Listen to Al as you read along
Question: My wife and I have recently given birth to our first child. We are clueless about what it takes to be a good parent. We really love our baby and want to give her a good start in life. Can you give us some general advice about parenting?
Love and Legacy
Everyone who is relatively normal and not mentally ill, loves their children. Our children come out of us, are part of us, look and act like us. They are our legacy that we leave in the world and for the world’s benefit. Raising them and parenting them is the most difficult and yet most important project we are given in our lives. Parenting requires more patience, long-term than any other project except for marriage. This article will touch just a few basic ideas that might help you be a better parent to the children you love so much.
Raising healthy children that are able to become adults and handle adult responsibilities, requires that parents think and act along the following lines. Children need an authority to draw clear boundaries, they need attentive parents that will protect them from the world, they need informed parents that will train them to take responsibility and they need healthy parents who can set a good example of how good people live.
Authority and Boundaries
The first suggestion is to think of yourself as an authority figure that must determine and enforce good boundaries for your children. It is hard to see our children suffer and often difficult to remain firm because we want our kids to love us and like us as friends. It is imperative that children see you in charge rather than as an equal or a friend. Children must have healthy boundaries and parents are the only ones who have the position and power to draw and enforce good boundaries. Boundaries are lines of good and acceptable behavior that when children are forced to observe, will become habitual behaviors over time. Kids will not naturally comply with boundaries and parental enforcement will be required to insure that they develop good habits and good behaviors. These habitual behaviors will be needed when they become adults and have to face the difficulties of adult life.
Enforcement of boundaries (rules) must be done with patience, consistency and without anger. Discipline without anger corrects bad behavior but doesn’t attack their person. Parental anger causes a child to believe that they are bad, not only their behavior. Children want what they want and will naturally violate boundaries that hinder them getting what they want. Violations are the norm and are to be expected. One mistake that parents often make is to allow rule violations to surprise them and motivate anger and then they discipline with anger. Another mistake is to make children feel guilty about crossing the lines. This causes children to feel guilt about what they want in life and they learn habitual guilt which is an ineffective means of self-discipline. Children need patient parents that draw and enforce firm boundaries so that they can learn good habits of behavior.
The second idea to help parents is to pay close attention to the outside forces that come into contact with your children. Clear boundaries not only teach behavior but they provide protection. There are many in our world who will take advantage of the innocent and even hurt them in permanent ways. Children naturally trust others and without parental oversight can get themselves into trouble. Children are also very curious about adult experiences and will seek ways to enter into adult situations way before they are ready. These experiences can push them forward into adult life before their hearts are ready, resulting in extreme feelings of guilt and shame. For example, people who experience sex as children will have a permanent sexual fixation even in adult life and their sexual life will be distorted in their marriage. Children who are damaged early in life have a difficult time healing as adults. They spend a great deal of their adult life trying to recover from damage, rather than use their adulthood to enjoy and contribute to their world. Over zealous protection of your children is an overage that will pay great dividends in protecting them far more than it might hurt them. Protect your children by knowing where they are, who they are with and what they are doing every moment of their childhood so that they can enter into adult life as healthy people.
Thirdly, Children come into the world knowing nothing and have to be trained and educated. Training involves both teaching them knowledge and forcing them to adopt habitual behaviors. Children need to learn about relating to others in productive ways, how to take care of their minds and bodies, their role in their society and history and many other areas of knowledge. Parents who love their children invest the time and energy that is required to train them for life. Parents start out in the child’s life as their natural teachers because their children trust them and parents are with them every day. Many life decisions revolve around training our children. We often decide where to live based on school systems, our adult friends often come from our children’s friends and much of our activities are built around their sports and academic activities. The better the training a child receives, the more opportunities they have as adults.
Examples to Follow
Fourth, children learn what they are taught but they imitate the behavior they see in their adult caregivers. That which most influences a child is the beliefs and behaviors of the adults in their lives. Children are natural mimics who are consistently looking for someone to imitate. As children progress along the stages of development, they look for people they think are successful and popular. The purpose is to imitate the behaviors of those who are enjoying success. They will take on personality traits, ways of expression, beliefs and ideas and even the way someone walks and talks. The primary example children imitate is their parents, especially the parent of the same gender. They will draw traits from both parents but more from the parent that shares their gender.
It is important that parents become genuinely healthy within themselves and demonstrate healthy behavior for their children to follow. Genuineness is important because with kids, you can’t fake good behavior while you are really unhealthy within. Children can sense hypocrisy, are offended by it and will react negatively to it. As you grow as an individual and practice integrity, honesty, kindness and loving behaviors, your children will be proud of you and follow your parental examples.
My final suggestion is one that I use in my own life to keep me on a positive track. I believe in God and trust what God has said in the bible to help me see a positive future. If you have found God for yourself or think it is time for you to make things right with God, there are links in this website that discuss how to go about entering a relationship with God. My prayers are with you.
Parenting with Anger & The Angry Dad