Why should child rearing be the most misunderstood issue facing parents today? We pick up the story, in this installment, with the preadolescent or early school years.
THE preschool years are crucial in a child's development. So are the earlier school-age years — roughly ages 6 to 12. These are the preadolescent years, just before the stressful time of puberty when a child begins his or her transition from childhood to adulthood. The preadolescent years lay the foundation for the teen years. It is an important time that in large measure determines the course for subsequent years. At this age, children are still young and pliable. You, the parent, will at this time set them on the road to either success or failure. When children become teenagers, it will be much more difficult to alter already established patterns of behavior. By instilling right habits in your children before they become teenagers and young adults, you will make it easier on them — and on yourself — later on.
It's Never Too Late to Start
If you have neglected your childrearing responsibilities up to this point, NOW IS ABSOLUTELY THE TIME TO START! Your responsibility has become a serious one. The general principles of child rearing that have already been covered in previous installments are, of course, valid throughout your child's development. Reread them and spend some time considering how they can be applied to your preadolescent. Remember — to work, these principles must be applied consistently! In this installment we focus on selected areas of concern in preadolescent child rearing and show how these principles can be specifically tailored to this age group. We will examine the areas of communication, general education, sex education and character morals. Possibly the most important aspect of child rearing at this or any age is proper communication. The need for effective communication cannot be overemphasized! "No one listens." "No one understands." "No one cares." These are the prevalent feelings of most children and teenagers today. And such attitudes can be a great barrier to a parent's child-rearing efforts. Parents must foster an atmosphere of openness and approachability. Children must not be made to feel afraid to come to you as a parent. Establish contact with your children. Don't let job, activities, selfish interests or other matters interfere with this need. This is too often neglected — with disastrous consequences! Communication must be two-way. Parents usually communicate to their children, but not with them. Your children have their own ideas, dreams, plans and goals. Some are right. Some are wrong, or inadvisable. If your children develop the habit of coming to you with their thoughts, you will be able to direct and advise them in their thinking, and often prevent problems before they arise. Answer honestly: Do your children come to you for advice? If not, you need to begin talking more with them. Ask them questions about school, their friends, their interests, problems they might be having. Not in a prying manner, but in an attitude of genuine interest and concern. Show them that you are interested. Be understanding. Be fair. Let them know that they can always come to you, even if they've done something wrong. Soon your children will want to take you into their confidence and share their problems, joys and sorrows. Do you really listen to your children's viewpoints? Don't automatically close your mind to their views. Youngsters won't always agree with parents about what's best for them, but if you give them a fair hearing and genuinely consider their views, they will realize that you have been fair. Help them understand why something is either wrong or inadvisable. Don't just say "No!" and leave it at that. Provide instruction and guidance. Take time to teach. If they choose to do what is inadvisable, let them learn the lesson. Don't rub it in by saying, "I told you so." Occasionally have an evening of family discussion, a round-table in which all are involved. On such an occasion, allow each member of the family to air his or her views and make suggestions about possible change that might need to be made in various areas of family life. This will be an excellent time to get to know your children and how they are thinking — and for your children to get to know you. Get to know your child at this age. If a pattern of open communication is established in these years, you'll be on a much better footing when the teen years arrive. Don't let a generation gap develop in your family. Close that gap by communicating with your children!
Educating the Whole Person
One of the most tragic developments of our time has been a rather general declining quality of education. The foundation for educational success is built in the elementary years — and before. If proper attention and guidance are given in the early years, those years that follow will be much more productive and rewarding. Instill a desire for education in your child. Help establish right attitudes about school. Show enthusiasm over his homework and school accomplishments. Be concerned and interested in your child's progress — and show it. Establish a dialogue with his teacher. Discuss his progress periodically. Listen to the teacher and take the instruction to heart. If there are problem subjects requiring additional attention, help your child in these areas. Don't allow your child to simply coast through school, doing just enough to get by. Be actively concerned. It will pay off handsomely in so many ways. Remember, too, that your child's education doesn't begin and end with the school day. Education is an ongoing process. It takes place throughout one's waking hours. There are many ways of fostering this continuous learning process. One of the important roles of a parent is that of teacher! Instill in your children a love of books and reading. Take them occasionally to your public library. Help them select interesting and informative books on a wide range of subjects. Go through these books with them, as time allows. Create an atmosphere of dynamic interest in the huge world around us. Encourage them to want to know more about it — about its people, places, wildlife, history and so on. Read with them. Set an example by letting them see you reading. Television can also be an effective tool for education, if used wisely. Supervised viewing of educational and informative programs can add a visual dimension to learning and stimulate additional interest and understanding. Be careful not to allow indiscriminate use of the set. There is nothing wrong with occasional viewing for entertainment, as long as wrong influences are guarded against by proper supervision. Point out wrong values and actions on television. Discuss what is going on in the show. Remember, television is a privilege, not a right. Family trips can also be a valuable method of education. Take your children to museums if any are accessible. Museums hold a great fascination for young people. Planetariums are also of great interest to children. They can open wide vistas of interest in the universe and the world in which we live. Trips to historical sites or natural points of interest can also provide valuable learning experiences. Such experiences at an early age leave lasting impressions. Your children want and need family activities of this nature. The more a child knows, the more he or she will want to know. Helping to develop an inquiring mind in your child is one of the most important efforts you can make during preadolescent years.
