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Wouldn’t it be great if parents really only needed to know 10 things to raise children successfully? When they’re babies, it’s usually pretty simple. Feed them. Change them. Put them to sleep.
Then they start growing. Fast. They talk. They get moody. They have ‘needs’. They get siblings and start fighting, biting, pinching, punching, scratching, and more. They start school and come home with nasty words, threats that “you’re not my best friend anymore”, and all-too-often, even more challenging behaviour.
Even when they’re a dream, we still worry about how we can give them the best start in life. That’s why I wrote 10 Things Every Parent Needs to Know. It’s a book, and a talk, about positive strategies for the key issues parents of 2-12 year olds confront in everyday family life.
So what are the ten things parents need to know?
We do best as parents when we parent on the same page
Raising children is a tough enough job already without opposition and antagonism from other adults who share in the responsibility. United parents don’t do everything the same. You’ll never agree on everything. But when there is a level of consistency between parents, and a willingness to work together to achieve the outcomes we believe matter, we can create a sense of harmony and purpose in our family that is positive for our children and our partnerships.
Our kids thrive when they know they matter
When your children need you, stop and really pay attention. Don’t simply turn your body towards them while keeping your head facing the screen. Don’t humour them by saying ‘Uh-huh, yep, I hear you’ if you’re not really listening. Stop what you are doing. Look them in the eyes to show you are paying attention. Listen. Respond in an active, engaged way. Our children need us to be available, to nurture them.
Being understood is often a child’s greatest need
If our children were icebergs, their behaviour would be what we see above the water, but the larger part of the iceberg (their emotions) rests below the surface. This remains invisible unless we take the time to understand what is down there. Feelings, developmental progress, the broader context and more each contribute to our children’s behaviour. As we understand those things, we can help our children manage their behaviour rather than us having to be the ones doing all the managing all the time.
For discipline, kids need something better than punishment
We need to be caring allies in our children’s development. But all too often, we become punishers and enforcers. The focus of discipline should be helping, rather than hurting. The best discipline teaches in positive ways. This means we spend time explaining what we want and why. We explore things from our kids’ perspectives. And we empower them to make great choices with our guidance.
We need to teach them to get along
The heart of resolving conflict between our children, or between any humans, is empathy. As they see the impact they have on others (and vice versa) they feel empathy and make changes that are much longer lasting than changes that are forced upon them by powerful parents.
They need to work out who they are
Our job is not to make our children what we want them to be. It’s to help them figure out their identity. How do we do that? We teach them about their past, tap into that authentic potential for excellence that is inside them and makes them strong, support them to have the courage and capacity to stand alone, and then trust that the process will be enough.
Understand and balance technology
The moral panic around screens may be a little over the top from time to time, but it is well founded. Screens are impacting wellbeing, relationships, physical health and academic learning. It is up to us to give our children a wide range of experiences that will develop them as a whole child. Screens will inevitably be a part of their world, but they will ideally only be a small part.
We need to protect our children’s childhood
Childhood is shrinking. Those years of carefree innocence are being crowded out with education agendas, personal development plans and fewer opportunities for play and exploration.
As play has declined, kids have become more anxious and depressed.
They lose control over their lives as we take over, dictate, drive and demand. Yet play, curiosity, slow and agenda-free development and the chance to pursue interests that align with personal strengths are some of the most important gifts we can give a child to truly experience childhood.
When our children see us, they do not need to be burdened with more work and study. They need us to fall on the floor, tickle, wrestle and laugh. They need opportunities to learn and create; to sit quietly on the grass under a tree and stare at clouds; to experience the simplicity of childhood; and to simply be. As we give them back their childhood, they won’t seem to be so old so young.
Find the joy – for them and for us
Most of us experience moments of extraordinary joy when our children are young. We seem to be a little less good at finding those moments as our children get to about age three. By the time they’re in their teens, it’s even harder. It gets messy in those middle years (from three to 23). But there is joy everywhere throughout our parenting lives if we’re looking. We are also excellent at finding joy when everyone is happy and life is peaceful. These are joyful times. But there are times when joy is hard to find. Family life tries us. In those moments, we grow the most – if we are open to growth. And we find joy. Maybe that mix of joy and growth is exactly what we need?
Robert Louis Stevenson said, ‘For to miss the joy is to miss all.’
Ten Things Every Parent Needs to Know is ultimately about this final idea: finding joy. Finding joy in family life is the key. These ideas are a surefire way to put us, our kids, and our families on the pathway to regular injections of joy at home.