主题: Growing up

Growing up – how to give your children a good start in life
Written by Christine Webber, psychotherapist

ShareBringing up a child
Bringing up a child is one of the most difficult responsibilities an adult can have. Yet it is the job for which we have had the least formal training.

Recent tragic news reports have made it clear that a lot of people have babies when they haven’t a clue about how to care for a child.

Most people acquire knowledge about child rearing from the people around them or from their own upbringing. As a result, when they become parents, they often find themselves repeating patterns from their own childhoods that might not be appropriate to their own children. Worse than that, they may hear themselves admonishing their kids with phrases their parents used to use, and which they vowed never ever to utter once they had children of their own.

Where there are two parents actively involved in bringing up a child, it is important for them to communicate constantly with each other on issues of discipline and also on what they expect of their children's behaviour.

In this way, they are less likely to pass on bad parenting techniques from their own background. They will also present a united front with their partner - and this will give their kids useful messages about security and consistency.

Many parents also find it helpful to read books and magazine articles on good parenting.

Why is discipline necessary?
Discipline enables parents to demonstrate acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour to their child. By establishing boundaries for the child, you are helping them to learn what is expected from them and how to behave in society. This is necessary for the child to grow into a responsible adult.

Discipline is a difficult issue as it must be fair and consistent. Lack of consistent and appropriate discipline may produce confused and rootless children who constantly seek to test others in order to establish the boundaries within the relationship.

Being a parent carries with it a lot of responsibility, 24 hours a day. Maintaining consistent discipline can be very demanding and time consuming. It's particularly draining for lone parents. Of course they have the advantage of being able to bring up a child exactly how they want without intervention from a partner, but there are many times where they can feel isolated and uncertain about how much discipline is good.

It can be very useful to bounce ideas off other close adults or to discuss these issues with a health professional or even with the child's teacher.

In a two-parent family, life is much easier if both partners keep talking through their methods and goals together. By doing this they can give each other support in situations where it is tempting to just give in for the sake of peace and quiet.

How do you provide your child with self-confidence?
A child's self image develops from 'Day one'. Children become very aware of their parents' feelings and behaviour. They hear not only the words they say but the tone of their voices. They observe and recognise their body language. They watch their facial expressions closely. The children model themselves on the things they say and do.

Therefore, the way in which the parents behave towards and speak to their children has enormous influence on their development. Most importantly, it can affect the children's self-confidence.

When parents constantly praise and affirm their offspring, they ensure that their children grow up with appropriate self-esteem. But when parents are critical or inconsistent or even unloving, their children will invariably grow up undervaluing themselves.

Some parents focus on their children's bad behaviour and criticise them all the time. A degree of helpful criticism may be necessary, but if a child hears only anger and criticism, his or her self-confidence will be undermined. More than that, he will learn that the only time he gets attention is when he is bad - so he will behave badly.

Praising and rewarding good behaviour is more beneficial than constant criticism. To hug the child and praise him or her for good behavior encourages the child to see that being nice or kind or agreeable brings rewards. It also encourages good self-esteem.

Remember, it is important for children to hear you say you love them. If your child has behaved badly, you should criticise the bad behaviour and not the child.

For example you might say: 'Caroline - you're such a wonderful little girl and I love you very much, but your behaviour today has been awful.'

This is much more constructive than saying: 'Caroline, you're a bad, nasty girl.'

In fact, many parents go much further and their words can seriously hurt a child long term. Any psychotherapist can tell you how their clients have suffered as a result of harsh language in childhood.

Saying phrases like: ' Get out of my sight' or 'You disgust me' or - worst of all - 'I don't love you anymore' are so painful and so distressing for a child that frequently their own ability to love in later life - and to form good relationships - is seriously impaired.

Mocking a child or comparing him or her with other children or sisters and brothers at the child's expense is also extremely damaging.

How to find time to be together as a family
Nowadays, finding time together as a family can be difficult. Most parents work while the children go to school and also probably take part in several leisure activities. So, time when the whole family can be together is rare.

It can be a good idea to co-ordinate the family's schedules so that the whole family can eat their evening meal all together, or at least so that a couple of weekend meals are preserved as times when the whole family can be together and can talk.

It is important for all the members of the family to meet and talk to one another. For children it is also very important to have certain practices and fixed points in their lives.

Having meals together gives a good opportunity to talk about the events and experiences that matter to them. Try to let everybody talk, and be attentive and interested. Children also appreciate having certain days reserved for specific activities such as spending a Thursday afternoon with Dad in the library, or to go swimming with Mum on Friday evenings. Try to involve the child in the planning.

Some families find it very beneficial to have a 'round table' chat for about half an hour once a week. If they get used to having this when the children are small, it is a firmly established routine long before the kids become teenagers - and it really helps make communication easier.

This weekly meeting should take place round the kitchen table - or somewhere similar. Everyone can have tea, coffee, or soft drinks - but no alcohol. Everyone in the family should know that he or she is going to have their say without being shouted down, but that there is a time limit to the session, so it can't go on all day.

Most families find that they need a few ground rules to make this work well. They might be:

no shouting
no swearing
no one leaves until the meeting comes to its proper end.
A regular family chat where its members can air their grievances can really help the household to run more smoothly.

However, it is also important to listen to your child at other times when they come to ask or talk about something. If they are always told 'not now, I'm busy', they will lose the desire to share their thoughts with you and they will probably grow up with considerable resentment against you, believing that they really never quite mattered enough for you to put them first.

It is a sad fact that the grown-ups we often see in therapy are individuals who felt that they were not given priority in the home as children, or who feel that they were overly criticised or that the only time Mum or Dad showed any interest in them was when they were either naughty, or bringing home great grades from school.

When one sits opposite a depressed or distressed adult in therapy – perhaps someone who is having trouble forming good and healthy relationships – one often gets the impression of the troubled, sad, lost child that that person once was.

What will your child learn from good communication
Most parents sometimes find themselves saying things like: ‘You must do it because I say so.'

But equally, most of us know that giving time for proper explanations is much more productive in the long run.

So, take your time to explain things. This will help your child to think and speak in a cohesive and structured way.

If you are able to express your own expectations and feelings appropriately – particularly in relation to rules of the house, the family’s time table in the morning, whether or not the child may stay out late, or go to a sleepover – your child will grow up feeling that you are reasonable and that you have given your time to explain things properly.

He or she will also learn honesty and openness and also how to negotiate issues with other people. When there is a problem within the family that concerns the child, then bring it up for discussion.

Try to find possible solutions together with the child. When you discuss solutions, it is crucial that you also discuss the consequences of each solution, as those will be of great significance to your final decision. Be open to the child's suggestions. Let them take part in the negotiations and the decision making - try and find the best solution together.

A child who participates in this kind of discussion will achieve self-confidence and learn how to communicate effectively.

The parent as a role model
Your child constantly looks to you to learn how to get on in the world. You will notice your child repeats your speech and behaviour. You are the most important role model to your child. If you show signs of respect, kindness, honesty, friendliness, hospitality, generosity and give frequent compliments, there is a good chance that your child will do the same.

You are responsible for the guidance of your children. And you can help a lot by encouraging them and giving them clear signs of what it is you expect from them. But the very best thing you can do, is to express constantly your unconditional and overwhelming love for them.