i am busy compiling a list of 40 Tips for Parents which will hopefully encourage, inspire, challenge and give some new and fresh ideas or perspective on how you can parent well. Here are the first five in the series:
40 Tips for Parents: Tip #1
Love your children. Let them know you love them by telling them. Often. Not you love them IF or you love them WHEN – never let it seem to them that it is conditional in any way – good behaviour, good marks, similar life values.
Your relationship with your children might be easy. It might be difficult. It might be super complicated. It will most likely be combinations of the above. But at the heart of it all, don’t ever leave them guessing whether or not you care for them deeply.
Through good times and bad times, through discipline and disappointments, through disagreements and full on fights, let your child always know that they are loved by you, no matter what.
Love your children.
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40 Tips For Parents: Tip #2
Prioritise your children and give them some of the best of your time.
This doesn’t – i don’t think – mean give them all of your time or mean run your whole life around them. i imagine this can be a tricky one to try and get right. But it certainly means don’t give them the leftovers/the dregs when it comes to your time.
Choose spending some quality time with your children over defaulting to screen time (phone, computer or television).
Choose spending some quality time with your children over spending extra time at work or church or the gym, or with your friends. Again, this doesn’t mean don’t do any of those things, but if doing those things mean your children never get to see you or properly spend time with you, you may need to look at your priorities.
[Pastors, missionaries and Christian speakers can be the worst at this: if ‘the Lord’s work’ means you are constantly choosing God stuff over family time, you may be doing it wrong.]
i am 45 years old and my parents still come to watch my hockey games when they can. That must be some kind of Guinness World Record I’m sure. Not much says “I love you!” better than giving up time to sit in the cold, excessive heat, or rain to watch a bunch of old men run at each other with sticks.
i get super encouraged when i ask a friend if we can hang and they say they can’t because they are taking their son to karate or their daughter to a birthday party. Or when we are visiting friends and they will excuse themselves from the conversation to go upstairs and read a bedtime story to their girls.
i really do think this is a balance thing and there can be the unhealthy extreme of letting your children rule your whole life and dominate all your time – which i don’t think is necessary – but ensuring that your children know they are loved by you and a priority to you feels like such an important step in parenting.
Prioritise your children and give them some of the best of your time.
Parents, how have you found doing this in practice? Easy or hard? A discipline or a pleasure? Which side have you erred towards?
i think it’s important to add a disclaimer with a point towards wealthy people and one for those who are less wealthy:
– if you are on the wealthier side of things and find that your work is keeping you away from family (business trips, speaking trips) more than is healthy, you might need to consider changing your job or your lifestyle or both. Of the idea of “I’m doing this for my family!” keeps you from spending any decent time with your family, then that might be something to question.
– when i think of those on the less wealthy side of things, there may be work stuff that keeps some people away from spending time with family that they cant simply go and get a new job to fix.
One example is the person who cleans your house or looks after your children who has to get up at 3/4 in the morning to catch 2/3 transports to get to your house… Often at the expense of time with their families. In those cases i think those of us employing people need to get creative in making ways for those who work for us to not do it at the expense of their families, whether it means shorter hours for the same pay or doing something to make sure their children are looked after when their mother is away or whatever it is (that we ideally work out with the person and not for the person) but we may find we have a responsibility to those who work for us so that they are able to prioritise their children more effectively.
How can we as family, friends, employers and colleagues think about helping the parents we know prioritse their children?
Hilary Alison Mushambi: Sometimes the challenge of this one is that your time with the little ones can be overwhelmed by things you must do for them and you can miss the moments for connecting between the getting stuff done. But it’s a valid point, we need to find ways to connect. Even in between getting kids dressed, making them food, etc. And the more kids there are the harder it is to squeeze out time for an individual child. But at every stage it is important to do something.
Dave Gale: When you are with them, be present. Does not matter if it is bathtime or taxi-time to school and back. Engage and be present.
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40 Tips For Parents: Tip #3
Keep your word.
Let’s be honest, this is just a great life principle for everyone, always. But it feels particularly important for parents.
Also this is good to do at all times, but particularly in the space of discipline.
I have watched many parents threaten consequences to an action or inaction, and then fail to deliver on them. And the child picks this up very quickly and will work it against you.
Having lived with various people with children it seems like discipline is one of the hardest things to get consistently right. But when you say something and don”t follow through with it, you are only shooting yourself in the foot and causing greater long-term issues.
One of the lessons connected to this is, of course, be slow to say things you can’t or won’t carry out. But if you build up a reputation as a parent who keeps their word, your child will soon learn to not push you or the boundaries. And it is worth having a few hard moments/meltdowns early on if it sets up a system where the child learns that once you have spoken, then it will come to pass.
On a different note [and we learn this in the movies – any time a character makes a promise, it’s a likely sign they are going to die and not be able to fulfill that promise] when you promise you will do something [be at the netball game, make a batch of biscuits for school, drop them off at the party] and then something that comes up stops you from doing that thing, that can be pretty relationship destructive too.
My suggestion is to be super slow to make promises. Rather give an expectation that you are going to make a solid effort to do the thing and be quick with an apology if it falls through. But when you have said you will do it, or you will show up, or you will get that thing, then you better do everything you can to keep your word. Trust is such a hard one to rebuild and takes time.
i know consistency is huge, especially for younger children who tend to do well with routine, and discipline can be a big part of this. Maybe we will look at consistency in another tip. But one space where you have to be consistent is in doing what you say you will do.
Whether it is greeting people or finishing their food or doing their chores or stopping some destructive or dangerous behaviour, maybe take an extra moment to consider what you are going to say to your child, but once you have spoken the words, you really have to carry them out.
