Many parents are unsure whether their children’s problems are the result of their genes, of what they learned in the home or owing to societal pressures. Childbearing has never been easy and today children face more competition, more peergroup pressure and more emotional stress. This means that good parenting is essential. Building young lives takes time, tolerance, patience, faith, self-sacrifice, love and work. Nothing is more rewarding than watching a child grow into maturity and independence.
This process is facilitated if we strive to meet five needs that every child has: acceptance, love, security, self-esteem and discipline. These needs are inextricably linked. The fulfilment of one need provides the base and foundation for another. If we strive to meet these needs, we can be sure of turning out happy, mature, secure and self-confident young adults. Every child needs ACCEPTANCE – acceptance of them as they are, with their strengths and weaknesses.
Acceptance must come, first and foremost, from one’s parents or principal caretakers, who are a kind of mirror in which children see themselves. This influences their perception of themselves and the kind of person they see themselves growing up into. The way children are accepted in their early years may influence the esteem they have of themselves and of others when they grow into adulthood. Unfortunately, some adults convey the idea to their children that they are accepted when they succeed and unaccepted when they do not.
This causes children to view themselves with a mixture of respect and scorn. Children feel unaccepted when they are constantly criticized. Another deterrent to acceptance is comparing one child with another. Adverse comparisons are odious. Children must be allowed to grow and develop in their own unique way and must feel loved, wanted and cherished for what they are and despite their weaknesses. Every child needs LOVE. It is said that: “To love and to be loved is the greatest happiness of existence”. Love must have four dimensions – a love that is unconditional, a love that cares, a love that trusts and a love that forgives and asks forgiveness in return. Unconditional love implies “I love you as you are without any conditions or restrictions”.
A caring love expresses itself not just in words but more so in deeds. It expresses itself in finding undisturbed quality time for one’s child. Nowadays, this is increasingly difficult and yet it is essential. Children want and need their parents’ caring love. “Do not sacrifice your family on the altar of commerce” is a quote well worth remembering. A love that trusts is expressed through messages such as “I believe in you”, “I trust you”, “Your word is enough for me”. Our children in turn must trust us and must know that we are there for them – in good times and in bad. True love forgives and does not hold anger, resentment or hate; it is gracious enough to ask for forgiveness when we have misjudged or if our anger has been out of proportion to the offence.
If children experience these aspects of love, they will be able to love in return. Vital to every child is SECURITY. A child needs to feel safe and to be protected from danger and harm. Insecurity may be created when children witness frequent conflict, by unexplained absence of one or both parents from the home or by a lack of adequate boundaries for behaviour. Children may seem to rebel when limits are set, yet these very limits show them that you care.
Adults who have lacked security in their own lives often have difficulty in providing consistent discipline and tend to shift from permissiveness to severity, leaving their children confused and insecure. Security is built up through a visible, tangible love that children see and experience. Children feel a sense of stability and severity when they experience family unity and are then more able to withstand group pressure. Togetherness comes from doing things together – simple things such as cleaning up together, shopping together, eating together, relaxing together and above all by praying together. A great need of every child is SELF-ESTEEM.
This implies a healthy sense of personal worth and significance. A sense of self-esteem must be cultivated from a child’s earliest years. It is nurtured by acceptance, love and security, and by praise, appreciation and encouragement. It is destroyed by feelings of rejection, failure, constant blame, criticism and comparisons with others. A parent’s low self-esteem is often a model for the child. Overprotection is an obstacle to building a child’s self-esteem.
When a child is not encouraged to be independent, to do what he can for himself, to take responsibility for his needs and wellbeing as he advances in age and experience and when he is not taught to think for himself, self-esteem is not built up. Finally, every child needs DISCIPLINE. If relationships between parents and children are to be good, then one of the principal functions of parents is to set limits of behaviour and discipline. Parents whose philosophy is never to say ‘No’ rear children who care for nothing and no one.
Discipline includes both nurture and restriction – two necessary elements for living. We need to distinguish between training and punishment. Careless awkward actions can be improved by consistent reminders over time, whereas deliberate misconduct must be dealt with immediately. Discipline really includes everything a parent says or does to help the child learn and develop to maturity. If we strive to give children these five basic things, we will give them a treasure that no money can buy and that they will remember and cherish us for all the days of our lives