Raising emotionally healthy children
Lifestyle - I always try to make things easy to remember, hence packaging my parenting tips as the “seven Ps of parenting”.
* Put yourself first: It sounds counter-intuitive because as parents we are meant to be selfless and self-sacrificing. The truth is, if you are not physically and emotionally healthy, then you are not able to be as effective in your parenting. Putting everyone else before you and trying to juggle several responsibilities can lead to lifestyle diseases and burnout. And think about it for a moment - if you had to be lying in a hospital bed, how would those who depend on you cope? The most effective parent is a calm parent, so you need to care for yourself enough to ensure you can be calm.
* Partnership: We have all heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”, and ideally it does. However, we are all not lucky enough to have an entire village backing us up. In many cases, most parents are not even together, which complicates the partnership. The best interests of the child should always take precedence over everything else.
Parents need to partner on and agree on rules, discipline and boundaries. If, for example, a child asks for the latest iPhone and mom says the child needs to get good results at the end of the year first, dad should not go against this and buy it as soon as it releases to be the “good” parent.
Children can become manipulative over time when they know that parents are not consistent. They need to know that regardless of which parent they ask for something, the answer will always be the same. Parents need to set appropriate boundaries and maintain them by not breaking the rules, for example, except in exceptional circumstances.
It’s also important to partner with other role players in your children’s lives - such as the school, psychologists, etc. If there are complaints from school, before seeing them as the enemy, think about how you can work together in the best interests of the child.
Many parents bring their children to therapy expecting us to fix the problem, though many are not prepared to play their own part.
An example of this is a parent paying to bring a child to therapy for substance abuse, but still gives the child unreasonable amounts of pocket money, fuelling the problem - just because they want to be the “good parent”. But if you form partnerships with all role players, then you have a team working for the best interests of your child and there are no perceived enemies to expend your energy fighting.
* Practice what you preach: Children do as you do, not as you say. Parents need to be mindful of their words and behaviour as children learn from this. Something as innocent as a mom commenting on her weight or another aspect of her appearance can unintentionally instil in a child the belief that physical appearance is important and to be valued.
Sometimes parents return from work and may comment on what a rough day it has been while pouring themselves a drink. If children learn to associate alcohol with managing stress, they learn unhealthy coping mechanisms. By all means, have a drink socially at times, but don’t associate it with managing stress.
You need to be the adult that you want your child to grow up to be.
Model the qualities you want to see in children. Don’t complain to your partner about a friend and continue being friends with them, as you will then not be effective in helping your child choose good friends.
* Protect, but don’t overprotect: It’s a parent’s most important duty to protect their children and ensure the physical and emotional safety of children. What we shouldn’t do is overprotect them in ways that will disadvantage them in the long run. For example, always give constructive criticism. Do not tell your child they’re the best at something if it’s not true. What you can do is praise them on their passion and dedication in wanting to excel in that field, and find ways to help them excel.
I knew a parent who didn’t want her children to experience sadness, so every time their hamster died, she quickly replaced it with a new one so they didn’t have to grieve.
No parent wants to see his or her child sad, but sadness is part of life. It’s a natural emotion that we need to process. Allow them to feel negative emotions while providing comfort and being there for them.
Children should not be shielded from everyday realities, as long as sufficient guidance is provided.
Children should do chores at home because they need to learn that every member of a household needs to contribute somehow.
And no, they do not need to be rewarded for chores, because every time you ask for something extra, they will attach a price tag to it.
* Predictability: Sure, life shouldn’t be boring and repetitive, but predictability and routine for the greater part of the week can contribute to calmness and stability at home.
Family members will know what’s expected when the routine is set. For example, times for waking up, breakfast, leaving for school, who does what chores, etc.
There is less chaos, as everyone knows what’s expected. Predictability is also important because if something is wrong, it’s easier to pick up. If your child, as an example, always has breakfast but suddenly stops, then it gives you a chance to explore what’s wrong. Or if mom is usually up first and has breakfast ready, children will know that something is wrong if this does not happen one morning.
* Patience: This is a crucial one for parents and children. As parents, we need to be patient with our children. Each child is unique and we need to understand them.
Patience is difficult for parents at times. Sometimes a child may take longer with homework and a parent may become impatient because they still have a lot to take care of, so they just complete the homework for the child.
The child then learns nothing and may struggle in the exam. When a project seems too huge, parents often do it themselves or hire professionals. The reality is that when a child writes exams or when they are in the workplace, no one else can do their work.
We should also refrain from using technology as babysitters because we start to feed a bad habit.
Patience is also an essential quality to imbibe in children. We cannot really blame children who grew up in a world in which technology dominates, but we have to teach the virtue of patience in a world of instant gratification. Today everything is on-demand - television, movies, live streams of concerts in other countries, instant messaging, etc.
You can even meet a potential life partner just by swiping right (or is it left?).
However, the meaningful things in life take time. We need to teach children to work for what they really value. This way, they will treasure the reward as they had to work for it. Children will not be appreciative if everything is given to them on demand.
There’s only a certain limit to fulfilling all your children’s dreams, but what happens when they cannot get the job they want, or the person they fall in love with doesn’t love them back?
So allow children to experience disappointment while being there for them, and teach them the value of working towards their goals.
* Prioritise: In a life with so many responsibilities to juggle, it’s important to prioritise. What are your priorities as a parent? Quality time should hopefully top that list. And I mean undistracted quality time with no technology. Prioritise the values you want to teach your child and place emphasis on values and qualities as opposed to physical appearance and achievement. For example, being kind is more important than being pretty.
Parenting is a tough job - perhaps the toughest in the world - and because no one is ever going to pay you for this job, the truest reward comes from raising happy, healthy children.
Beekrum is a psychologist in Durban North with over 10 years of experience in marital therapy. You can follow her on Facebook (Rakhi Beekrum - Psychologist) and Instagram (@rakhibeekrum)