There are as many theories about raising children as there are children. Most parents will admit that they had no idea of what raising a child would be like and that someone should write a manual to explain how to do it. Many have. The problem is that there is no one formula for raising children and the “experts” that claim their one size fits all theories cause more problems than they solve. Parenting is a day to day process and has to be mindful, flexible and patient. Parenting has more to do with the individual child than the plans of the parents. What works for one child may not work for their siblings. Many parents successful parent some of their children, but may have a child that runs amok, earning their frustration and ire. One of the biggest problems with any advice for parenting children is that many people just aren’t effective parents. Some people aren’t mature, responsible or skillful enough to have children. Some were neglected, abused or traumatized by their parents, who were neglected, abused or traumatized by their parents. These parents are simply repeating the neglect, abuse and trauma upon their children because they were taught that is the way to parent.
If you are in a culture that accepts neglect, abuse or trauma as proper parenting basically the culture is insane and there is no way to escape the insanity. There is not enough room in this article to fully and deeply explain what works and what is insanity, but I list a few bullet points below. If you are still reading, you probably are one of the sane people who want to raise a successful, happy, fulfilled individual. There is hope. I have successfully raised three children, all of whom were diagnosed with behavioral challenges at some point. However, using the principles I list below, they proved the doctors wrong and are now wonderful adults.
- Children are mirrors. Children learn how and who to be from their parents and family. They learn how to lie, cheat and steal just like their parents. Parents who have situational integrity teach their children the same. If the parents tell “white lies”, the children will learn how to lie. If you call in sick to work and you aren’t, children learn how to lie. If you cheat on your taxes, on your spouse, on your job, your children will be cheaters too. When children misbehave or break the rules, they learned that from watching their parents. Parenting is not for wimps. Parents have to be better and have more integrity if they want their children to be the same.
- Support your children’s dreams, not your dreams for them. My parents only had one dream for me, that I would be a lawyer or in the military. My father was a successful lawyer who graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1945. Life was black or white for him, either you were rich or a soldier. There were no other possibilities. I, on the other hand, had a dream of being an Outward-Bound counselor or some similar pursuit counseling children in the great outdoors. Ironically, I ended up sending both of my sons to SUWS camps, which were for behaviorally challenged youth in the outdoors. My parents on the other hand would have none of that nonsense, they immediately threatened to disinherit me. So much for the carrot and the stick scenario. I ended up with PTSD and a people pleasing complex as well as becoming a lawyer which I thoroughly hated. Parents have no idea how much damage they do when they force their ideas and dreams on their children.
- Patience, patience, patience. Adolescents and teenagers are put on the planet to teach parents patience. It is a period during which they are exploring their personalities and boundaries that society places on them. They will push the envelope, perhaps get in trouble, disrespect their parents and the establishment. Many times, this is just a subconscious desire to get attention from their parents who pretty much ignore them when they don’t do anything wrong. This is called negative attention and adolescents will risk everything to get some attention. So parents need to pay attention to what is going on with their children, including their friends. Do you give them the attention they desire? If they are acting out, do you shame or punish them or try to understand them and get them the help they need? Never give up on your children/adolescents. As I discovered, even the most lost children will grow up and be adults one day if you stand by them and give them the resources they may need to sort out what is becoming a very complicated and confusing world.
- No, you don’t know everything. The saying that “it takes a village to raise a child” is completely true. The problem with today’s society is that parents feel isolated and alone in their efforts to raise a successful child. They may or may not seek advice from their parents or extended family, but we have long forgotten how to bond together as a community to help raise healthy and well-adjusted children. Communities need to take a pro-active stance on helping parents who may not have the resources to raise children. With so many adolescents having children these days, many parents may not have the maturity or experience to be an effective parent. We need to take advantage of our growing elder population and form councils that can help parents raise their children. No, there is no manual for raising children, but the more people that get involved in the process can have an enormous effect on the outcome.
- If you don’t stop you’ll go blind. Professional behaviorists are starting to recognize that social media and the internet is becoming an addiction for our children. They grow up without social skills because they don’t interact with real people anymore. Life has become a parody of itself, and the internet is replacing reality. It is similar to masturbation, for a little bit can be helpful but too much will interfere with your social life and interactions with others. Limit the use of the internet for appropriate purposes and require your children to have real interactions for minimum amounts of time a day. Require physical activity and communication with your children. I love the advertisement for a national internet provider that lets one person disable (“pause”) access to the internet for family time. Unfortunately, lazy parents allow their children unfettered access to the internet and then wonder why their children won’t talk to them.
- Service to others. Probably the biggest gift we can give to our children is to teach them how to serve others. Whether it is working at a homeless shelter, food kitchen, or other charitable projects, we have to teach our children that life is not all about them and that there are substantial emotional rewards for helping others less fortunate than them. I expect that most children will stop whining about what kind of smart phone they want when they are spending time with people who don’t have shoes. When children understand how lucky they are, they generally tend to be more compassionate and empathetic towards others. That is what makes a successful child to me.
Hopefully some of these tips will help you raise a better child. Most parents want to help their children be more successful than they are, but in order to do that we have to follow some simple rules like teaching compassion, empathy, respect and gratitude. You cannot buy your children’s love, you have to earn it.