Parents, keep your word!
Janet Chadwick: My kids have been faced with lots of death in their life. My daughter asks me if I’m going to die and I always tell her “never!”. Just kidding. I say “dying is a natural part of life, and we can’t control when or how, but we can choose to enjoy every moment we have with each other, and know that whether I’m alive or dead, I will always, always love you”.
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40 Tips For Parents: Tip #4
Explain things to your children.
i grew up with a parental generation who were largely from the Nike slogan generation –
“Why?” “Because I said so!”
Probably one generation down from the ‘Children must be seen and not heard’ generation although with a lot of overflow still present. And it’s not like these things happen nicely and neatly and so there are still some parents today who work like that, although i think we have hopefully largely moved on.
So it was confusing for me when i would make plans with my friends at school for the holidays and then find out we were going on a family holiday [which we did every year but as a kid i never made those kind of connections] and be really angry and tend to mess up the family holiday by being in a bad mood. Which was confusing for my parents cos they had planned a nice family holiday. But a lot of assumption on both sides that could have been avoided had there been good, clear, honest communication, and explanation.
My ‘sex talk’ was a book called ‘What every boy should know’ left on my bed when i was way too old not to have ‘learned all the things’ from mates at school and the movies. Also, i think, a remnant from the generation my parents were from, where topics like sex and others were seen as for adults only and there was a lot of embarrassment or even shame associated with talking about them.
i know parents today who have had conversations with their young children about apartheid and about race, about why some people beg for money at traffic lights and why eating meat all the time can be problematic, about how their bodies work and why they can’t have that new toy/game their friend has. And i know parents who lean towards more of a “Because I said so” “Just do it” kind of stance. The first one always feels more empowering and successful.
It’s not necessarily appropriate for children to know/understand every single reason why every single decision has been made by their parents, but by taking time to sit and have conversations about relevant issues and world events and things they see or experience, i think you are doing your child a great service.
Experiencing the Lifeskills work that The Life Matters Foundation does in schools and watching how BottomUp teaches young people how to ask critical questions and interrogate systems and structures has been eye-opening for me. They, and many like them, are busy working to create a generation that will not be satisfied with the mess society has presented them and will be part of the critique, change and transformation that is so necessary.
Discipline is something we will look at in a separate tip or two, but when it comes to disciplining your children i think it is so important to explain things to them openly and honestly. This is why you are being punished or this is why this particular consequence is linked to that particular action. The confusion of getting into trouble without knowing why can be fairly traumatic for a young growing mind.
Every child is different and so there is no ‘One size fits all’ which applies to all of these tips, but by making the effort to explain things to your child when you can and when it feels appropriate, you will be giving them skills that will serve them well in life. You will also be investing in a closer relationship as explanation and understanding breeds trust and intimacy.
So figure out the how and when with your children, but please do your best to explain things to them.
Would love to hear from some parents what your experience of this particular one has been, perhaps with a look back to how it was for you as a child and how you try to do things now.
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40 Tips for Parents #5
Raise the Bar
For the most part many of us tend to expect far less from children than they are capable of. We dismiss them because of their age “They’re only kids” which is often why we don’t make the time to explain things to them [see Tip #4]. But i believe they are often capable of so much more.
[And i want to disclaimer this tip with a cry for balance because a large part of me also thinks that sometimes we expect them to grow up too quickly and so there should be plenty of time given for them to just be children and enjoy life and play and create and imagine]
This is a tip i have learned from watching some of our very good friend parents in action. From explaining to some extent what death is really about when a pet or even an adult has died rather than giving them an awful nice-sounding metaphor that is more likely to confuse while avoiding the conversation than give them some real tools to be able to express their own grief; to sitting and explaining [again, to some extent, children do not need to know everything] what happened when mommy and daddy got into a big fight in front of them the night before; to inviting their suggestions when they ask about the person who comes to the door asking for food or the mom with the child begging at the traffic lights; to inviting their opinion about what to eat or where to go on holiday or what to do on a day off.
It’s the subtle difference between getting a list of chores to do and investing in the week to week running of the house [from ‘Go do those things’ to ‘Here is a list of all the things we need to do to keep things running, which ones will you commit to this week?’] It’s asking them why they think they received discipline instead of telling them, or even asking what consequence they think their actions deserve in a situation [and maybe what consequence they think YOUR actions deserve when you get something wrong]. Making decisions together about how much screen time they think is good or right.
i imagine this tip involves a lot of trial and error, which looking at parenting from a distance, seems to be what most of it is about a lot of the time. So the encouragement is to raise the bar on how you do life with your children, especially as they get older, to slowly start equipping them to make better, more informed decisions when they grow up. If you start teaching them at a young age the why of things. then they will likely continue to question and assess and interrogate as they continue in life instead of just taking things at face value.
Last point for raising the bar is to invite them into some conversations about the way things are [in your family, in your community, in church, in society] typically through questions or simply asking their opinion about an advert or a billboard or some action they see someone else doing in the street or restaurant or park. And also about the way things could be by drawing on their imagination, creativity and different perspective on doing things.
Children are often capable of a lot more than we give them credit for, so consider raising the bar [while giving them plenty of time to just children in between].
Parents, any stories or examples of how you have seen this play out? Or even a time when you tried it and it didn’t go so well?
i would LOVE to hear your thoughts and feedback on these 40 Tips for Parents. Anything you disagree with? Something you would like to add? Did one of them particularly stand out for you or give you a fresh perspective on something? Come and share some thoughts in the comments.
[For the next 5 tips in this series, click here]