Everybody tells me that they love their kids. It’s natural, and it sounds very nice. But love, all by itself, isn’t enough. We have to pass a test to drive; we need accredited education to be a health professional, yet there is no testing process to prepare parents for the enormous responsibility of raising kids! So, based on my experience over the years, I’ve put together ten helpful points for raising a moral, mentally healthy child.
1. Don’t assume they know
Kids are not born with knowledge that we take for granted, e.g., that they should eat healthy foods, or that they must think before they act. Even so, they should be held responsible for their actions. If you don’t correct them for lying, hitting or whatever, how else will they learn that these behaviors are wrong?
2. Keep perspective
Your child doesn’t disobey just to irritate you. Childhood is a learning process, so don’t take it personally when they test your limits. It’s an opportunity to teach them right from wrong.
3. Permissive vs. restrictive
Permissive parents reason with their children but don’t punish them. Restrictive parents punish their kids but won’t reason with them. Give your kids the reasons why they should act a certain way. Children are more likely to follow rules if you let them ask questions and give them reasonable answers. Use punishment only if reason fails.
4. Constructive feedback
Incentives are often more powerful than punishments. But don’t reward a child for doing the bare minimum, such as going to school or being minimally civil. Save the rewards for extraordinary actions such as acting on their own judgment rather than peer pressure. Positive feedback is crucial for building morale and confidence.
5. You have the final say
A family is not a democracy. As a responsible parent, you must have the final say. But always explain and discuss, not just command. If a child makes a logical point that proves you wrong, be an adult and stand corrected. This will teach your child that it’s healthy and affirming to ask questions, and that reason can create solutions.
6. All kids are different
A difficult child needs consistency. Resist the temptation to control everything. Instead, choose your punishments. Pick out the most important offenses and punish consistently for them. Holding your ground on one issue can often lead to success in other areas, because whatever respect for you that’s developed can generalize to other behaviors. Respect can be more effective than warm fuzzy feelings.
7. Don’t fall for labels
Popular disease labels, such as ‘attention deficit disorder’ or ‘conduct disorder’ distract from the fact that your child is capable of making choices and being responsible for them. Help him make better choices, rather than blaming laziness or nastiness on some made-up ‘illness.’ Even if pills, such as Ritalin, appear to improve behaviors, they don’t change the fact that kids make choices. In the end, no pill can make them do their homework — or choose their values for them.
8. Encourage self-interest
If you tell your child not to be ‘selfish,’ you’re implying he should not act in his own self-interest. How far does that go? He should NOT study hard in school? He should NOT treat his friends respectfully? All of these actions are in his self-interest. Explain why it’s to his own benefit to respect the rights of others, etc. This is more motivating than just, ‘Put others before yourself.’ Respect for oneself and the rights of others does not mean sacrifice of one’s own privacy, property, and happiness.
9. Don’t discourage thinking
Don’t punish a child for what she thinks or feels. You can express disapproval, but punishing thoughts and feelings discourages independent thinking and encourages repression, which can lead to psychological problems.
10. Promote reality
Reasonable punishment does not damage self-esteem. It demonstrates the nature of reality. Adults have to make rational choices in order to enjoy life. A child is not born with a grasp of these principles, and won’t learn them unless you teach him to think logically and to accept responsibility.
Challenge kids intellectually and encourage them to think critically. Withhold support when they behave irrationally. Don’t count on teachers and day-care workers to communicate these virtues. You must do the bulk of the work if your kids are to grow into healthy and happy adults.
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