Parenting is the most difficult and most important job we ever do. Unfortunately, despite the degree of difficulty and importance of the work, no one teaches us how to do it. Fortunately, there are many child raising experts who can help. I will mention a few experts; whose work I believe is valuable, throughout this article and I encourage readers to find experts whose work they like.
• Parents must be healthy, physically and psychologically. When parents feel comfortable with who they are they are free to give their children true, deep, unconditional love. Parenting is not about the parents, no child has ever asked to be born. A child’s very existence is the responsibility of the parents, and it is the parent’s responsibility to raise their children using healthy parenting skills. Parents must be able to understand why children behave as they do and not take a child’s (from 1 day old to 18 years) behaviors personally. Jean Piaget made wonderful progress in the understanding of child development. A child’s behaviors are not about the parent, and it’s the parent’s responsibility to help children learn how to manage their thoughts, feelings and behaviors, so they can grow up to be healthy members of society. This takes tremendous self-awareness from parents. Self awareness leads to awareness and understanding of others.
• Unconditional love involves praising children as much and often as possible. This does not mean unrealistic praise, because children intuitively know when they have not earned praise. It does mean age appropriate praise. So, when an infant focuses on someone’s face and smiles at the person, praise is appropriate, because the infant is just beginning to learn how to interact. It is appropriate to praise babies when they take their first steps, because walking is a skill they need to learn. Praising a toddler for making scribbles on a piece of paper is appropriate, because the toddler is just learning how to do this. Victor Lowenfeld defined the stages of art development children go through. Praising toddlers for eating a few bites of healthy food, before they get a sweet is appropriate, because although babies crave sugar, it is important for them to learn how to eat healthy food. Praising a three-year-old for learning to use the potty is appropriate. The human brain is not fully formed until we are in our early 20s. Praising children, appropriately and according to their stage of growth, is important throughout childhood. This builds their self esteem and happier children reduce the stress of parenting.
• Playing with children is another way to give them unconditional love. The more you enjoy playing with your children the less stressful your job will be. Playing with your children is bonding with them, which parents and children need. Indeed, there is a book titled; “Play; How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul,” by Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughn. One of the chapters is titled “Parenthood is Child’s play.” Doing some research about play with children will help you use approaches to playing with them that are age-appropriate. Learning about age-appropriate play is an investment in your relationship with your children which will help you feel less stressed. It is also important to play with children using a variety of areas of play so they may become well-rounded adults. If you like using art supplies, it is best to start using those supplies with children, early, during their formative years, because they will grow into enjoying that sort of activity. The same is true with physical activity. If that is something you want your children to learn to enjoy, the earlier you begin to teach them how to enjoy physical activity, the better. Play is not something that can be forced. If you want your children to enjoy swimming, don’t try to force them to do it. If they don’t seem to enjoy doing it now, but see that you enjoy doing it (by example) they may take it up later in life. Music is another area of play that can bring great pleasure to most people. However, if it is forced on children they might rebel against it and never get to enjoy it. Parenting is a balancing act!
• Sharing the responsibility of parenting with at least one other person should reduce the stress of parenting. Preferably, both parents are involved, and both are physically and psychologically healthy and mature. When two parents are involved it is important for them to discuss parenting techniques to learn what they can agree on, and where they disagree and need to negotiate. Children are brilliant at splitting parents, if they know their parents disagree about something. For instance, if one parent does not believe it is important for children to eat their vegetables before they get their desert, the children will do their best to get that parent to make decisions over the other parent. That can cause dissension between the parents, and an unhealthy, stressful situation is set up. When parents are in extreme disagreement with each other, about how to raise children, the stress in the family increases tremendously. Parents must learn how to work with one another.