Raising a child is a complex task which varies from country to country, one culture to another, family to family. Finally, it greatly depends on character and personality of every child.
As a mother of two daughters I became convinced of the latter. Models of upbringing and education of my two girls are completely different, although they have the same parents, living conditions and standards. It is because my daughters are totally different persons, regardless of the very similar context.
Our small rules in raising a child
Raising a kid is a comprehensive process. However, in spite of perceived differences in social context, I think there are some general rules. I give you our own small rules:
1. Children, with their unique talents and capabilities, are always in the first place. Parents’ ambitions, desires and expectations are less important. This is why I carefully monitor the development of emotional and social intelligence of my girls: how they react to praise/criticism, competition and rules, family and other social circumstances and challenges, according to which I choose activities, methods and ways to motivate them.
2. The second rule is consistency, especially in words and actions. I may insist on certain educational measures or models of behaviour with my children only if I have followed them myself – towards other members of my family, my children, friends, and colleagues. Why is that so? Well, I believe children easily recognize inconsistency. For example, if you say one thing, yet do the opposite, it will be a bad influence on your child. Even if they are still too small to be aware of inconsistency, parents should be careful what they preach and how they do it. Children learn values and beliefs more by examples we set, than by verbal instructions. Thus they adopt our habits, patterns of behaviour, problem solving and our way of coping with challenges.
Furthermore, consistency means that you have to set strict rules among the caregivers: those who are constant (parents, legal guardians), and “temporary ones” (grandparents, ants, etc.). All who are involved in raising a child should respect those established rules. For example, a child should always return toys in the box when the play is over, not only at home, but also when he or she is with grandmother or aunt.
3. The third established rule in our family has to do with constructive approach to problem solving, and helping our children overcome their fears and be able to face challenges. In order to achieve this, we talk with children a lot and always try to look on the bright side. We found it easy to apply the third rule from their early childhood, when our girls were less than two years old. I remember how Nina, who was nearly two at the time, pointed at the huge construction crane. She was very afraid and almost in panic. I calmed her down by explaining that sometimes very small things such as matches or power sockets could be more dangerous and unsafe for her than that big machine. Maybe she did not quite understand what I was saying. However, I felt as if she had understood everything. When we criticize any bad behaviour, we always try to put them in the other person’s shoes. We also encourage them to think about the feelings of others and their life circumctances. Therefore, we teach them to understand causes, not just the consequences. I believe that in this way life will be much easier and less complicated for them.
4. In the fourth place is promoting their innate abilities and potentials. I find this rule important especially in families where both parents are successful, with strong personalities. In these situations it should be worth considering, judging from my own experience, about the empowerment of children and giving them space to demonstrate their abilities and to build self-confidence. I remember how my younger daughter smiled when she separated two playing blocks for the first time. She was a year old. At first she gave them to me, with a pleading look asking me to separate them. She thought she could not have done that by herself. I only loosened them a bit, telling her to try again. I explained it saying “if I can do it, so can you”. She eventually succeeded in separating them by herself and continued to do that without any help. Later on she resolved some more complicated obstacles without asking for help!
Sometimes it takes so little to help our children overcome limits and realize their potentials! Maybe it’s easier for us just to separate those playing blocks. However, more important for their development is to teach and help them do things by themselves. I let my girls participate in family activities. Whether they helped mom in the kitchen making a pie or pancakes, or helped dad in fixing something in the house, they were encouraged to take part in everything that interested them. Although this might often prolong the action (making a mess in the kitchen and so on ) we should not forget they need to try to do something. Moreover, their activities should be encouraged at an early age, or when children want to participate. Not when they are 15 and when we want them to be independent, responsible and hard-working. They must believe that they are capable of doing so many things, that their contribution and help are more than welcomed and that we trust them. Children learn these great things when they are small, always and everywhere. Remember, this should be done consistently, according to our second rule.
When discussing boys’ upbringing, empowerment is very important, as well as building their self-confidence. These traits are often required from boys, especially in less developed, more conservative and patriarchal societies, like ours in Serbia.
On the other hand, I teach my daughters to be successful, independent, determined and ready to fight for social roles, equally with men and women. I believe that instilling the idea of mental and physical strength should be one of the priorities of their upbringing, in order to make their young and gentle spirit stronger. Emotion should be encouraged in boys, although it is often stifled and treated as a sign of weakness rather than appreciated. It’s quite normal to be emotionally and physically strong girl, or to be a boy who expresses his emotions. In this way you teach them that all children should have equal opportunities to learn and reach their full potential regardless of their gender. I deeply believe that this idea is our reality.
In the end, crucial element of every process of upbringing a child, regardless of social context and gender, is patience. Parents should be patient not only to enable children learn some things easily, but also to help them learn how to be patient towards other people they interact with. Patience grows into tolerance, which is the basis of love. Maybe you did not think about patience in this way. However, patience is crucial for building relationships. I learned this so many times, even with my little ones.