you are responsible for monitoring any consequences for poor behaviour or choices. Make sure the consequences are punishment for your child and not you! Are you really prepared to deal with a child who is banned from electronic devices for a month? You’re likely to give in after a short period of time so set a consequence that you can follow through on. A weekend of no electronic devices will feel like a month for a child and when the time is up, you can reiterate the reason for the ban encouraging them to make a positive choice in the future. For very young children, even a day can be too long as they are unable to connect the action to the consequence after an extended period of time. This is why ‘time out’ is often recommended as 5 minutes plus one extra minute for each year old they are.
Spend quality time with your Children
You’ll hear the phrase ‘quality time’ being thrown around all the time but what really counts as quality time? It’s quality time if you’re doing something that is of interest and meaning to your child. Reading a bedtime story, playing Lego, teaching them how to score a tennis match, baking a cake, letting them teach you how to play Pokémon or learning the words to their favourite song together (it’s okay, hopefully it’s one you knew when you were a kid!)
The connection is what’s important. Whatever activity you engage in with them, it must have meaning for your child and you must genuinely participate. These moments often provide an opportunity to start conversations, helping you to maintain good communication.
Talk AND Listen
Think about who were the adults you looked up to when you were a child. Did they talk to you about life and what was going on in your world? Most people will identify their mentors or the people who influenced them as people who talked with them but more importantly, these people listened to them.
You don’t have to pretend to know everything. You don’t have to pretend you don’t have a worry in the world. It is important that your child understands that life can be challenging no matter what age you are. Ask about the things that are important to them – friends, school, sport. By talking and listening with your child, you build trust, you show them that you are genuinely interested in them and that they are loved. Start as soon as you can, getting teenagers to open up can be a complex task.
Be honest. It’s important that your child knows they can trust you to be honest with them. If you can’t afford the thing they most want for their birthday, be honest with them. Talk with them about why, this will be easier than working through disappointment when their hopes are dashed. Be honest when your children ask you hard questions (why do people die or where do babies come from etc.) but make sure your answers are age appropriate. Remember, they will be hearing a lot of inaccurate information from unreliable sources throughout their lives. It’s important that they learn they can come to you to get honest and candid answers to tricky or awkward questions.
Children are quick to decide on what they think is unfair. Especially once you have more than one child, try to be balanced. If you have one child who has additional needs, try to set aside some time for your other child/ren to do something special with them. While being part of a family where someone has special needs can assist in the development of a good sense of empathy, each child needs to know they are loved, supported and important. Siblings learn many life lessons from each other and the dynamics within a family. Their sense of justice or fairness can be influenced by their perception of how they fit within the family unit. Having a sibling means learning to share; not just toys and things, but sharing the important people in their lives.