Bringing up children is the most complex job you’ll ever have, though it’s easier when there is some agreement on how to do it.
It’s never too late to talk about what is important to you both as parents and develop some guidelines to help you in the parenting years ahead.
Try to avoid arguing or being angry in front of your child or letting them play you off against each other. When you disagree, explain why and tell them how you’ve compromised.
As long as they know they are loved and cared for, and you keep them safe there are very few absolute rights and wrongs about bringing up children. However, there are some important things to keep in mind:
- you are the most significant role model in their lives
- children need consistency, routines and boundaries
- children are individuals – what works for one child, may not work for the other children.
Children need limits and choices
Children need rules and limits to help them feel safe. It’s also helpful for them to understand that parents make most of the important decisions that affect them and the reasons why. As they get older, children get to have more say about what happens in their lives.
Even when they are little, children benefit from making some decisions, because they learn from making good and bad choices. If you keep rescuing children from their own decisions, they don’t learn anything (except that mum and dad are a soft touch). Sometimes breaking the limits you set is a good way for children to rebel and assert their independence in a safe way – better they test the limits at home than out in the wider community.
Children need you to mean what you say
If you make idle threats that you don’t intend carrying out children soon learn that you are not true to your word. “If you don’t tidy your room, you won’t come with us when we go on holiday.” Do you really mean that – what will you do with them? If you say you’ll ground your teenager for a month, you will have a horrible month – it may be better to ground them for a weekend and do family things together, rather than back down after two miserable weeks.
Talk to your children
The more you talk about big and small things with children every day from an early age, the more they are likely to talk to you about the things that worry them as they get older (including the big things that worry you). Talking about what’s happening in the family, at school and in the wider world is a way of building trust, showing interest and showing them they are loved.
Start the talking habit early, before the complex teenage years have begun.
Children need to know you are interested in them and want to spend time with them
Being interested means you spend time playing lego, dressing dolls, bowling cricket balls, playing board games, baking a cake, reading the school newsletter, listening to a detailed account of how a sporting match or dancing class went, learning how the latest bit of technology works or listening to their current favourite song – you’ll often have fun, learn a lot, and it helps keep you young and connected to them.
It is important for you to know who their teacher is, who their friends are, their interests and to recognise when they are behaving differently. If you know your child well you will see if they are upset, worried or unwell and know how to support them.
If your child wants something you can’t possibly afford for their birthday, it’s better to say so than have them build up their hopes and be disappointed on the day. Children also need honest answers about life and death, sexuality, parental mistakes and world news. Keep your answers age appropriate and apologise if you have made an error. It’s better they learn things from you than from a dubious website or in the playground.
Children are quick to pick up on what they consider to be unfair, so try to be balanced. If one child gets lots of parental time, treats and rewards because they are talented at something, it doesn’t mean that the other children should all miss out. Try to balance your time and weekends fairly among all your children. Siblings know each other longer than anyone else in their lives, so the more you can do to encourage good relationships between them, the better it will be for them during childhood and later in life.