Prather Pediatric and Allergy Center - Ask Doctor Brent

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Title: Ten Keys to Positive Parenting

Category: Positive Parenting




      Modeling is truly the most important form of parenting we do.  What we do as parents speaks much louder than what we say.  There is no room for hypocrisy in parenting.  Our children see everything we do and don't do and we should expect no more or less of them than we model in our own lives.  This includes all aspects of our lives including our sexuality, our honesty or lack of honesty, our general character and the way we relate to others, our attitude toward our career, our spirituality, and every other aspect of our behavior.  In summary, we have an awesome responsibility as parents to set good examples by being good models.  This is also an exciting challenge because the harder we work to be a good person, ourselves, the better job we do in being parents to all of our children.



      All things in the universe respond to praise from a one cell organism all the way up to God.  Children, most especially need lots of praise, love and affection.  A child without lots of physical affection is at risk for confusion in his or her sexuality.  Children who get lots of regular hugs and kisses from both of their parents tend to feel better about themselves and develop normal heterosexuality as they grow up.  We should not be ashamed to hug and kiss our children every day and tell them that we love them.  This should not stop once they pass the infant stage.  Most cultures in the world do a better job at this than we do in our modern fast paced society in America.  There is certainly no replacement for the healing power of human touch.  A child who grows up without it is certainly a lesser person for it.  As a parent it is better to err on the side of being more affectionate than less affectionate and also to be generous in your praise and love on a daily basis, to each of your children and your spouse. 

      There is a saying that the best gift a parent can give their child is to love their spouse.  I think this is very true and I believe it helps to teach children how to live in a loving relationship.  Seeing loving, committed parents who enjoy each other's company and who are openly affectionate sends a message of security and family stability to our children from infancy all the way to teenage. 

      Love in general is something that you can feel in certain homes when you enter them.  The kind of home that makes everyone feel welcome and displays a warm feeling between all family members is what we should all strive for.  A child growing up in such a loving home is much more likely to have a healthy self image and to be able to face the ups and downs of everyday life.  This child is at a great advantage over another child growing up in a home lacking consistent love.  Unfortunately with the high divorce rate and the changing nature of American families, many American children fall into the latter category.

      As a pediatrician, I see families come in and out of my office every week.  Those couples who seem especially close and affectionate are usually accompanied by very secure smiling kids who bask in the umbrella of their parents love.  This is the example I would love to see all American families follow. 



      Family traditions, rituals, and holidays are a wonderful way to build happy memories in children.  They are also a wonderful way to keep families close.  My wife has been a great teacher for me in establishing family traditions at almost every holiday including Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, St. Patrick's Day, and Mardi Gras.  The little extra effort that she puts out to dress up the children, plan special events around the house, and involve the children in the planning and in the celebrating makes these holidays especially important to our kids.  She usually invites the entire neighborhood over and shares the joy with all those around us.  This has gotten so important to our children that they begin planning and getting excited about each of these holidays several weeks in advance.  I think the greatest lesson learned by the kids is that holidays and traditions are an opportunity to share love with friends, neighbors, and family.  The greatest joy is in the sharing, regardless of what a child or individual may receive in the way of candy or gifts.  At Christmas every year during the Advent season, we always light a wreath for the four weeks of advent and sing a special song which has become our family song.  We let each child read special prayers and meditations and spend some time reflecting on our blessings and praying for those in need.   At St. Patrick's Day my wife manages to sneak out early in the morning and place green cellophane outside so that the kids can see where the leprechauns have been overnight.  She even rings bells near their windows so that they can hear the tinkling of the "little people" pass in the night.  We awaken to green eggs and ham and usually end the day with Irish soda bread, lentil soup, corned beef and green beer.  Friends and neighbors are always invited over.  These and so many other traditions have brought great joy to our kids. I am sure they will pass them on to their children in turn and add their own personal changes to each celebration.  Exactly what tradition you build is not important as long as it is unique to your family and involves all family members.  These happy memories cement a great family relationship and keep children and grandchildren coming back again and again to share the joy.



      There is no substitute for spending time with our children.  In the sixties the term quality time arose and we fooled ourselves thinking we could spend a minimal amount of quality time with our children and everything would be just fine.  This is not true in my opinion.  Quality time is certainly worth striving for, but a certain amount of quantity time is also critical in raising our children.  Children can not get the same thing from a day care, a nanny, an enrichment course, their school, their church, or a summer camp that they obtain from good old fashioned sharing on a day to day, week to week, month to month basis.  In other words, families need to eat meals together as much as possible.  They need to plan weekends and summer vacations together.  They need to turn off the television and talk and laugh and say prayers together at night.  They simply need to share in each other's lives over a period of time.  This is really what makes a family. 

