By Terry Neven, Sunland
1-800-525-4419 / www.home-schooling.org

Each generation thinks, “I wouldn’t want to be a parent today.” The truth is parents and children are the same in every generation. The challenges are always similar, just the content changes. Sometimes our perspective gets clouded by the overwhelming distractions happening around us. However, the four key areas in parenting remain static for every generation; spiritual, mental, emotional and academic. Let’s look at a breakdown in each area.

SPIRITUALA basic foundation for successful adulthood is a child’s spiritual foundation: honesty, faithfulness, respect, loyalty, commitment, life principles, values, belief in God, and the list goes on! While children do learn these things from family and the world around them without ever having a meaningful conversation or direct instruction, sometimes they “pick up” the wrong things (bullying, cheating, disrespect, etc.). It behooves us as parents to create the conversations and nurture them to help children develop upstanding character. The “conversations” may feel awkward, but the time will come where you wish you had them anyway! While the following sample may seem over simplistic, consciencely saying the words are important for a child to hear; they can’t read your mind or intent!

Sample – “I know others act this way all the time, but you are special and need to be aware that the things you do and say will have a greater impact on you as a person as you grow older. It is important that you choose not do what everyone else does, but to do what you know is right. It might make you feel like you are different than others, but you are and in a good way, and I don’t want you to stop being that way. As you get older, you will realize the value of choosing to do the right thing, even if it feels like you are missing out now. Your friends may not always be there, but you will always have to live with yourself.”

MENTALHow each child thinks is unique. Within a family, each member can have a different way of processing thought. While we can not change the basic structure, we can train them as they grow; understanding who they are as an individual, who they are in their beliefs, how to set goals, how to be organized, understanding finances, understanding social behavior, and the list goes on. Parents may model different styles of thinking, from micromanagement to freestyle. The “proof is in the pudding” when the children grow older, and there is good and bad to every style. Helping children learn to think for themselves, and make good, healthy choices in life, can be an invaluable part of parenting.

Sometimes it is tough for us to take a good look at ourselves as parents, and how we act and treat our children and others. Are we being helicopter parents, are we emotionally disconnected, are we trying to control their thinking? We might not like what we see, but if we don’t look and change some things, our style might bite us back as our children get older. I used to tell parents of young children that their child will change when they become teenagers, sometimes into someone they don’t recognize. Many parents who thought I was being cynical came back years later and said they wish they had listened.

EMOTIONALIt’s not easy for children to navigate their emotions, but even more challenging if we haven’t learned to navigate ours as parents. One of the best things we can do is encourage our children to talk about how they feel, and make sure we listen! Children many times adjust what they tell parents, as they watch how we listen. If we interrupt them as they speak and don’t let them tell us everything freely, they will begin to withhold open communication. If scold them before we hear the complete story from all sides, they will begin to hide themselves from us or avoid telling us things. These conversations are valuable communication for parents to learn to understand their child and be able to nurture them.

While we don’t want our kids to get lost in their emotions, it helps to let them know feelings are neither wrong nor right. Talk with them about making good choices, not based on emotions. Just because one feels a certain way does not determine who they are or what they should do. Everyone feels the emotions of confusion, uncertainty, sadness, depression, discouragement, and hopelessness, but these are momentary feelings, not indicators of who we are! Parents must learn to listen as the means to helping their children become who they can be, and not foster the reactionary defensive self of a child!

ACADEMIC – Many adults never master the full skills of reading, writing and arithmetic, and they suffer from this in many ways, in their relationships, jobs and personal development. Learning to enjoy learning is an invaluable tool, it fuels us to continuously grow and better ourselves. Even casual reading is becoming a lost part of society. While educating our children, affirming they have learned the basics is more important than the goal of how far they get in completing their studies! If you haven’t memorized the times tables, algebra will be a struggle. If you don’t learn phonics, reading can be a challenge. And the list goes on.

Life is tough. Raising children is a challenge and there is no quick fix or magic wand around that truth. Having expectations for our children and pushing them in that direction lacks the other side of the coin, understanding and growing to know them individually and finding the unique tools and means of nurturing them as they grow. The key to nurturing our children comes through conversations with them. Concentrating on honing our parenting skills will bring us greater satisfaction as our children grow up and can help our children learn to enjoy a life of grace and mercy!