What the child sees, the child does. What the child does, the child is.--Irish Proverb

Growing a Healthy Family

His girlfriend was dead. His best friend was dead. He was sober now, sitting there on the bunk, in the cell, with his head in his hands. The idea that he could do anything he wanted to, and nobody could stop him, was taking a serious beating—he could well spend the rest of his life in prison.

A parent’s nightmare? Unfortunately a true story, the likes of which happens all too often. How can parents guide a child toward a better destiny? What can parents do to tip the balance toward something better for their children?

While at the end of the day all of us make our own choices, there are some basic principles that can make a huge difference:

The foundations of a healthy family are love, boundaries and friendship.

By love we are talking about the principle of love, not what would be better defined as sentimentalism. Sentimentalism is the desire to have a warm fuzzy feeling, with no thought to what that means to the health or welfare of the person. Love is a principle that wants the best and highest good for the person. This is an important distinction, for it is key to the physical and emotional health of children.

When we talk of spoiling children we are talking about sentimentalism. We want them to have a good feeling; we want them to like us for providing that good feeling, and give us affection in return. An example of this is giving children health destroying foods as a regular diet because they have a sweet taste, etc. We want them to like us because we make them feel good in a superficial way, with little care for their well being or future health. This kind of training only lays the groundwork for addiction and an out of control lifestyle in the future.

True love on the other hand, besides being kind, caring and compassionate, concentrates on what is best for the child. The parent that loves the child will not give them sweets as their main diet, for example, for they know this is health destroying. Having a special treat, or a desert after a meal is a loving thing to do, while giving the child sweets all the time to the determent of their health, because they taste good, is sentimentalism.

Taking the time to provide nurturing care and healthy fun is what love is about; the parents giving of themselves for the best of the child, both now and in the future. This should go along with emotional closeness. A mother choosing to breast feed because it is the healthiest thing to do also creates an emotional bond of love and closeness that will never go away. No amount of stuff can ever take the place of this kind of loving interaction at an early age. A father getting down on the floor to play with his baby will mean much more than a toy given and the child left to themself in a pram. If people are not ready to accept the responsibility of parenthood, they should take that on board before they put themselves in that position. Once a child comes into the picture, it’s a long term commitment.

One of the biggest things parents can do for the present and future emotional health of a child is to stay together and have a good relationship between each other. This is one of the biggest aspects of emotional health in a young child, and there is not a substitute for it. Only emotionally stable people who feel loved and cared for can share this with someone else. Often young people think they will have a child so someone will love them. The problem with this is that babies are needy creatures; they need constant care and much love. To expect an infant to become an emotional caregiver for a parent is hugely unfair and will create emotional problems and resentment on both sides as the child grows. Children need parents to care for their needs, not the other way around.

Boundaries are closely associated with love. Children want to feel secure and need healthy boundaries. When a child goes into a body of water to play, the first thing they want to know is where the bottom is. If they don’t find a bottom, they will keep sinking until they drown. Children need to have well defined boundaries when they are young, this is part of what love is. They need to know they are protected and cared for; without this they will not be emotionally secure. They test the boundaries to see if they are there, not because they don’t want them. One of the surest ways to communicate to a child that you don’t care about them is to not establish healthy boundaries for them in their young lives. As they grow they need to learn where they stop, and other people begin. They need to learn how to properly use their power of choice and their will.

Learning to properly use the power of free will choice is perhaps the most critical and important parts of the early childhood training. Without developing this discipline, they are doomed to a life of unhappiness, trouble and most likely addictions. The prisons of the world are filled with people who never learned this important discipline in childhood. Learning to choose to yield to legitimate authority intersects with every other aspect of life, whether that authority is in the home, community, school or if it is a law of nature that controls our being. The truth of the matter is we are not gods, and we do not create our own reality. We live in a universe governed by natural, physical law we live in a world governed by moral and civil laws. At the end of the day we don’t break them they break us.

This type of training can start very early in the life, and it can be a positive experience. If it’s time to put baby down to sleep and all the needs are met, then baby should learn to choose go to sleep. It won’t hurt the child to cry for a few minutes at first, but they will learn quickly. The choice to sleep is much more reasonable than choosing to cry, and the child will get tired of the crying quickly if they know it won’t bring someone running. I’m not talking about ignoring legitimate needs, such as when the child is sick, needs a nappy changed or has some other need, or ignoring a hungry newborn that requires feeding. But when a healthy child has been well loved and cuddled, fed, cleaned and put down with a hug, they need to learn to go to sleep because it’s what is best for them, and the parent is the one given the authority to administer this in their lives.

Some children keep both themselves and their parents up all night by crying. The worn out parent gives them attention so they quiet down, only to repeat the cycle again and again each time the parent tries to leave the child on it’s own to go to sleep. Neither parent nor child get any sleep, and both are miserable the next day. Our first child loved to keep my wife up all night with this kind of system when she was old enough to sleep through the night without a feeding. Finally, I told my wife she was not getting back out of bed the child had no need except sleep. The first night my wife was sure the child would die! The crying lasted about fifteen minutes. By this time it had become a well established habit, but it only took three nights before the child forgot about the midnight cry. Everyone was much happier in the morning with a good nights sleep! This kind of obedience training is the foundation for the child learning to control themselves in later life. They learn to cooperate with what is best. A child that is always given their own way becomes the most miserable of people later in life, and that misery is contagious to all around them.

