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How to raise happy, balanced children

One major influence on creating well rounded children is how they’re raised

Now, I’m not claiming to be a parenting expert, because I’m not even close. I have one daughter and I made plenty of mistakes. For me, parenting success throughout my mothering went from ‘thank heavens I didn’t roll over and squash her’, to feeling accomplished if I dropped her off to preschool with her hair brushed, to having the sex and drugs chat with her—my girl is over 30 now; we both survived the journey. This time in my life was my first time as a parent, and her first time as a child. We both did pretty well, but she has let me know where I screwed up. She’s out there in the big wide world, adulting and making her own way. If I’d have known the things I’ve learned through my research that I know now, I would have raised her completely different. But below are a couple of real corkers that I think will help you raise stable, nice children.

Understand that your child is no more or less special than other children

Yes, you love your child. We are (mostly) genetically predisposed to connect with our own DNA. But the only real difference between your child and someone else’s child, is that you love yours more. Everything else is a level playing field. Social media and the upward trend of narcissism has made the playing field a nightmare—everyone wants to outdo everyone else. Their kids are better, smarter and prettier than any other kid. And it’s simply not true. To praise mediocre performance teaches the child that he doesn’t have to try—there will be a reward at the end. If your child has shown effort, then that’s when the reward (praise) should come. He doesn’t need to get all A’s on his report, if he’s tried his best and received Cs then he deserves your praise for effort. I hear daily the call to treat people equally, yet I fear what is happening is that culturally we’re talking the talk, but we’re not walking the walk. Our actions are not matching up with our discourse. We’re saying one thing and doing another. Children will hear the words of their parents, but parental actions say otherwise. Your child does not deserve special privileges or entitlements over others. That is not equity. Here’s an example:The coach of a football team wants to give his players time on the field, but some players are better than others. When her child is called off, the mother demands the child get more time because he’s a better player than the others. This mother is demanding inequity in order to elevate her child. He’ll listen to her words about equity, but when he watches his mother arguing with the coach, well, that boy will soon learn that equity doesn’t apply to him. He is inadvertently being taught that he’s entitled and may well grow to expect special privileges, because that’s the way he was raised.

Say no. Don’t join the ‘my kid is my best friend’ trend

Saying yes is the easy way out, not the better way out. Saying no, and explaining why the answer is no, will teach your child about consequences, logic and problem solving. If you are forever giving in to your child’s demands, you’re creating an expectancy that everything in life comes easy. It doesn’t. We should be teaching our kids that if you want something hard enough, you need to work at it. So, ignore the tantrums and the manipulation, your child is just testing the boundaries. If you give in, you’re also teaching your child that the boundaries are removed after they wear you down. No is no. If no become yes, you’re teaching your child manipulation strategies and entitlement mentality. Your child needs your nurturing, your guidance, your protection and your love. He has his own friends, and this is not the category you belong to, especially when your child is young.

Teach your child manners and respect

I read recently that the Australia’s first peoples have no words for ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. This is because before the colonists came, the indigenous were very much a ‘collective’ culture, in that everyone in the community looked after everyone in the community. Manners were redundant because it was an expectation that everyone would pull their weight. Sadly, this isn’t so with our culture (especially today), which is a pity because if it was, there would be no narcissism (and less stress, depression, suicide, bullying, waste, and the list goes on). Today, in Western countries, we live as ‘individualistic’ cultures—we look after ourselves. If our parents get old we place them in a home, in a collective culture elders are cared for by their children.

Nowadays, it is not an expectation that we pull our weight for community. The words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, have become our way to show gratitude. Unless something amazing happens and we become a collective culture, I think it’s important that our children are raised with the awareness of giving and receiving. Manners teach humility and gratitude, both of which are important traits to have. Narcissists are not humble, nor do they have gratitude. If you catch public transport, have your child stand for the elderly, disabled or pregnant women. Have them open doors for others, not just women, everyone. Insist they call adults ‘Mr’ and ‘Mrs’ (or whatever prefix is relevant). Teach manners and respect—and lead by example.