      Americans are famous for working to keep up with the Joneses and sacrificing their precious time and energy for a little more money.  This is a sad mistake and may result in less quality relationships in our families because of lack of shared family time. 

      Commit the time necessary on a regular basis to build strong, loving relationships among all family members.  Enjoy the precious time you have with your children while you have them for 18 to 20 years or so.  Don't let career, extra-curricular commitments  or even church activities, take the place of your obligation to love, parent, and share time with your children.  The hours and days we invest in good parenting while our children grow will bless them and us for many years to come. 



      All children need to know limits.  A child who is not disciplined is an insecure child.  We should teach our children appropriate limits and use appropriate discipline such as "time-outs" or withdrawing a privilege to reinforce proper behavior.  This should start in infancy and continue through to adulthood.  As children become older, it is more appropriate to withdraw a privilege or on the other hand to use a positive motivator by reinforcing good behavior.  This could be a points system on the refrigerator or any other creative means of encouraging children to do their family chores, to do their best in school, and to live in a harmonious way with their siblings, friends, extended family, neighborhood, and within the mores of our society.  The best form of discipline is teaching and parents can teach their children through every disciplining act.  Discipline should not necessarily be punishment.  It is much better to make good eye contact with a child and explain to them why they can't knock a glass off of a table or throw dirt on the neighbors car or whatever the infraction might be.  A good way to dissuade kids from mischief is to ask them a question.  This distracts their mind and frequently sends them in a healthier direction and avoids constant berating and "time-outs" or switching.  Personally, I am in favor of "time-outs" or positive or negative behavior modification rather than spanking.  Whether or not to spank is a great debate in itself and should be decided mutually between both parents.  The important thing is that both parents share in the discipline and neither the mother nor the father is the fall guy.  They should be consistent and support each other in their decisions.




      Teaching is vitally important each time we discipline and in every other aspect of our children's lives.  As parents, we are our children's first and foremost teachers.  We can teach them  many things about life and getting along with others and even academic knowledge on a day to day basis.  We can teach them as we are driving in a car, as we are bathing our small children, as we are vacationing and traveling through interesting places, as we go to the library together, as we sing in the car on the way to church, or as we reflect on the sermon on the way home.  If we encounter a car accident there is no more opportune time to teach children about auto safety, avoiding drinking and driving, and the importance of car safety and seat belts.  If we can turn off the television and spend some time talking together as a family around the dinner table we can teach our kids tremendous amounts of knowledge about current events and whatever they may be learning in school at the time.  We should also share our hobbies and interests.  When  a child follows you in the yard as you are cleaning up around the house or repairing things it is a great time to teach them how to garden, how to fix the lawn mower, or whatever else you may be doing.  Teaching is fun and it keeps us on our toes as well as stimulates the minds of our precious children.  Use every opportunity you have to teach your children and never stop teaching them no matter how smart they may seem.  There is always something else that you can share with them.  Ask your children questions and let them show off a little on what they are learning in school, what they are interested in, and what they are reading.  The best way to stimulate them to be lifelong learners is to be that way ourselves.  We must be readers and interested in current events and interested in all those around us if we want our kids to follow our example.  Our children's formal teachers in school will certainly have a big impact on their lives, but not nearly as big as their lifelong teachers, their parents. 



      The start of everyday is important in that it sets a tone for the entire day.  It is important to get up a little earlier to get each child prepared for school, dressed, fed, and sent off to school with a positive message, a hug and a kiss and a word of encouragement.  Likewise, at the end of the day before the child falls asleep the last 15 minutes is repeated in their dreams ten times.  This compares to all the other events of the day being repeated three times in our dreams.  For this reason we should help the child wind down with some quiet time, asking them about their day, reflecting on their thoughts and feelings, and sharing a prayer of thanks and praise for their life.  This is much healthier than a child falling asleep alone, watching a sitcom on television or listening to hard rock on the radio.  Reading a story to a child or letting them listen to a good age appropriate book on tape is another nice way for most children to fall asleep. 



      Outside of school and the family, TV has at least the third biggest role in shaping most of our children in America.  Unfortunately for some children TV actually has a bigger influence than school or family.  These are the children who surpass the three hour per day average watching time of most American children.

      Obviously, this much TV has a mesmerizing influence which dulls children's imaginations and frequently leads to reading and other school problems.  TV also gives children a set of values and priorities far different from what most parents hope to teach their kids.  The only answer to this problem is to control TV.

