If there is one thing I have learned since becoming a parent, it's that I am certainly NOT an expert. I mean so many days I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing. Or I realize what I should be doing, and it's so far from what I am currently doing. But, there are a few things I've learned in the last eleven years of parenting. There is something to be said for experience. Also I am trained to be an elementary school teacher. And my Momma thinks I'm pretty smart. So.
Here are some things I have come to believe about parenting. Take it or leave it.
1) Long before I became a parent, I was a keen observer. Some may say nosy people watcher but whatever. :) I particularly noticed interactions between parents and their children. What I noticed was this: children deserve our attention. Our undivided, uninterrupted attention, when we can afford to give it to them. I noticed parents who were always yelling at their children, or acting like they were total nuisances, or rolling their eyes and acting put out with them pretty much all the time. The thing I noticed was that these people were trying to do something else that they felt was more "important" and when the child had the audacity to need some attention, the parent was completely annoyed. This makes me cringe. Yes I do it sometimes and when I do I make myself cringe. On the other hand, I noticed parents who were just busy being parents and not getting constantly distracted with "more important" stuff, like checking Facebook or texting friends. These parents seemed to enjoy their children so much more. When their children spoke, or sang, or cried, or whatever it was they did, the parent wasn't put out because interacting with that child was their focus. Those children are so much more well behaved. And the parents seem to enjoy being parents. Children are important. What they have to say is important. They need their parents' eye contact, listening ears, and attention. I know there are times we all have to adult things that have nothing to do with our children, like pay bills or have an adult conversation. And children should learn that at those times they are not the center of the universe for a little while. But that should be the exception and not the rule. Or your children will feel that they are unimportant and will act out until they get your attention. You can bet on it. Just watch people for awhile like I did. :) Now. I am not perfect on this one. I get distracted with dinner and laundry and phone conversations and Facebook too. But I try to be aware that those things are secondary to my relationship with my children. I try to include them in as many chores as I can. And I try to limit my Facebook and phone time. Right now being a parent is my number one goal. One day they will be old and I can catch up on all those things. Two of the wisest words I've heard regarding parenting were from Bill Cosby. He said, "When dealing with a child, keep your wits about you and sit on the floor." Wise advice. Sit on the floor, at their level. Not up in your easy chair, out of reach. The other thing he said was, "Parenting isn't hard. It's trying to do anything else while parenting that's hard." True that. So if it can wait, let it wait. Do the parenting. Look them in the eye and really listen.
2) I believe that children need sunshine and fresh air as much as flowers do to grow. I could write a book on this one but that pretty much sums it up. Give children time outside every possible day that you can. Take walks, go to a park, sit outside for breakfast, whatever. The fresh air feels good. It promotes activity and curiosity. I just really believe it's good for them. I include "unstructured outdoor play" in our daily schedule every day. Sometimes we even go outside if it's raining and let them play in the puddles. We plant things, we dig for worms, we swing, we hula hoop, we Slip N Slide. George Washington Carver said, "People murder a child when they tell it to keep out of the dirt. In dirt is life." Well said, Mr. Carver. Invest in some bubbles, sidewalk chalk, tricycles, maybe a sandbox, a magnifying glass for looking closely at things like worms and flowers.
3) When possible, choose reading a book over watching TV. I know this one is a no-brainer, but there is so much to be said for reading aloud to your children. The educational benefits, the quality time together are so much better than anything the television offers. I am not anti-TV. We watch Sesame Street. We like Baby Signing Times. But when I can, I choose reading books instead of turning on the TV. And the children like it better. They would rather sit on Mommy's lap with a good book than watch any movie. Usually I'm looking for a babysitter when I turn the TV on. That's usually a good indication I've got my priorities out of order. I need to take a deep breath, then choose a good book, sit on the floor, and start reading. They stop what they're doing and sit down to listen. Fill your house with books. Especially children's poetry books. You can borrow up to 30 items at a time from the public library for free. And all the libraries in Huntsville have a bookstore with 10-cent and 25-cent children's books.
4) I don't remember who told me this, but I heard a long time ago to put cranky kids in water. It will instantly lift their spirits. So, what do I do when my kids are having a meltdown? If possible, I put them in water. Usually the bathtub. They love that. In the summertime, we turn on the hose or get out the Slip N Slide. It turns everybody's frowns upside down. Blowing bubbles also helps. And making tents.
It's awesome if you can give them some finger paints. Just put down an old sheet, a roll of butcher paper, and let them have at it. It really does clean up pretty easy. And it equals happy kids. Then make a big deal about whatever they paint. Hang their artwork all over the house. Making them feel special is so much more important than having stuffy artwork that looks like everybody else's house on the inside. Make your home an original display of your children's best art.
5) It's a fact that children's mental capacities and personalities are pretty much set by age 6. From birth to age 6 is the best time to spark their creativity, encourage wonderment and imagination, and challenge them mentally. Sadly, a lot of us don't start trying to "educate" our children until after that all-important time. Maybe I'm just a preschool teacher at heart, but I love that age. Children are like sponges, always learning and soaking up what they learn. I believe it's during these years that we need to give their education all we've got. One of the best things we've done recently was grow a butterfly house. We order some baby caterpillars online at www.insectlore.com, then watched them grow from larva, to caterpillar, then live inside the cocoon, then burst forth into a butterfly. It was fascinating. So much more engaging than just reading a book or coloring a worksheet on the life cycle. I don't think they will ever forget it. I'm hoping this year we will also have an ant farm, a worm habitat, maybe an aquarium and hopefully some chickens. These things are priceless. They don't have to be able to read or write to learn in this way.
6) I personally don't think kids should have their own room or get new clothes or be given a phone at 13. That's just me and I realize there are lots of good, valid reasons that people do the things they do. But I want my children to learn to share, to be conservative with their money, and to communicate face to face. I have been around teenagers who didn't know anyone else was around. They were in their own world, texting and video gaming. Lord help me not to let that be my kids. I want my children to notice other people around them and care enough to engage them. I want them to help their brothers and sisters and love them enough to say, "You go first." That doesn't come naturally to a child, it has to be taught. I want to give my children everything they want and more, but I have learned that if I really love them sometimes I will tell them "no" and know that it's for their own good.
Ta Da!! There you have it. Julie's Parenting Tips. Thanks for listening to my two cents' worth. :)