Raising children is one of the most daunting tasks an adult can face. They each come with their own personalities, abilities, and challenges. I have twins, and this has taught me very quickly that regardless of how they come, they are each so different. They learn differently, they love differently, they think differently. That is why raising kids is so difficult. The applications change depending on which child we are dealing with.
My mom used to send me to my room when I had done something wrong. For my brothers who were constantly moving and wanting to be outside, that was a very effective consequence. For me, I loved it! I would go in my room and snuggle up with a good book. My mom didn’t realize this until later when I told her exactly what I did. Although the rules were the same, the application for my brothers didn’t work for me.
There are a few things that are constant to nearly all children. These following things, I believe, are universally key to raising healthy and happy kids.
1. Offer healthy foods and outlets for physical exercise. Having dinner together (and/or other meals) is so important in developing healthy, happy children. Family meals are so important that it deserves an entire post, which I hope to get to soon. Scheduling meals and offering healthy choices are important for children to have enough energy to be happier. Filling them with sugars, unnecessary snacks, and sodas or sugary drinks will lead to the “crash”that we have all experienced with children. Not only is healthy food needed for physical well-being, but healthy options are necessary for emotional well-being. Children get grumpy, irritable, angry, and frustrated when not they are not getting the food and exercise they need. Sound familiar?
2. One-on-one time. Spending time with each child shows that we care, that we know who they are and that we are willing to sacrifice for them. It is easier to plan family time or couple time, but children need one-on-one time. They need to be known as individuals. Parents have to be creative to find this one-on-one time. I know it. It can be done while driving one to an appointment or school function. It can be when you tuck them in at night. It can be planned into your week as reading time or game time. It can be sitting down and playing a video game together. Make sure you truly are finding time with your child to know them, their heart, their friends, and their hurts.
3. Tuck them in at night. Give your children the opportunity to give you hugs, kisses and show your love. Tucking them in at night is also a great way to reinforce a safe environment and finish the day together. Although this is typically when a parent is most tired, these continued experiences, to say goodnight, read a book together, and show affection are positive reinforcement for parent and child. Review the good things that happened during the day and end the day on a positive note. Even teenagers can use a goodnight and check in about their day. Let them know that you are there, you are interested, and you love them.
4. Show your love. Regardless of their age, children need to know they are loved. As babies, toddlers, and children, we can do this through lots of hugs and kisses. Holding, cuddling, and affection are necessary and needed for children to feel loved. Teenagers still need to know they are loved, but may pull away from physical affection. This is normal, as they are exerting their independence. You can show your love by actions: doing things, saying “I love you”, and serving. One mom does this by having her teenager’s favorite food in the fridge all the time. Never take “loving” for granted. Let them know every day of your love and concern for them.
5. Let them play, outside. One of the recent changes in childhood is the loss of free play time. We have a lot of structured play: sports, dance, lessons, etc. Children need unstructured play. This is where they use their imagination, develop their likes and dislikes, and learn their own strengths. It helps their brain development, and actually teaches them to problem solve on their own. We live in a media-heavy world. If we allow it, our children may never go outside as they watch tv, play video games, and become consumed by other media. Be sure to encourage free play time, and put time in your schedule for this.
6. Discipline. Children need to know that there are rules, and how they will be enforced. This helps children feel safe and secure in their home and know what to expect. American parents are some of the most lenient of any in the world. It is necessary to teach children about rules, consequences, and boundaries. By doing this, we protect our children, teach them right from wrong, and help them become moral agents for themselves. If I had to break down discipline into three steps, here would be what I found works (even if I am not always the best at application. We are all learning 🙂 ):
1. Know your rules (keep it fairly simple). Make sure your children know the rules and the consequences ahead of time.
2. Be consistent. If you tell your kids bedtime is 8:00pm, and every night you are just getting ready at 8:30, then they will realize that you aren’t serious about that rule. Be consistent.
3. Enforce the consequences/rewards. Don’t change the consequences midway through. This goes with consistency. If you tell your child they can’t go to the birthday party if they don’t clean their room, and then give in and allow them to go, don’t be surprised when they don’t take the rules seriously. We must be consistent if we want our children to follow through.
7. Be involved in their school/extracurricular activities. Much of our children’s day is taken up by school and extracurricular activities. When we are able to be there and show support for our children in this environment, we learn a lot about them. We learn how they interact with other authority figures, what kind of friends they choose, and how they respond to life outside of our home. Our presence in this environment also shows support and interest in them and their activities. Whether this is volunteering at their school, attending extracurricular activities, or being involved in community groups that support schools, we can be a presence in our children’s lives.
8. Have a schedule. Kids love to know what is coming so they can be prepared. They love a schedule. They will not necessarily ask for it, or plan it themselves, but they like knowing that there is a plan. This gives them a sense of control and meaning. Although we all need some flexibility, we also need to let our children know we are in control of our own lives. Having regular meals, bedtimes, and other routines help children learn, develop appropriate boundaries, and develop greater self-control.
9. Listen to them. Children need to be heard. Ever wonder why one child will say something over and over and over until you respond. This is because they need to be heard. Be careful, if you don’t listen now, the time will come sooner than you realize that they won’t talk to you at all. Teenagers need a listening ear. Often, parents get so into “telling” them what to do that they forget to listen to what is going on in their lives. We all like to be heard. Listen to your children.
10. Give them opportunities to make their own decisions and succeed or fail. As a classified helicopter parent, this is a difficult task. I want to swoop in and save them from hurt, but if I don’t allow my children to make their own choices and see the consequences, I am crippling them for the future. Children who have opportunities to choose and see the results of their choices have better self-esteem and greater independence. It also helps them feel pride in the results and have confidence that they can do hard things.
Parenting is such a difficult task. I know I am far from a perfect parent. I make mistakes every day. I get tired, frustrated, and overwhelmed. But, I know that I love being a parent and I wouldn’t trade it. The joys I get from my children are enormous. The sudden hugs from behind, the little fingers reaching for mine, the wet whispers about “secrets” – these I wouldn’t trade for the world.
I hope each of you can find some things here that can help.
Here are some additional articles:
Let me know what works for your children! Love to hear your responses.