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Imitation is the most common human behavior. Not that we don’t think for ourselves, but in the volume of everyday activities we follow habits and leads from others. The family atmosphere develops from these regular reactions and imitated attitudes.

Parental reactions, critical and angry or fair and loving, are copied by the children in their responses back to the parents and on to others. These recycle through the family, and everyone reaps a little of what they sow. Give a Nice Day!

Everyone has seen parents who are always riding their children: “Blow your nose.” “Tuck in your shirt,” “Don’t touch,” and so on. On the other hand, we have all seen parents who never react and let their children run wild with no consideration for others or their property. Both extremes lead to problems.

Where, in the middle ground, is the right style of correction?

Most parents know what bad behavior is and they have no trouble recognizing it. But when asked what good behavior is, their answers become vague. A good exercise for parents is to list the specific good behavior they are looking for: doing something for his little brother, taking his dishes in from the table, getting dressed in the morning. With such a list of specific actions in mind it’s easier to “catch ’em being good!”

Parents can also develop a better feeling in the family by planning their responses to the childrens’ behavior. They can select which behaviors to encourage and which to discourage and decide to ignore the other troublesome behaviors for the time being. This plan cuts down on the temptation to constantly ride their children with complaints and criticisms.

Parents who frequently praise and encourage their children usually have a positive, and less frantic, family situation. A mother who balances criticism with encouragements and frequent compliments is more influential and closer to her children than Mom, the critic.

If you are a single parent, it may be all the more difficult to say to yourself, as a spouse might: “Don’t let me pick on the kids; stop me and point out the good things I do.”

In reacting to everyday problems, children most commonly imitate the adults they are with at home and school, and they imitate the style more often than the actions. Attitudes toward others, conversational style, and temperament are the durable characteristics of teachers and parents that are copied.

The disposition to punish and correct others can be learned just as easily as the disposition to encourage others but the results are vastly different. Punishment creates tension and sour feelings in the home and only shows that out of all the responses the child could have made, he has chosen a wrong one – try again. Little information is available in that.

Praise and encouragement makes for a happier home and tells the child that of all the things he could have done, this is one of the right ones.

A rewarding reaction is more difficult for parents because it takes time to decide what to reward and how to do it, but you will have a more pleasant job as a parent and you will have a child who is still informative, friendly, responsive, and not always wanting to go somewhere else!

Careful, the children are always watching.

Dr. Roger McIntire is Retired Associate Dean from the University of Maryland and author of Raising Good Kids in Tough Times, Teenagers and Parents. Contact him through CCBS or go to Parentsuccess.com.

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New Year’s Resolutions for ParentsDr. Roger McIntire

New Year’s resolutions, even short-lived ones, can help parents rearrange their priorities for the better. Some of us wish we had spent more time with the kids and we could resolve to try harder this year to protect our children’s health and well-being and to help them with their problems.

One mother wrote me saying her family criticized her for not taking advantage of a free eye exam at her school. A glance would tell any adult that the child had “lazy eye” and needed help. But Mom said, “Work is so busy right now, and the free clinic time is during the only free time I have.”

Lazy eye (medical term, Amblyopia) develops in 120,000 American children each year. Refractive Amblyopia is usually not detectable from appearance. One eye does not have the same focal length as a normal eye and the image from that eye is blurred. The brain learns to  ignore the image from that eye unless corrective lenses are worn. The condition can also occur from misalignment of the eyes, which is easily visible to others. Ignoring lazy eye can lead to blindness in that eye.

Another mom complained that her husband refused to take her second grader to his dental appointment when she could not. He said if the appointment ran late, he would miss his poker night. That would be a shame, but half of all third graders develop tooth decay, and 86 percent of 17-year-olds have tooth decay problems.

Time to get the priorities in order.

You might think that these parents need a New Year’s resolution to protect the health of their children. Of course that’s right, but another good reason is just as important. It is the example of concern for others set before the kids who could be destined to repeat their parents’ attitudes when they become parents themselves.

Teeth need to be fixed and eye problems corrected, but children also need to learn how to be parents. Where did poker-night Dad and too-busy Mom learn their attitudes about childrearing responsibilities? What do they teach and pass along to their children?

Now would be a good time to resolve to set a good example about caring for others, including the children. I have no delusions about how durable such a resolution would be, yet merely writing down such a resolution for the year may improve the presentattitudes and set a better example for the next generation.

Grammas and grandpas have a special role in these problems. Their example in the past may not always have been perfect, but they can help now. Offering unsolicited advice, “You should have made the dentist appointment a long time ago,” may not be welcomed but stepping in with an offer to help, “Let me take him over for his appointment,” eases the parenting burden and presents the example Mom and Dad might follow in the future.

Parents often think they need to watch their language because the kids may copy it. But the most important aspects of imitation are social attitudes and style. The kids may not always listen to you, but they are always taking in what you do and how you relate to others.

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