Clients call in to our help desk all day long asking questions about our online parenting classes. Many people are interested in taking them to fulfill a court requirement for divorce but just as many sign up simply because they want to improve their own parenting skills and the harmony in the household. Yesterday a new student decided to take an Advanced Parenting Program because she and her husband were expecting their first set of twins and were arguing about what their responsibilities as parents were. Both of them grew up in big families and didn’t feel that they had a particular closeness with their parents because they didn't have time for them, and if they did, it was rarely alone time. Now that they are getting the chance to raise their own kids, the wife had one set of ideas about what was important while the husband had another.
Family and child psychologists agree that there are some basic parental responsibilities that good caregivers provide. They include:
1. Safety. Somehow the moment that child is born, most parents go into hyper drive for the next 18 years to make sure the child is safe. This includes putting away or even locking up unsafe objects or medications, installing smoke alarms, making sure the child is fitted with a sturdy car seat or seatbelt, and installing gates around pools or dangerous spots around the house. It also means getting to know the people who will be taking care of your child while you are at work so you are comfortable that he or she will be free from physical or emotional harm.
2. Stability. Children thrive on routine so work with your spouse to create a schedule that works best for your family. If possible include time for each of you to hang out together reading or playing, eating meals together, bathing at a certain time and a set bedtime that they can depend on.
3. Basic essentials. This includes food and water, a clean place to live, clothing, education, medical attention, and socialization. This doesn’t mean that you have to buy them the most expensive designer clothes, video games, or technology like their friends have. What kids will remember more than anything is your love, care, encouragement and support.
4. Values. Whether it’s through your local church or temple or in the privacy of your own home, provide your kids with positive examples of honesty, respect, responsibility, generosity, and compassion. Be a role model for them by taking time to stop and help someone who is disabled carry their bags to the car, or by listening patiently to an older person gripe about their ailments. Explain the results of bad behavior so they can understand the bigger picture. For example, “If you don’t share with your friends, they eventually won’t think it’s fun to come to our house and will turn down play dates with you.” Your kids will learn by your example that possessing good morals will have successful consequences for them.
5. Discipline. While you might remember having a great time over at the friend’s house where the parents didn’t care what was going on, in the long run, what kind of adults did those friends turn out to be? Children need to learn rules, respect and responsibility starting in the home. Establish limits and make clear what the consequences are for breaking those rules. This includes things like being kind to one another, house cleanliness, using each other’s things, screen and video time and eventually curfews. Be sure to follow-through on punishments or the child will learn that it’s all meaningless and they can get away with whatever they want.
6. Education. Every study shows that the more involved the parents are in the child’s education, the better the student does. Talk to your child each day about what he’s learning, who his friend’s are, or what his teacher is like. Set aside quiet time to be available to help with homework. Praise him when he’s making progress or for specific achievements.
7. Communicate! Make time to spend together when you are devoted to listening. Due your best to respect his or her feelings and opinions and try not to judge. Making yourself available all throughout their childhood will lead to better communication during those difficult teen years.