October 5, 2011

Healthy Families – Good Parenting

By Ashton Brunn
Augustana College Student Intern
Child Abuse Council

To be a doctor, one must have eight or more years of medical training; to be a psychologist, one must have at least a master’s degree; for parenting, however, no education is required. Anyone can become one, and oftentimes, parents-to-be are unprepared for the biggest responsibility of their lives.

What does it mean to be a good parent? Is it simply giving love and attention, kissing a booboo, and attending a school play? Of course not. Parents must work as a team to help raise a kind and well-adjusted human being, giving them autonomy in their interests while providing structure and safe boundaries in which to develop. In this, they will be sure to stay safe while exploring, understanding and appreciating the world around them…and their parents.

It is often quoted in psychological texts that the greatest gift a parent can give a child is self-esteem, and one of the best ways to do this is through unconditional positive regard. Even if they spill the milk, burn the toast, or make more of a mess when trying to help clean, it’s okay. Thank them for their efforts and continue to let them try. Do not tell a child that they are too little, or not good enough to do something; as long as it is not dangerous. Let them help, even if it’s simply holding something. Children learn from seeing, doing and ultimately form their opinions about themselves from the ones they trust. So lead a good example, include them, and help them to build a level of self-worth. This will ensure that the child is industrious and independent.

Being a good parent also involves making changes in one’s own life. A common pratfall is to take the “do as I say, not what I do” approach, in which parents live by making choices that are not necessarily good examples, for instance, having an alcoholic beverage to relax after a long day. If this is employed frequently, the child may learn to see alcohol as an acceptable outlet for stress when they get older. Or perhaps, a parent that hits a child is showing not only that physical discipline is an acceptable way to express anger or dissatisfaction, but it also may instill fear of the parents. It is much easier to punish bad behaviors than to actively try to change them through positive regard; with the latter, however, the child will develop a much warmer and respectful relationship with their parents. Too many times, parents tell the child what they are doing wrong, but they do not spend the time and effort to show them what are proper means of accomplishing tasks, expressing emotions and showing due respect.

The Child Abuse Council offers a Healthy Families program in which pregnant parents, mothers, fathers, and any other caregivers can meet with staff free of charge. They will meet parents in home and discuss any questions that parents may have while striving to build parental confidence, teaching constructive methods of play and having fun with the child. They will also offer bountiful information about basic child care, like how to help an infant sleep better, as well as set up a plan for the future. Clients are typically first-time parents who are screened at the hospital, not on a walk-in basis. The 10 things every child needs are: interaction, a loving touch, stable relationships, a safe and healthy environment, self-esteem, quality child care, communication, play, music and reading. The Healthy Families program will help parents to establish a positive environment in which this is possible.

For more information about the Child Abuse Council’s prevention and education programs, you can visit us at www.chilabuseqc.org.