I was at the airport recently and there was this young mother, travelling with two children, aged roughly three and five years. The three-year-old boy was quite energetic and keen to explore his surroundings and was putting the mother under pressure as she kept running after him.
Whenever she held him firmly so he would not escape from her grip, he would throw a tantrum until she released him. The older five-year-old boy was calm and playing games on a phone. I could see that the situation was going to degenerate very rapidly, as we still had two hours to kill.
In a short while, the mother had reached her breaking point and she snapped, grabbed the young lad and slapped him severally while threatening to deal with him if he so much as made any noise from the beating. The boy of course, ignored her and was screaming with all the energy he could muster.
Some other observers who had just arrived and did not witness the sequence of events started upbraiding her for being so harsh on such a small child. “This beating is too much; do you want to kill him?” They complained.
The exhausted and obviously angry mother just mumbled a ‘thank you’ under her breath and sat down, with the young boy firmly seated on her laps. The stern look on her face warned others to stay clear and not disturb her any further.
It is perfectly natural that nearly all parents worry about getting it right with their children. Am I doing something wrong? Will my child turn out alright? Am I being over-indulgent? Not spending enough time with my child?
Should I play more with them? Am I being too difficult and rigid? And on and on, the doubts just keep coming. They are often heightened, in the face of real or perceived criticism from others.
So, what is the magic formula for easy and successful parenting? In reality, there is no magical template, although some basic principles are helpful towards achieving successful parenting that promotes the emotional well-being of the children and the parents too.
- Understand your child. Every child has a unique temperament. Some are very sensitive while other are naturally more resilient. Some may be very caring and emotionally expressive while others may be more reserved.
- Be a parent to your child. Children, especially before the teenage years, need a firm hand to guide and restrain their excesses. They need to understand that you are the parent and the authority figure in their lives.
This is not to recommend being authoritarian and harsh. But boundaries and rules must be obeyed. For example, a five-year-old child should not be the one dictating what he/she will eat and/or when to eat. Consistency is key here.
- Support and build their self-esteem. Nurture their self-confidence and build their self-esteem. Let them gain confidence in taking the initiative once in a while to try something new. They want to re-arrange their room? Why not? Praise them when they do something right.
Don’t always point out their flaws and shortcomings. It is very easy to fall into the routine of comments such as ‘you are always clumsy,’ ‘I just knew you will drop them on the floor,’ etc.
- Maintain discipline. Love your children but be firm and don’t indulge them all the time. Wrong actions should carry consequences that are enforced consistently. Even for children with aggressive behaviours, consistent discipline significantly improves their behaviour.
- Be a role model. Do not tell them to always be honest for example, when they see you cheating others and telling lies every day.
- Invest your time. There is no substitute for spending quality time, bonding and getting to know your children and allowing them the opportunity to talk freely. Perhaps a family routine such as going for a stroll or some other activity is ideal.
- Reduce TV and gadget times. Let your children use their creative imagination, let them interact positively with other people in the home or let them read. Mindlessly sitting in front of the television all day, every day is not beneficial.
- Avoid unrealistic expectations. Do not set your children up for failure. Provide them with motivation, but let them know that it is okay to fail at a task. They cannot come first in exams all the time, but they can aspire for excellence.
- Maintain balance. Avoid being overprotective but at the same time, do not be completely detached such that they wonder if you simply do not care at all about their well-being.
- Relax, and simply do your best. Enjoy the parenting journey of their growing up years as much as you can.