At one time or another, nearly every parent says, “I wish my children came with a set of instructions!” While none of us can claim to have all the answers, I’ve given a lot of thought to some of the basic rules for raising healthy children. So, I submit for your consideration a simple “Top Ten” list of ways to be great parents.
1. PROVIDE FOR PHYSICAL NEEDS – Growing children need healthy diets, adequate clothing, and quality health care. And they need protection from harm – from “small stuff” like sunburn or too much junk food to real dangers like careless driving or access to alcohol or drugs.
2. BE THERE FOR THEM – When your kids talk to you, face them and really listen. Turn off the TV if you have to. As much as possible, attend Little League games, school conferences or band concerts. Your presence, attention, and availability mean so much!
3. GIVE THEM “ROOTS AND WINGS” – Children need to try new things. You may think an idea they have will bomb, but they need the opportunity to try, and to learn from the experience. Supportive family “roots” will soften the fall or give them a stable place to land. You might be surprised how many times they succeed!
4. BALANCE INDIVIDUALITY WITH ABSOLUTES – Each child is unique, and not necessarily a clone of you. Celebrate individual strengths and try to see life from your child’s perspective, showing respect for their personal preferences and fears. At the same time, you must operate from the strength of your convictions. Children need security of unmovable boundaries and guidelines for behavior. It’s okay to prefer playing the violin to playing baseball, but it’s not okay to treat others with disrespect.
5. HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE – Children want to do what’s right and be accepted. If they have done wrong, encourage them to make amends. They might repair or replace a broken object, write an apology, or perform community service. This restores their self-respect.
6. ADMIT WHEN YOU’RE WRONG – Let’s face it, as parents we do make mistakes, and our kids can see it, whether we admit it or not. If we’re willing to say, “I blew it – I’m sorry,” the child learns that the relationship is more important than maintaining the upper hand. It gives them the freedom to admit their mistakes as well. Facing the truth is a key to good emotional health!
7. LOVE YOUR SPOUSE – Children whose parents’ marriage is stable are far more secure than those who are wondering if their world is about to blow apart. If you want your children to have happy marriages, they need to see you weather the storms with a commitment that supercedes your personal comfort or happiness. Believe it or not, your children will be happier if you put your spouse first and them second. If you are divorced, do your best to maintain a respectful relationship with the child’s other parent.
8. PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH – Actions speak louder than words. If you tell your kids not to lie and then say, “Tell him I’m not home” when a salesman calls, or if you tell them to respect their teachers while badmouthing your boss, don’t expect good behavior reports at school conference time! And don’t drop them off at church – go with them!
9. DEMONSTRATE A LOVE OF LEARNING – If you read for enjoyment and self-improvement, your children are more likely to enjoy learning. Discuss new ideas with them to stimulate analytical thinking. Test ideas against what you know is right, and help your children reach conclusions for themselves.
10. NEVER GIVE UP ON THEM! – As our children grow up, some of them will make us proud and satisfied that we have done a good job. Others may make us wonder if we did anything right at all. The time comes when we have to back off and let them make their own decisions and mistakes. But we must never stop loving them and encouraging them to be the best they can be.
Live, Work and Relate Well!
Dr. Todd is a licensed psychologist, executive coach, published author, and national conference and seminar speaker. He has been a featured expert on national and local radio talk shows and television news programs.