Tips for Raising Healthy Children Today
Often when talking with parents, we hear them exclaim, “If only my children came with a rulebook!” Although a rulebook may not have been provided, fortunately today there is plenty of reliable information available.
Raising children in a positive, healthy family today can be rather challenging. As many parents already know, children are quite intuitive, and depending on their age, this determines their level of comprehension, development behaviorally and their ability to express feelings or emotions.
Furthermore, many parents rely on the spoken or unspoken rules they learned in their family of origin—rules such as: “Do as I say, not as I do,” “Because I said so, that’s why!” Or: “We don’t talk about such things in this house.” Still others may not discuss the obvious at all. Rather, the child may be excused to their room. Nonetheless, the child still knows something isn’t quite right. Only in a dysfunctional family do rules of this sort exist, especially the “do not talk” rule.
Here are a few recommended tips for raising and cultivating a healthy environment for happy, self-confident children.
First, allow for and accept children’s perceptions and feelings. Feelings are a natural part of our make-up. Many of us were raised to suppress our true feelings, especially anger or sadness. Allowing this expression validates the child for their viewpoint. Furthermore, it provides a platform for teaching healthy ways to express these feelings without acting inappropriately in the process. It also prepares them for interaction in healthy relationships.
Many times, when children express their feelings, parents tend to have a difficult time knowing what to say or how to respond. Some parents may argue with their children, or even take these expressions personally. It would behoove the parents to acknowledge the feelings and validate the child for feeling them. Then, either through discussion or providing alternatives, assist the child in redirecting the feeling(s) without the parent taking the situation personally.
Secondly, children need to learn about respect. They need to learn to respect others’ ideas and opinions—as well as themselves. When they feel respected, they feel more at ease to be okay with themselves, their ideas and their opinions. When children are respected, they are more likely to listen and follow through on direction.
Thirdly, there is no such thing as “unconditional love”. Now, hear this out. How can we truly show love without conditions? Conditions can be in the form of boundaries or limits. Boundaries define who we are, what we will and will not allow, and give us the freedom to say “no”. This in no way means our love is conditional; rather, it means that we can separate the child from the behavior, allowing the child the reassurance that we love them, but it is the behavior that we cannot allow.
What is more, boundaries are fundamental for our mental stability. We can establish boundaries and limits in a way that models to children how to set these with others—whether it’s a physical, behavioral, emotional, spiritual or even a financial boundary. They in turn can set them with us, their siblings and friends.
Finally, we can (and need to) provide a safe, nurturing and supportive environment in which children can thrive. It’s an environment where children are free to try new things without judgment or shame. It’s an environment where they feel free to express themselves without threats or blame, especially if their ideas or opinions differ from ours. It’s an environment where they feel free to make age-appropriate decisions and accept responsibility for themselves. They should be able to grow from any consequences that may follow, be they positive or negative.
In conclusion, children that live in a supportive home will most likely grow up being able to thrive later as an adult. They will feel confident in making choices on their own in school, in relationships and later in a career. More importantly, children growing up in a nurturing, supporting home will feel confident in life in general, as they strive to become themselves in an ever-changing world.
Jodi Hardy, MA, LPC practices at Counseling Concepts LLC, located at WellnessFirst!. Connect at CounselingConceptsLLC.org.