So are you going to go to school to be a doctor, an engineer or something of a similar [professional] caliber? Being born into a South Asian family myself, these questions remain common amongst most the first and second generations of newcomers. Parents worked hard to immigrate to a country wherein their children are given an opportunity for a better life and the accessibility of an array of recognized scholastic facilities that they themselves may not have had procurement to, and they want – nay – expect their children to make something of themselves!
We often encounter relatives or family friends whose initial line of questioning also seems to start with; “So what do you do?” or “What are you studying?”. As they eagerly await your iridescent response – so as to counteract with that ever-so-proud display of what accomplishment their child was bright enough to surmount. Suffice it to say, that their initial intention wasn’t really to put you down; but merely to elevate both themselves as parents who gave their children the opportunity, and to bask in the spotlight of their spawn.
Far be it from me to tell you what is right and what is wrong, but allow me to respectfully suggest my opinion as to how this mentality can be altered. First of all, it is natural for parents to want their kids to achieve a certain and higher level of success in their lives. However, as a society, we need to re-define what success truly implies and why it has many more dimensions than the one dimension that previous generations have been using. Secondly, we need to explore what the parents’ role is in rearing children who are ‘successful’. Parents have a lot more control than they realize in supporting their children and in some cases a lot less control than they may realize!
Did you know that the most important job in the world: parenting, does not require any form of experience or credentials ? Most people learn from their parents, relatives and friends and learn how to parent through trial and error. Also many parents go into a state of auto-pilot as soon as their children are born, without any proactive planning or preparation. However, this lack of planning and preparation can be a disastrous mistake, especially if the ‘new’ parents are taking on lessons and creating habits from others who unknowingly employed unhealthy and detrimental techniques to approach their child’s health and welfare.
Nonetheless, the intentions for writing this article are not to create fear or to tell all parents what they are doing ‘wrong’. The purpose here is to help each parent find better positive and healthy ways to rear their children with the increasing challenges in today’s world. On a side note, I don’t wish to use today’s challenges as a ‘cop-out’ or way of excusing negative or unhealthy ways of parenting. The basic principles or the inner core of parenting actually remains the same regardless of the times and today’s challenges.
So let’s discuss ‘success’ first shall we? What comes to your mind when you think of ‘success’ and ‘successful’ children ? Traditional society, including ethnic communities such as the South Asian community have attempted to use a standard definition that associates success with financial or educational gains. And this has been a very standardized and one-dimensional way of defining success.
‘Success’ to me needs to include many other areas of a child’s health and welfare. When I refer to ‘success’, I also include the process of understanding and managing a child’s own emotional, moral (and/or ethical), and spiritual welfare along with the child’s mental, physical (food, clothing, shelter), social and financial welfare. This multi-dimensional perspective then allows parents to raise and to fulfill many more needs of their child’s in a holistic and well-rounded way. So for me ‘success’ equates to how well-adjusted, well-rounded and physically, mentally, socially, emotionally, morally, spiritually and financially healthy a child is towards coping, managing and thriving throughout his or her life journey.
The emotional well-being of a child is also very crucial in creating a sense of emotional and mental stability and health so that they can approach and cope with all areas of their lives more successfully. We can’t have control over all negative experiences in our lives. So, we can only embrace, manage or cope with our reactions to these experiences. As adults, they need to understand that it is normal and okay to feel the ‘negative’ emotions and even express emotions such as fear, anxiety, frustration, anger, disappointment, and sadness. I continue to see many parents unknowingly try to suppress and discourage their child to feel and express these ‘negative’ emotions without realizing that this is a very unhealthy way of coping and reacting to adversity. Instead parents need to encourage that experiencing and expressing these emotions is natural. By telling your children to simply not be upset or frustrated denies the growth and development of managing these feelings and in turn doesn’t teach the children how to cope with these feelings and associated behaviours.
The moral or ethical and spiritual well-being of a children are two additional dimensions of child-rearing that are often unintentionally overlooked when we are talking about children who are well-adjusted, happy and healthy (physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, spiritually and financially). I agree that society is becoming much more complex and difficult to keep up with, however these aspects remain to be two core areas that will never change. Instead, our cultural and societal approaches to these areas are significantly changing. As we learn more about these areas, we are realizing that these are two very important aspects for a child as well. The positive parenting and results of well-adjusted, well-rounded and overall healthy children comes from teaching them what a strong sense of right and wrong is which in turn will give them an ethical and moral fiber towards becoming part of a society that values truth, integrity, compassion, empathy, and respect. It is continuously proven that children who understand the cause and effects of consequences to their behaviour are generally better adjusted and happier as adults.