Be kind and teach your children to be kind

Learning empathy is something we can focus on when our children are very young. Talk about feelings and emotions, ask her why she thinks someone is crying on television. This draws your child’s attention away from themselves and to other people. If your child is mean, explain the consequences, and the emotions of the other person. Teach your child to be kind to other people, and teach him to be kind to animals. Explain that all animals are sentient, in that they feel emotions like love, fear, loneliness and sadness. Being kind to animals is paramount to raising a kind kid who will grow into a kind adult, and heaven knows, we need more of this type of human on the planet.

Be warm rather than praising them. It’s not all about quality time, it’s very much about quantity time.

What I mean by this is spend time with your child, play games with them, cook together and do craft together. It’s not necessary to praise your child all the time, and it’s also not necessary to buy them stuff all the time. Just spend some close time together without pouring money or praise over them, because they don’t need either in copious quantities, and doing so teaches children they are superior and entitled. When you’re with your child, put your phone away, be present with your child. I often see parents completely ignoring their children because they’re on their technology. Heads up: your kid is much more important than anything else going on in cyberland. Don’t spend time with him and ignore him, and don’t use technology like ipads or phones as babysitters.

Teach your child effort and reward

When my daughter, Bronte, was in primary school, she basically got Cs on her report cards for sport. This happened from grades 1 through 5. I was okay with that, she got the grade she deserved. She knew it and we knew it. Then something happened (to this day, I don’t know what but I’m guessing it was boy related). In the athletic carnival, Bronte won every individual race she ran in. This was a complete surprise to Ken and I because up until that day, we didn’t know she could run. Our Bronte was like lightening. We had no idea she was this good. Ken and I sat there watching her with our jaws on the ground. She lapped other runners, her stride was beautiful, and she was covered in red ribbons and so proud of herself. But, then came the team events. I remember after Bronte had gained serious ground in the relay so that her team was winning, she handed the baton to the next runner who didn’t care, and who didn’t try. Bronte was gutted—all that effort, and the team went from first place to third place. The girl who didn’t try took a third-place ribbon home. She didn’t deserve it.

That year Bronte was named Primary School Sports Captain. And that’s the difference, she deserved the Captaincy badge and the ribbons—and we praised her performance in the areas she tried her best. For those classes where she was disappointed at her grade, we suggested ways to improve, practical things she could do if she was serious about improvement. The ‘every child player gets a prize’ mentality is unproductive and teaches children there is reward for no effort.

Teach them about nature

We can learn so much from nature. In nature, animals and plants connect and work together to create healthy ecosystems which are beneficial to all. Much like healthy communities work. Sit down and talk about the veins running through the leaves, or the colours in the flowers, tell your child about why bees visit the flowers. If the bees die, we all die. Go for family walks through rainforests so your child can learn they are a small part of something very big and beautiful. Teach them they are connected to nature and must take steps to protect it.

Actions have consequences

Do not dismiss when your child has done something ‘bad’, help him accept responsibility for his actions. In doing so, he learns that all actions have reactions and consequences, and he learns empathy. If children are raised to not accept responsibility for their actions, they learn they are entitled and superior to others and as such, will be meaner than children who are taught this gem. In my family we have a saying, ‘Make your own decisions, pay your own tax’, which means that life is a series of choices, and irrespective of the choices one makes, if the decisions was a bad one, we must accept our contribution to the result. This thought pattern leads to learning productive skills such as strategising the possible outcomes, problem solving and humility—all wonderful lessons, irrespective of age.

Teach them to eat well and respect their bodies, and their food

Eat well, appreciate the food on the plate. Exercise, enjoy the sunshiney days and blue skies. Our bodies are our temples so teach your child how important it is to treat the temple well; where possible eat the rainbow (a selection of colourful veges). If your plate is beige, there is probably not too much nutritional value in its contents. Where possible, avoid processes foods and sugars, and reduce your meat intake. Try Meatfree Mondays and get the kids to help make with recipes. There are some wonderful vegetarian and vegan options that are easy to make and a hit with the family. If meat is a portion of the dinner, make a point to thank the animal for giving up its life to be your dinner.

No living thing, plant or animal wants to die. The animal on your plate is no different, so teach your child gratitude and humanity by doing this. Avoid being sedentary, get your child to get up and move. Have house rules that every hour in front of the television, xbox, or computer screen, an hour of exercise or movement, outside is necessary. A good healthy happy life is about balance. And remember your children need sleep, so remove all devices from their bedrooms to ensure this is happening.