Social worker Marilyn Franzen Holm interviewed teenagers to find out what they appreciate about the way their parents have raised them. She came to the following conclusions about what parents do right, adding that if she were starting her family over, this is the way she'd raise her children:
1. Praise when appropriate; don't ridicule when offering criticism. Children don't take positive feelings from parents for granted. They forget we think they are wonderful when most of what they hear are commands and corrections. When we must criticize, experts suggest talking about how we feel and what we see ("Your room needs cleaning") rather than making a judgment ("You are a slob").2. Help your child deal with adversity. Holm says that a child who has a learning disability, is too tall, has a birthmark, or just feels "average," needs to find an area in which he or she can feel self-confident. Music, art, storytelling, cooking, sports - the possibilities are endless.
3. Treat children with respect and insist they do the same for others. Families that produce children with high self-esteem don't allow members to "put down" others or treat each other disrespectfully. Parents must insist on being treated kindly themselves. To get the message across, Holm says, you may have to go so far as to refuse to perform services that are taken for granted (transportation, cooking, etc.) when children are insolent.
4. Help children develop a sense of competence. Children can learn very early that their skills will be sufficient for the tasks of life. Or they can be taught not to try anything for fear of failure. Adults can help them by treating failure not as a personal characteristic, but just as something that happened.
5. Don't compare children to others. Don't compare one child to another. In the case of divorce, don't tell a children they inherited their mother or father's undesirable traits. Holm also talks about the subtle comparisons implicit in "son worship," noting that in many families mothers wait on their sons and expect daughters to do more than their fair share of the housework.
6. Cherish your children. While spending a week with a foster child in the hospital, Holm witnessed another mother care for her dying 3-year-old.
"Laurie's mother kept a constant vigil, stroking her daughter's skin, gazing lovingly into her eyes, humming softly and endlessly whispering endearments to her. The mother, who had dark circles under her eyes and moved as though she carried the weight of the world, left each day only long enough to shower and change her clothes.
"On the fifth day, Laurie's mother pulled her chair over to mine. Tears streaming down her cheeks, she took my hand and squeezed it. She spoke with urgency. `I hope your baby knows you love her. Laurie really never knew I loved her till it was too late.'
"Early next morning when I arrived, Laurie was gone, her crib stripped and scrubbed. The chair where her mother had sat was pushed against the wall. No vestige of either remained. Yet that grieving woman's words have stayed with me.
"When I see people belittling and humiliating their children, ignoring them, jerking them roughly about, or treating them with contempt, I think of her words. Why does it so often take a crisis in the lives of our children for us to cherish them the way they deserve?"
7. Be consistent in rules and attitudes. If they are to clean their room before playing every Saturday, don't let them run out the door with a dirty room one week, Holm advises. Otherwise when you try to get them to clean their room on the next Saturday, you'll have a battle.
8. Make time for children. Plan time for special moments. Taking a walk together or working together provide good opportunities for conversation. Rituals as simple as always making homemade valentines or always washing windows together on Labor Day tie a family together. Another time that it's important to be with children is when they are sick. If both parents work outside the home, one of them should take time off, if at all possible, according to Holm. "Children are particularly vulnerable when they are sick, and time willingly spent with them then suggests, like no other way, how special they are."
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