Numerous helpful books have been written on child guidance. But even if you have not read any of the books or if you have broken many of the rules they suggest, your children will probably turn out well if you do two things: love them and listen to them.
Let’s first talk about love. Although it is possible to indulge and overprotect our children, it is impossible to give them too much real love. Even when it is necessary for parents to reprimand a child, he should understand that we do it because we love him and are in no way rejecting him. Children need love most when they seem to deserve it least.
As parents, not only should we love our children, but we should also help them feel that love. What really counts is the response the love causes within the child. A parent’s love should comprise seven qualities, each one beginning with the letter A.
1. Attention. Children demand attention constantly in one way or another, so we should give them the very best attention possible and give it gladly. We should make the time we spend with them really count in good relationships and meaningful experiences.
2. Availability. Actually, this is more of an attitude than an act. Not only should we make a point to be present when our children need us, but our children must feel that their welfare and happiness are of first importance to us and that we are always available to them.
3. Acceptance. Unless the child feels our unqualified acceptance —whether he hates piano or excels in baseball or is a top student or not—he won’t gain the maximum benefits of our love. A mother must not mold each child into what she considers to be an ideal person; rather, she must help him and guide him in becoming the best of whatever he is.
Naturally, such traits as dishonesty cannot be tolerated in anyone, but the world is desperately in need of people with varied contributions to make. Just as a garden is made more beautiful with a variety of flowers, so is this world better because of the differences of the people in it.
4. Approval. Children thrive on approval or encouragement and wither with criticism. Some parents think they are training their children if they criticize them often, but discipline and training should be positive, not negative. Psychologists say that an encouraged child is a happy, well-adjusted child; a discouraged child is unhappy and is often naughty or poorly adjusted.
5. Appreciation. While closely linked to acceptance and approval, appreciation is vital enough to the well-being of a child to merit individual mention. Parents should show their child that he is appreciated and tell him so. And they shouldn’t just tell him—they should write it sometimes.
A special thank-you note from a parent would be treasured by a child. At “back-to-school” night a mother left a note of appreciation for the child’s school efforts in each of her children’s desks. The children were delighted when they found the notes the next day and tried even harder to do their best work.
6. Advantages. If we really love our children, we will give them every possible advantage. We will give them the advantage of learning right from wrong and establishing a sound value system. We will give them the advantage of learning to work hard and thoroughly. We will give them the advantage of learning to get along well with their fellowmen. We will give them the advantage of knowing the feeling of earning a dollar for an honest hour’s labor. We will give them the advantage of making, doing, and acting, not just of having, watching, and reacting.
Two little boys built a toy car. When it was almost finished one of them asked, “Which do you think is the most fun, making or having?”
The other replied, after a thoughtful moment, “Making.”
Parents should give their children real advantages—the ones of lasting value.
7. Affection. In their own natural way, parents should demonstrate their love for their children through affection. It is known that infants who are denied affection during the early weeks of their lives often grow up with impaired personalities. Affection helps a child blossom as does sunshine a flower.
These seven qualities—attention, availability, acceptance, approval, appreciation, advantages, and affection—make up the love that children need.
Now let’s discuss listen.
Wise parents learn, sometimes the hard way, to listen more and talk less. Teenagers whose parents really listen to them feel understood. Children of all ages need to be listened to. Have you ever heard a child of about four say, “Don’t say no until I say to”?
Not only is listening to a child a matter of courtesy and good personal relations; it can also be the clue to what he is thinking about, where he has been, and what he is doing. A wise parent will also listen “between the lines” and hear the sighs, heartthrobs, and unspoken words.
Listening can be delightfully entertaining. Children are such fun. Five-year-old Becky said, “Don’t bother me. I’m thinking my dreams.”
Another little girl, sipping her first ginger ale, said, “Ginger ale tastes like my foot feels when it goes to sleep.”
A young boy tried to tell visitors about his pedigreed cat. He could not think of the word pedigree so he finally put the point across by saying, “Its parents were experts.”
A little girl stepped out of a swimming pool and said, “Look, mother, my teeth are chewing without me.”
Love your children and listen to them.