Parenting can be difficult if you are fully concerned with what is going on today—or last week, for that matter. Thinking ahead can make your life smoother and can help your children to become upright and useful citizens. Here are some things you can do to teach your children correct principles:
- When Mary Drops the Peanut Butter. Spanking or screaming at Mary when she drops the peanut butter on the floor is not nurturing. It’s like the old adage; Don’t cry over spilt milk. Your child is upset enough after an accident and spanking or speaking loudly to Mary will just make you both unhappy. The best way to handle the situation is to say, "Whoops!" Then help Mary clean up the mess and tell her that there is a second jar of peanut butter in the pantry. (What, you don’t keep a second jar of peanut butter?!) When something like this happens, it may startle you. If you are having other problems, you may take the accident as an excuse to vent your spleen. Take a deep breath and say, "Whoops!"
- When Billy Hits Nancy. If Billy hits his sister, Nancy, with his Nerf® bat, you, the parent, have two problems:
- You need to correct Billy.
- You need to comfort Nancy.
The best way to approach the situation is to first comfort Nancy. You will be tempted to ban Billy to Siberia. Let that come later. After things have calmed down, take care of Billy.
- You Are a Parent, Not the Grand Executioner. Do not use Spanish Inquisition techniques to determine why Billy hit Nancy but sit down with him and ask him to explain why he did it. He may say, "She took my Whiffle® ball" or "She hit me first!" You might ask Billy if he is going to hit his sister again. If he says, "yes," tell him the consequences. You might say, "If you hit your sister again, I will have to do something to correct you." Billy will wonder what you are planning to do to him if he screws up again. Let him stew a bit then say something like, "You know how you like Oreos®? " If he doesn’t answer, say, "Well, you do like Oreos®, don’t’ you?" After Billy ponders that, say, "No more Oreos® in this house—at least not for you." If Billy says that he is not going to hit his sister again, tell him that you are proud of him for saying that. Explain that hitting others does not solve problems. It only creates them. Give him an example if you can think of one: Cain hit Able and the blow killed him. The point is that we need to give children a chance to explain things. We need to take bad behavioral episodes as an opportunity to teach correct principles.
- Give Your Older Kids a Chance to Make Mistakes. When I was teaching engineering at Iowa State University, I often visited high schools to talk to students about a career in engineering. I went to a private high school and told the principal of the atrocious behavior of the students when they visited the University during Engineering Week. I also knew that there was a large amount of vandalism near the high school. The high school was operated under a very strict set of rules. There was no talking in the halls, the students had to dress in a certain way and there was no laughter that I could hear. I told the principal that when children are not allowed to make mistakes, there is little opportunity to correct them. I’m not saying that the school’s rules were bad. There just weren’t enough activities that allowed the kids to cut loose under adult supervision.
That is what I like about scouting and other church and community activities for youth. The kids can let their hair down and have some fun. When they do make an error in judgment or show self-destructive behavior, they can be taught correct behavior and judgment by their leaders. I told the principal of the private school that when you don’t allow children enough freedom to make mistakes at school, they become "terrorist" outside the school. In the case of his school, that resulted in disgusting, destructive, improper behavior. The principal was a very good listener. I hope he was able to help his students. I hope that you can help your children to overcome simple problems so that when they are older, they can solve more complex problems.
- There Is No Reason to Treat a Little Child as an Adult. I waited until my children turned 16-years-old before I treated them as free adults, allowing them to make their own decisions. I felt it important that before children leave home, they should be able to solve their own problems. At home, they could always get help if they needed it. I though it good training for adulthood. The reason I chose age 16 is that’s when the human brain matures.
- Parents Often Correct Their Children the Same Way That Their Parents Corrected Them. If you are in this category, then determine if that is the best way to treat your children. It may well be. Look how you turned out and decide accordingly.
- Spend Time with Each Child Everyday. In this work-a-day world, parents rush from home to school, school to work, work to school, home to church, and on and on and on. The demands on children are high and the demands on parents are high. Off you go to the soccer game, to Little League, to the mall, to the pizza parlor, to a church youth activity. Is that all bad? Not if you are with your children. If you can remain calm, cool, and collected, you can find these times enjoyable, not burdensome. Your tiny children may not have as many demands as your older children. You should not neglect the younger ones, should you? The answer is "no." You should spend individual time with the little ones. One good activity is to let them read to you. You should read to them too. A good activity is to play games with your children. Games are good for the mind and they are usually fun.
In Iowa, we sometimes got snowed in for a week or more. There we were—with four of our children—trapped in the house. My wife said, "What are we going to do? The kids will drive us crazy." I told he that we would abandon all house rules, let the kids go to bed when they wanted to (or fell asleep on the floor), and that we would get on the floor and play with them—becoming kids ourselves. I don’t know how many games of Monopoly® we played, but when we moved to the Atlantic City area, we already knew the names of the streets. After four or five days, we could walk through the snow tunnels to the grocery store and the entrapment was over.
- Don’t Feel That Raising Children is a Parental Trap. Raising children can be tough. My son and his wife have thirteen (13) children. Nine (9) are adopted. They come in three colors, black, brown, and white. In my son’s family, you can see all of the ages of child development at the same time. The youngest is just beginning to read. She calls herself "Bob." A couple of years ago, she announced, "My name Is Bob!" She and her older sister (who reads college level), half-sisters in fact, dress up in adult clothes and practice being adults. The younger boys are in scouting and cub scouting. The four teenage girls are busy with their music and church activities. Two older girls are now at college. The oldest son is working in a good product factory during the harvest season. I visit my grandkids just about everyday. I give them a hug and they tell me what they are doing. They are home-schooled, so they may be doing schoolwork.
Their mother is a genius at raising kids. She is very adult, does not scream or yell at them, but may have a wayward one perch on a stool to think over his or her behavior. There is never any abuse. The kids are used to working, doing much of the cooking and household chores, and taking care of the yard and garden. There is a schedule so the work gets done without too much supervision. You would think that to some parents, raising so many children would become drudgery. It is fortunately not that way at my son’s house. It is a joy to be there. That is why I’m there almost every day.
The potential of each child is always under evaluation. What can this child do now to make him or her successful in later life? In Part II, we will discuss ways to prepare your children for adulthood. In Part III, we will discuss special situations such as child illness and behavioral problems.