Sex, bad language, violence and drugs surround today’s children on a daily basis. These negative influences rear their ugly heads on television, movies, the Internet, peers and, sadly, even within the family unit.
While it seems that raising a healthy child today is more challenging than ever, it is not impossible. Here are some tips on how to raise a healthy child in an at-risk world:
Provide a caring, loving and safe home environment. The home is a place children should feel good about. It should be a place they look forward to, a refuge from the hardship and struggles in their daily lives. Many children run away from home because of the trauma that occurs there. Runaway children are often neglected and/or verbally, physically and sexually abused in their home environment. Their parents are many times involved with drugs, alcohol and promiscuous sex. Irresponsible behavior and abusive or neglectful interactions rob children of their safe place. Home should be a positive place, a safe haven from the outside world.
The best way you can provide a positive environment for your child is by spending time with them. You can spend time with your child by reading, playing games and even cooking with them. The fun with your child can be unlimited. Show your child that you care about them by making sure they are taken care of, both physically and emotionally. That means feeding, clothing, disciplining and providing anything else necessary for your child’s well being. You can show your child that you care by smiling, hugging, kissing and telling them you love them. In return, your child will feel good about who they are and will have positive feelings about you.
Get involved in your child’s education. Find out what is occurring in your child’s school. Learn about the philosophy of the school and determine if it is a place your child will be happy and thrive, both personally and academically. Check out the environment. Make sure it is a clean and safe place to be. I am sure most parents don’t want to send their child to a place filled with gangs, drugs and violence. In addition, make sure you really know who your child’s friends are. Your child is more likely to drink and smoke at an early age if they are hanging around with other children involved in these types of activities.
Allow for open communication between you and your child. This kind of communication seems to cease in many families as soon as preadolescence hits. Children stop communicating with their parent(s) because at some point in the past they were scolded and yelled at for sharing something their parent(s) didn’t agree with. Imagine for a moment that you are a twelve-year-old child. You just broke your mother’s favorite vase. You decide you want to do the honest thing and tell your mom that you broke the vase and you are very sorry. Your mom responds to you by yelling and cursing. She also tells you that you are grounded from getting together with your best friend for a week. Now, this is not the first time your mom has responded to you in such a negative manner. It has occurred in most situations when you have tried to openly communicate and be honest with your mom. How likely is it that you will communicate and share anything again, in all honesty? Not likely, I bet. So think about your child and how your child will respond to you over time. Let’s say your mom had responded to you differently in that situation. She instead told you, “I feel really mad and sad that my vase broke. I know you didn’t mean to break it. What can we do about this?” How likely would you be to communicate with your mom if her response was this calm and understanding? Much more likely, I’m sure.
Being a parent involves being patient, calm and understanding. You don’t have to agree with your children 100% of the time, just show that you hear what they are saying. While really listening is not exactly the easiest thing to do, it is a must if you want your children to tell you what is going on with them. When you are feeling angry, that’s an indication that you need to take a break from the situation. Tell your child, “What you have to say is important, but we will need to talk about the situation at a later time.” When you keep that open communication going, your children will be more likely to listen to what you have to say and are more likely to follow any advice that you give them.
Give your child some useful roles around the home. The benefits of “chores” are great. They teach children about responsibility, teach them how to complete a task to the end, increase their self-esteem and make them feel they have some purpose in life. Children are more than happy to be given a responsibility around the house before they reach adolescence. Once they reach the adolescent stage, they want some sort of incentive.
Giving an incentive is not bad idea; however, the incentive needs to be something simple, realistic and attractive to your child. For example, if your child mows the lawn the incentive shouldn’t be going to Hawaii. Of course, this maybe something he or she likes, but it is way too huge of a reward and would be very costly to you. Such incentives can lead to a child becoming SPOILED. Such extravagant rewards will lead children to expect an enormous reward every time they do something positive. It’s part of human nature. Once we are used to receiving something it becomes an expectation. Incentives are only useful if they are simple, pleasant “perks”. A simple incentive could be staying up a half an hour past bedtime or making brownies. Have your children help you decide what the incentive should be. They will be more motivated when they are working towards something they like.
