My husband and I often talk about how the parenting classes that need to be offered to young people have nothing to do with burping or diapering a baby. I feel the same way about childproofing your family. Through all of the experiences of all of the people that I know, the worst accident that I know of having happened to a young baby, was when her father simply tripped on the threshold of the house and could not prevent himself from falling with her. The baby had a head injury, but was ultimately okay, and you just can’t baby proof that…sometimes accidents are unavoidable. Conversely, sixty years ago, my grandmother had open basement stairs with concrete flooring at the bottom that she swears both my mother and uncle fell down several times as babies, and they are just fine.
I am going to make some suggestions for choices that people can make to childproof their homes emotionally, rather than physically with plastic levers and covers. I think that for the spiritual and emotional well being of children, these measures may be quite a bit more important.
1. Teach yourself to stop saying can’t. Children will always mimic our behaviors, and if we are constantly acting defeated, they will develop the same behavior. Instead, approach challenges with a “How can I?” attitude.
2. Call them challenges and not problems. Replacing that one little word can make a huge difference. Challenge is a positive word that inspires the energy to seek creative solutions.
3. Stop using the word hate, ever. The word hate is a very powerful, terrible word that deserves proper respect. Hate destroys all kinds of beautiful things and handicaps the world, so I can’t see how it is appropriate when used by a child when referring to their feelings about meatloaf. It is on a very rare occasion that I will slip up, even amongst adults, and use the word. And believe me, my children know not to use it.
4. Do not call things dumb or stupid...or goodness forbid retarded. Truly, especially if you do not have children yet, you do not know how much happier you will be in life if you do not hear your children saying these words over and over again. They do pick them up from other kids, but my husband and I are quick to reprimand, and I rarely witness them passing my children’s lips.
5. Learn to love your body. Don’t ever say that you are fat in front of your kids, please. They say that it is more important with girls, but quite frankly, I have two close male friends who have gone through eating disorders. Poor body image is a sickness that is ravaging the American family. Do everything possible to keep from spreading it to your children.
6. Learn to look things up. I have always been flabbergasted by the gobs of incorrect information that people will willingly pass on to their kids. It is okay not to have the answers. It is okay to tell them that you don’t know and promise to look it up with them when you get home. This teaches kids to seek out proper facts and not to accept or spread false information, and it does not diminish your wonderfulness in their eyes by any measure. Parents are not required to know everything.
7. Eliminate any beliefs you may have that boys and girls are different. Children are all individuals. Some boys like to dress up in pink tutus, and some girls like to play with monster trucks. Sometimes this is a phase, and sometimes this is not. Either way, denying children their own interests and preferences will only serve to emotionally damage them. Instead of denying them if you do not like what they are into, introduce them to new things.
8. Commit to some sort of exercise regimen. Even if this is just a daily thirty-minute walk, it will have a huge impact on your children as they grow up. You are the ultimate example to them, and as they observe you caring for your own body, they will learn to care for theirs.
9. Dismissing the obvious here: do not use words that put down groups of human beings. Some of these that you may not be aware of are: gay, fag, homo, dyke, and bitch (yes, whether you are aware of it or not, the word bitch actually is a put down directed at feminists). If you can’t be an example to your children of someone who respects everyone equally, then you cannot possibly expect them to.
10. Teach yourself to invest in experiences and learning rather than in things. Honestly, your kids will have a much happier childhood if you make an effort to deny them the name brand shoes and jeans so that you can take them on more family vacations, or enroll them in more extra-curricular classes. Invest in memories rather than in stuff, because stuff gets destroyed and thrown away, but memories last a lifetime, and knowledge can give kids the world.
11. Read…seriously read SOMETHING. There are lots of things to choose from. Fiction, non-fiction…I have friends who write graphic novels that I could not possibly imagine anyone finding boring. You place more power in a child’s hand with a book than you could give them by handing them a loaded gun. Be the example to your kids and become an empowered reader.
12. Start paying attention to what you put in your mouth. If you have a crappy diet, your kids are going to have one, no matter how hard you try to prevent it. The diet that our family follows is pretty strict by most people’s standards, but just start with something small. Go organic or GMO free, incorporate more green vegetables into your diet, start a nutritional program (you have no IDEA how fantastic you will feel), or simply stop eating fast food. If not for yourself, do it for them.
13. Embrace honesty and practice it. Kids feel so much more safe and secure in a household where people do not tell lies. Of course, kids are always going to play around with lying themselves, but if they never observe their parents doing so, the habit will not follow them into adulthood. I follow the mantra “You are only as sick as your secrets.”
14. Figure out how to deal with your anger. Your kids will make you unbelievably angry, and you do not want to take that anger out on them, ever. If you are a person who tends to get excessively angry, figure out a way to manage that anger. Install a punching bag in the garage, practice taking walks, or learn how to meditate. There are also a lot of wonderful books on anger management out there.
15. Accept that it is okay to show emotion, and practice doing so. This can sometimes be especially hard for men who have grown up being taught that it is not okay. Children need to feel that it is acceptable to cry, or to admit that they are afraid, or to dance for joy. If you are ashamed of having these emotional reactions to things, your kids might be as well.
16. Teach yourself not to label people. We do not label in our house, and my kids get in big trouble if I hear them slip up and label their brother or sister. This is the difference between telling someone that they are being mean, and telling them that they are mean. If a child is told that they are something over and over again, they may start to believe that it is true.
17. Stop gossiping. Do not speak poorly of other people in front of your kids. Obviously, there are sometimes serious issues regarding other peoples’ behavior that are important to discuss between adults. However, putting other people down in front of your kids, not only teaches them to mirror the behavior, but also makes them insecure about what you are saying about them behind their backs.
18. Embrace consistency. The more consistency that you are able to provide children with, the more secure they will feel. Practice small rituals that can be carried out daily. Bedtime rituals, cleanup rituals, and mealtime rituals…these things are all important. Set up your own punishment guidelines and always follow them. Children feel so much safer if they know what punishments to expect for bad behaviors.
19. Decide to be a parent and not a friend from day one. I look forward to the brand new friendship that I am going to get to have with my children when they move out and they are on their own. Right now however, they rely on me to provide structure, teaching, punishment, and protection. Parents wear way too many hats to add friend to that list.
20. Get to know love, the verb. Most people think that love is a mythical thing that either exists or doesn’t. Of course, you are going to love your kids, that part is easy. Remember that if you are blessed enough to have a partner in parenting your children, that the relationship is precious and very much worth working for. Actively love the people in your family. Pledge to do it daily and diligently. Strong families are made stronger by showing love.