      Parents should limit how much time each child is allowed to watch and be aware of what they watch.  Ideally, share a few good shows a week together as a family.  You can ask each child questions and teach them.  If controlled properly, TV can bring culture and knowledge into American homes.  The average American child has watched 5,000 hours of TV by about age six and 19,000 by age eighteen.  This is a huge amount of time and obviously limits free time for exercise, playing, reading and simply sitting together as a family and talking.  I believe more of these activities and less tube time is very much worth striving for in the American home. 



            Every child on earth is totally unique with a special mix of God-given talents and assets.  Some are extremely blessed.  Some seem to have only pitiful handicaps.  Nevertheless each of these special children has something  we can creatively build on to help the "whole" child feel good about himself.  The obvious way to build up a child is regular, sincere praise.  This should be realistic and appropriate and we should convey positive expectations trying to always stretch our children a little more toward their best potential. 

      There is a saying that "what you expect is what you get".  This is very true in raising children.  In other words, if we display positive realistic expectations filled with lots of praise, our children will try hard to fulfill them.  On the other hand, if we constantly berate our children and forget to praise them for their good qualities and efforts and send them negative messages, they will fulfill our expectation which is failure.  Teachers know this important truism and try their best to bring the best out in each child in the classroom.  We as parents must do the same and find the unique qualities which makes each child feel good about themselves and praise them for those qualities and  for every positive effort they make.  In doing this we can help them to grow stronger and to broaden their talent and build on their good feelings.  Everyone responds to praise, most especially growing children.  For this reason we should use every opportunity to give realistic honest praise and to try to find something special that our child does everyday.  Be sure your praise to criticism ratio is a positive one and not the other way around. 

      Never count out any child.  Remember how Wilma Rudolph overcame polio to win Olympic gold metals in track.  Beethoven overcame deafness to become a famous composer.  Helen Keller overcame being blind, deaf and dumb to become a great inspiration to handicapped people around the world.  History is replete with stories of individuals overcoming handicaps on their way to achieving greatness.  In each case, someone helped an individual child believe in himself.  We as parents must help each child to believe in himself and to feel special and loved.  We should convey to each child how beautiful they are to us and how special they are to God.  We can teach them that they have a unique purpose and plan to unfold in their lifetime.  They will try their best to find that purpose and fulfill a meaningful life in doing so.  As parents, we more than any other mentors should strive to motivate each child to their potential.  We must be careful not to place "our goals" on our children but rather to let them find their special mission in life.  They deserve our full support to strive toward their goals and ultimately to find wings and become independent.  Each child on earth is truly a unique and rare flower.  As parents we must nurture each beautiful flower to its full bloom. 



      Our children deserve at least a basic foundation in spirituality.  It is important that we share with them our commitment to spirituality and what God means in our life.  If we do not do this and simply expect them to choose for themselves, they may very well be taken advantage of by cults and false religions at a susceptible time in their life.  Hopefully, spirituality and our commitment to our faith in God is a top priority in our life and we can share it with our children in that perspective.  There is no substitute for praying with your children daily before meals and at bedtimes.  There is also no substitute for discussing your faith and teaching your children what you believe in and spending time with them at church or synagogue weekly.  In addition to all the teaching and the prayer shared with our children, it is vital that we live our religion on a daily basis and teach them most especially by the way we walk our daily walk of faith.  As it says in Proverbs 22:8  "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it".  If we give our children good roots in a solid Judeo-Christian religion, they will have an inner security and strength which can help them throughout their life.

      Along with giving our children a spiritual grounding we must teach them values throughout their life.  I think teaching children values goes somewhat against the grain of society which measures beauty and athletic ability more than it does honesty and character and compassion.  For my own children I certainly try hard to praise them most of all when they display these qualities.  I am proud of their school work and their athletic achievements but I am most proud when they are sensitive to other children's feelings; when they play fair on the field; when they lose gracefully; when they show humility and when they display empathy.  All of these qualities must be taught through our own modeling as parents and by direct lessons whenever the opportunity arises.  The TV show, "Life Goes On" has gone a long way toward teaching empathy to children and adults around the entire world.  Likewise, we can teach our children whenever they see any person who appears  different, physically or mentally, who is handicapped in any way or who comes from a different country or culture; we can help our children to appreciate that individual's uniqueness and teach them respect for each individual in society.  By being sensitive and loving to all those around us, we teach our children this vital lesson of losing themselves in others.  In other words, by being more concerned about those around them than they are about themselves or about simple material things, they discover the real secret to happiness.