Get your children involved in community service. Have them help pick a community service that they would enjoy. Some examples of community service are: spending time with the elderly in a convalescent home, painting a church building, raising money for an important cause and feeding the homeless. The amount of service a person can do in the community is unlimited. Your children will be around other people who are making a difference and are positive role models. Your children will learn about their community. The will feel good about making a positive change in someone else’s life. You can contact your local church and businesses to find out what kinds of service opportunities are available.
Provide clear rules, consequences and choices. This is one of the most important things you can do in your child’s life. As a teacher, I have too often seen children doing what ever they want and being very disrespectful towards others because the rules in the family are too many, too vague and/or inconsistent. In return, their child becomes defiant and makes poor choices, often becoming totally out of control. This type of child is often seen in the principal’s office, suspended and in trouble with the law. There need to be a few rules that are clear and consistent, set from the time children are born. If you haven’t started disciplining children by age one, you will have a challenging time raising them in future years. Children are not born knowing right from wrong, they have to be taught.
Lets pretend you are at the park with your child. You see your child hit another child. What do you think you would do or say in that situation? I often see parents say, “Hitting is not nice! Don’t hit!” Such a response does not teach the child about why hitting is bad and the consequences of hitting. Most assuredly, they will hit again. An example of a better response is: “I know you are feeling angry. What are you feeling angry about?” So you start out by listening to what they have to say, which will prevent the child from being defensive. After they have finished, you can continue with, “It is OK that you are feeling angry, but it is not OK to hit.” Then you would talk about the consequences, depending on your child’s age. Follow through by asking your child, “What could you have done differently?” Actually work with your child on solutions to the problem. If you make them brainstorm with you and have them become a part of the process, they will learn and be less likely to engage in the negative behavior.
If the behavior does continue, then you need to provide some sort of consequence. By consequence, I don’t mean punishing your child physically. Striking a child can lead easily to abuse, and by law there can be major consequences for the parent such as jail time, and worse, losing your child. An example of a consequence for hitting could be losing the privilege to play on the computer. The consequence has to be something that the child would truly miss. If your child really doesn’t like to play on the computer, that consequence wouldn’t be very effective. I hear parents’ say, “I tell my children what to do but they don’t listen to me.” That statement tells me there is a power struggle going on between the child and the parent. Give your child choices in order to avoid struggling with them. For example, if your son is not cleaning up his room, you can give him a choice by saying, “You can clean up your room or stay at home instead of going out with your friends.” That way the ball is in his court and he will make the decision.
Model positive, responsible behavior. Actions speak louder than words, and you are your child’s most powerful role model. Your child is going to do what you do, not what you say. Many children who smoke have learned how to smoke from their parents. Many children who like to read have learned to enjoy reading from watching their parents. Always be aware of your actions and think about how they may affect your child.
Encourage your children to do their best. Children always need encouragement and need to feel that someone is on their side, cheering them on. Some words of encouragement are: “You can do it!” “I am proud of you.” “You’re awesome!” “Way to go!” With such loving words they will do their very best. They will also know that if they do fail at anything, you will be there for them, continuing to provide the love and the encouragement they need.
Get your children involved in youth programs. Positive youth programs are a wonderful way children can spend their time making friends who have similar interests. These programs help prevent children from getting bored and doing things that could get them into trouble. Many youth activities include, but are not limited to, swimming, soccer, softball, dance, camping and basketball. You can find out about youth activities at your local parks and recreation center.
Encourage your child to make friends with kids who make good choices. Help your children early on to identify what positive qualities they are looking for when making a friend. Repeat this exercise from time to time. This self-awareness will help them avoid making friends with kids who make poor choices. Your child’s friends can be a very strong influence on the decisions your child makes. After a certain age, usually early elementary school age, children listen more to what their friends have to say than they do their parents. Sometimes a child can make a friend with someone who doesn’t make the greatest choices. Don’t be alarmed if this happens. Trust your child and his or her ability to do the right thing. Also remember to keep that open communication. Avoid judging and telling your children what to do; otherwise, they will be determined to do everything opposite of what you have said in order to feel independent. By providing these types of support, you can help your child bounce back from an at-risk world and become a healthy, successful individual.