Talking to your children, in an age appropriate way, about why you are doing what you think is best helps them to develop their own reasoning skills. They need to learn there is a difference between what is right and best and what they want. What we want needs to be educated by what is best and what is right. This is the only way to happiness and usefulness in life. If we live a life dominated by what we want (untempered by what is right and best), we become slaves to our own tyranny, unable to have meaningful relationships with others, or be as useful or happy in our own lives. It’s a lonely world when we are the only important person in it! We used to tell our children our job was to get them grown with a healthy, moral and safe upbringing, along with a good education. What they chose to do with that when they became adults was up to them, it was out of our hands at that point—but for now their well being was our responsibility and we were going to take it seriously. We let them know we believed they were important and deserved the best. We tried to always surround them in an environment where there lives were filled with fun and interesting things, especially things of nature.

Teaching children to be useful in age appropriate ways is also vital for a well balanced child. Feeling useless feeds a negative self image and fosters a poor sense of self worth. Picking up after themselves, taking out the trash, caring for a pet, helping keep the yard up—the jobs don’t have to be big, or take loads of time to teach the practical lessons all need to learn to be successful in life. By the time a child is in their mid teens, they should be able to care for themselves and a home on their own, if the need were to arise. They should feel they are partners with the parents in the business of life.

It is important that children learn that their actions have consequences. Allowing the child to have to deal with the results of their actions teaches them something they can learn no other way. Shielding children from the results of their actions or helping them to ‘get away with’ things that are anti social only sets them up for serious problems later in life. A teenager who never learned that actions have consequences and kills themselves or some one else while driving while intoxicated pays a huge price, along with the others involved, for not learning some simple lessons in early life about personal responsibility and cause and effect.

When the children create a problem for themselves, a parent might ask them; ‘I’m sorry, what are you going to do about it?’ The sooner children learn to own their own actions, the sooner they begin to grow up emotionally.

Seriously considering what goes into the children’s bodies and minds is also an important consideration. We are what we eat, and by beholding we become changed. We move toward our current dominate thought. What do we want our children to move toward? What do we want them to think is important and of value? How do we want their current and future physical health to be? These are things the parent of a young child is in almost total control of by the choices they are making for the child and the things they are exposing them to; and these things certainly deserve some serious thought and study.

 Violent and immoral entertainment causes physical changes in the mental development. The young child cannot make a distinction between what they are seeing and reality. To them, this is the reality of the moment. Serious consideration should be given to the age of children with regard to what they are exposed to. And remember, at any age, by beholding we become changed. This is a law of nature, what we fill our lives with is what we will become in character. There are healthier ways to have excitement than through artificially stimulating hormonal secretions through violent, sexually charged or terrifying media. This goes for the music children listen to as well—their young minds are picking up on all that is hidden there, words included.

The concept that the children are a higher level of evolution and need only to be fed and left alone is incorrect. There is ample proof that this kind of process only allows the children to regress toward purely animal behaviour and base passion. Children need training, this is part of what loving them requires. While ignoring the training of children is destructive, trying to somehow beat them into submission, or break their will is just as bad. Because we each have a free will, true education can never happen in a coercive atmosphere, and real love cannot exist outside of free will choice. Compliance is superficial; choosing to cooperate is a deeper choice that is made by the will out of respect for what is right and best. At the end of the day, only what is right and best will lead to what all truly desire; happiness, usefulness and deep friendships with others.

Friendship in the family circle is vital to a healthy family and well developed children. This can only be accomplished through the investment of time together. Lots of time holding and playing with baby, games with the children, reading books, colouring pictures, flying kites—whatever it may be, time together is the currency of lasting, deep friendships. If you want to see your children safely through the teenage years, be their friend in their childhood. While peer groups may serve another purpose, they can never take the place of the family. Children are not the best teachers for other children, and the emotional needs of the children cannot be met by other children either. Children need peer friends as they grow, but these cannot take the place of parents. When parents are involved in their children’s lives when they are young, it is a natural process for this involvement to continue into the teenage years.

It’s relationship that is at the bottom of emotional security and stability. When there are strong friendships between the father and mother, and the parents and children, it forms a bond and builds respect that is not easily broken. Above all, each member needs to know in their bones that the family is a safe place, and the other members are on their side. This kind of security fosters an atmosphere where growth in all areas of life can take place.

Consistency is also a big factor. Children know what’s going on, they can smell hypocrisy. What the parent models is generally what the child will see as truth. Once an elderly person said: ‘The only times I have been ashamed of my children is when they acted like me.’ Think about it.

Don’t leave God out of the picture. He is the One Who created family, and He is the best resource we have in raising a family. Talking with Him, as with a friend and counsellor, about our family issues opens a door He can come through into our lives and homes with His peace, guidance, love and security. Teaching the children God is their Friend, and they can talk with Him about their problems, wants and joys will lay a foundation that is firm for later life. When we seek God’s friendship, He delights in being part of our life. He won’t force His presence, nor His way, for the foundation of His government is free will.

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The thief is sorry he is to be hanged, not that he is a thief.--Irish Proverb