Our children are the rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation. They will be the leaders of our country, the creators of our national wealth who care for and protect our people
— Nelson Mandela
Children have always been celebrated as the most powerful resource that a country can have. Children hold unlimited potential that is just waiting to be unleashed, and the responsibility of tapping into that potential has been handed over to their teachers.
Every school teacher must have at least once encountered a parent who blamed them for an underperforming child or had a parent saying something like, “At home, my child is a completely different person. I don’t know why they are aggressive at school.”
There is conclusive evidence based on research to suggest that, more than teachers, it is parents who lay the foundation for the cognitive and social development for later stages of a child. This study is one of many. The proverbs the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and the branch grows as the twig grows prove this centuries-old wisdom.
In this modern world that has transformed due to technology, we see some children who are aggressive, lack respect for people, property, or environment, are without gender sensitivity, and are deficient of compassion and empathy, while there are others who are the complete antithesis of the above.
So what differentiates them? Do we blame it on their amygdala and their socioeconomic backgrounds? Can parents and teachers play a role in constructing a rock-solid foundation for their cognitive, sociocultural, mental, and spiritual development? The latter can make a lot of difference.
In a child’s development from an infant to youth, the child learns more by observing and imitating than from reading and learning. Hence the adults around the child must model behavior which they would not be ashamed to see being mimicked by their children.
The first deciding factor is a sense of security that develops in a toddler which gives them the initial perception of the world around them as secure and trustworthy or unpredictable and hostile. A toddler learns words to express and communicate their needs and emotions. If a child is yelled at or punished at this stage by a parent or a caregiver, they may develop primary emotional responses such as anxiety or fear. The child would later develop aggressive or submissive behaviors as a means of self-protection, which would earn them a future status as a bully or a victim.
At this stage, the child also observes and models their behavior from the adults around them. If you want them to learn respect, gender sensitivity, compassion, and love for people, property, and the environment, then the parent has to accord with it. A child who has parents who share equal responsibilities at home will never grow up being unaware of the importance of teamwork in relationships. If a child observes a parent throwing things and having anger management issues, a child might learn to throw their toys to express rage.
There are certain measures that parents can adopt which will create a long-lasting impression on the developing mind of a child.
Talk, but talk carefully.
When Peggy O Mara said, “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice”, she was giving us a critical life lesson and age-old wisdom.
Talk to and with your children, about their day, your day, something that you saw or read, a challenge that you encountered at home or work, and possible solutions you can come up with. This will not only build vocabulary but when they ask questions and when you respond appropriately, it builds a bond of trust. Also, read stories. It will develop a love for reading and also will fire up their imagination and creativity.
Be careful when you talk with your partner. Your child may be around seemingly busy playing with their toys, but they are also listening to your talk. Abusive and hurtful words are picked up from home. If a child who has not been exposed to abusive or hurtful language at home would feel safe approaching you or a teacher if they experience this language from outside sources like fellow classmates or in the media. They would trust you enough for you to explain the good and bad of using them.
Share responsibilities at homemaking.
Children who see only mothers cooking, cleaning, and doing dishes will assume and assign gender roles. Even in families with a single parent or same-sex parents, it is essential to share the responsibilities of homemaking by involving your children. Keeping your things arranged and in order will encourage your children to follow suit. Children can be taught to keep their toys in the assigned place, set the dining table, carry dishes to the sink, dry dishes, or any chore which they can assist with. You can use these family moments to start conversations with your child and they will grow up to be independent and learn that homemaking is not a job signed to a particular household member but something to be shared by all family members.
Show sensitivity towards the environment.
Rather than preaching about caring for the environment, let them see you separate your waste, use cloth and paper bags, create and care for a garden, conserve water, minimize food wastage, etc. If you keep the chocolate wrapper in your pocket, to be disposed of later in a designated bin, you can be assured that your child will never fling it out on the pavement.
Children as young as two years old are able to recognize when they are being judged by others. This is when children begin to understand what it means to judge and be judged by others based on their similarities and differences, but they are still flexible in their belief system. Hence as parents, it is critical that we are showing our young children how to embrace diversity by acting and speaking in ways that are in line with these values. Never make “harmless” jokes or derogatory remarks that reinforce stereotypes or labeling people based on differences in ethnicity, religion, sexuality, or socioeconomic background.
Use magic words.
If you use “Thank You”, “Sorry”, “May I come in”, “Excuse Me”, and more, you are teaching your children to use those polite magic words appropriately.
Show the importance of honesty.
Don’t make promises that you cannot keep and if you make a promise, make sure to follow through. Do not hide facts or sugar coat things in situations where honesty would be constructive to your child’s worldview. This is how children will learn to value honesty, especially when it comes to matters that involve relationships and money. Let them observe that they should speak the truth and stick to what they say.
Allow spiritual development.
Even if you are not religious, teaching your children to be more accepting and believing in the greater good can help them gain a sense of purpose. Meditation or just being still and doing nothing for a while, knowing right from wrong, being empathetic, and having good ethical values liberates the free spirit in children.
Provide unconditional love.
Celebrate your family and relationships. Give good morning hugs. If you fail at something, admit it, pick yourself up, and talk about it. If your child fails at something, make an effort to understand why and what to do before you criticize them. Allow them to find solutions, but also let them know that mistakes do not label them as a failure. Never put down their ideas and suggestions without discussions even if they are utterly ridiculous. Taking risks and being resilient is a life skill that they will acquire from you.
By doing this, you set a concrete foundation and send them out into the world to be with their peers. As they advance through life, things won’t always be easy, but you can rest assured that they have the knowledge you gave them through your words and actions. Your love and support will always be a beacon to guide them.
Your child is and will be a reflection of you. Let it be a beautiful one.
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