Spirituality, on the other hand teaches children that perhaps there are certain universal laws in which human beings have no control over certain circumstances and that there is a supreme being (in whichever form) that may be protecting, guiding and supporting them throughout their lives. This aspect empowers your children by teaching them about humility and learning to ‘let go’ with the understanding that not all ‘things’ in their lives can be self-controlled or self-managed. There are some aspects in our lives, which we certainly have no control over which should be empowering for your child instead of creating a sense of powerlessness. A sense of spirituality gives your child a certain amount of purpose, direction, peace and acceptance to overcome challenging times in their lives. In fact, research is showing that those who have this sense of spiritual faith (not necessarily religious faith) during their challenging and emotionally difficult times as children eventually fare better as adults who didn’t as children.
Other areas of parenting that will help your children in becoming better adjusted, well-rounded and healthy adults are techniques of positive parenting, parenting as role models and proactive parenting. Proactive parenting involves a conscious effort to spend time, give attention to and express love as a way to meet the child’s needs instead of the parents’ needs.
When I work with parents, who have a child who is ‘doing well’ and is healthy in all aspects, I notice that their parenting has focused on the child’s needs and strengths as an individual. Moreover, there is no comparison or labeling of their child in relation to other children, there is a sense of compassion and empathy for the child’s needs and struggles and these parents focus on the child’s needs instead of their own. Additionally, I notice that parents who prioritize more quality time, attention and show vast ways of expressing their love do not employ techniques of excessively purchasing toys, gadgets and luxuries for their child. They work on preventing their own sense of guilt by not bribing their children with material belongings and instead take a lesser paying job or have one less job to offer their child more time and attention. Finally, as role models they try to be the example and change in their child’s life. For instance, to encourage that their child read or participate in more hobbies or sports – these parents read more themselves, read to their kids and participate in adult hobbies and sports to be a living example and positive role model for them.
10 Steps to Positive Parenting and ‘Successful’ Children
To summarize, successful children are those who are well-adjusted, well-rounded and are naturally progressing in their growth and development by becoming increasingly physically, mentally, socially, emotionally, morally, spiritually and financially healthy. They are not only surviving but thriving at whatever they choose based on their own passions, needs, and interests and not on the parents interests. Additionally, these children are well-rounded because they have many different types of interests, hobbies and activities that they participate in and enjoy. And most of all they are happy, positive, giving, loving, empathetic and compassionate. So what things can you do to nurture these ‘successful’ children?
- Practice what you preach or walk the talk as you are your child’s greatest role model.
- Give unconditional love and focus on their strengths. Do not compare and/or label your child to other children. And don’t play favourites with your children.
- Have clear and consistent boundaries, expectations & consequences for their behaviour. Look behind and beyond ‘bad’ behaviours. And be careful with what, when, where, why, how and how frequently you use positive reinforcements such as food as a way to comfort or praise your child.
- Provide them with a safe haven where their basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, and love are met. Simultaneously, provide them with social, emotional, moral, spiritual and financial stability.
- Acknowledge their wishes, dreams, & passions while supporting them when they are feeling disappointed, angry, frustrated, upset and/or depressed. Instead of telling them to limit, stop expressing or controlling these ‘negative’ feelings, acknowledge and teach them healthy strategies to cope with these feelings.
- Be there and be present for them. They do not need material things but they need your time, interest, attention and your love. Also participate in activities with them together. This must be balanced with them ‘entertaining’ and learning for themselves as well. Parenting does not mean that you must ‘entertain’ them to prevent ‘boredom’.
- Parenting is about your child’s needs and not based on yours. So practice a child-centered parenting style to meet these needs.
- Teach children about hard work and encourage creativity by inspiring them to discover hobbies, sports & activities to develop well-rounded skills in becoming well-adjusted adults.
- Allow your child to make mistakes and give him/her more freedoms a s/he ages instead of limiting his/her freedoms because of your own fears or your need to have power and control over your child.
- Trust your own instincts and embrace change.