During the preadolescent period, questions about sex inevitably arise. Children at this age want to know the simple answers to their questions — and they will find out — one way or the other! Parents often don't know how to go about telling their children the facts of life. They become tongue-tied and embarrassed when confronted with their children's sexual questions. They become uncomfortable and uneasy. They grope for words or they change the subject. Most children are thus left to pick it up on their own, to put two and two together for themselves. More often than not, they pick it up in the proverbial gutter, usually from classmates in the form of dirty jokes or magazines. Don't allow this to happen to your child! You should have begun teaching your child in the preschool years about birth, the nursing of babies and sex when he is young, before he hears it from misinformed sources. Educate your child in stages about birth and sex as early as possible, before other influences come to bear. Do not allow other children to play the role of sex educator for your child! How should you proceed? First, make sure you are sufficiently versed on the subject to be able to provide simple, but correct and accurate answers to their questions. It is often surprising how much parents don't know about their bodies and the reproductive process! Create an atmosphere of open communication. Candidly and openly answer according to a child's level of understanding. Don't worry that children will be embarrassed or frightened by explicit answers, thoughtfully presented. The embarrassment and apprehension are usually only on the part of the parent! And don't wait until your children ask about sex. Almost all want to know, but some are too shy to ask. If they don't inquire, don't assume they have no interest or are not old enough to deal with the subject. Take the initiative and teach them when they are young, before wrong attitudes develop because of outside influences. Be careful not to associate human sexuality with feelings of guilt or shame. Let your children know that sex is sacred and wholesome. Don't convey — consciously or unconsciously — a negative view of the opposite sex. Regardless of your own innermost feelings, don't create wrong attitudes in your child. Attitudes acquired early in life tend to be retained. Impart the right kind of wholesome, responsible Bible-based attitudes about sex to your children. A few books, carefully chosen, can also be helpful. Go through a simple book about sex with your children. Photographs of the human body and explicit diagrams can often help clarify what words sometimes fail to convey. Why not use our free book The Missing Dimension In Sex for this information? There has been much controversy in recent decades about sex education in public schools. If sex information is imparted first in the home, the negative aspects (if any) of the school's presentation can be overruled. When your child's teacher covers human sexuality in class, your child will be able to take that information and view it through eyes that have already been trained to discern good and bad according to the Bible's value system. Remember, too, that a large portion of your child's understanding of sex and love in marriage will come from their viewing the relationship between you and your spouse. If you are unaffectionate with your spouse — if your child never sees you hug, kiss or hold hands with each other — chances are that he or she will grow up to be an undemonstrative and unaffectionate adult. Set the right example! A levelheaded approach to sex from the early years will produce an adult able to handle his or her sexuality wisely and responsibly. The preadolescent years are also a time when attention must be given to developing right attitudes about being a boy or girl, attitudes that will carryover into adulthood. Possibly the most important aspect of such teaching is strong example. Young people want and need someone to copy. If parents are setting the right examples of masculinity and femininity, most of the battle is already won. If a father treats his young daughter with respect as a feminine young woman — opening doors for her, respecting her privacy, treating her with love and kindness — this is the type of behavior she will look for and expect in a man later on. If her father does not show love and fatherly affection and concern toward her, she will have no standard by which to judge proper masculine behavior. Mothers, too, must exhibit the proper kind of feminine character traits to their sons — traits that they would like to see in their future daughters-in-law. Young men are often drawn to women who remind them of their mothers whom they dearly loved and admired. As the song from yesteryear observes: "I want a girl, just like the girl, that married dear old dad." If a mother fails to set a proper feminine example, her son may later have difficulty in evaluating and choosing a suitable mate. In single-parent families, it is important that the children — regardless of their sex — be exposed to adults representing the sex of the missing parent, adults who can set a right example of masculinity or femininity to the children. Such adults can be relatives, friends, coworkers, neighbors. Single parents must not neglect this important aspect of their child-rearing responsibilities. A girl needs to understand what she is and her potential as a woman. She has to be taught to exhibit those characteristics that make for true femininity-characteristics such as virtue, industry, outgoing concern for others, generosity, understanding, helpfulness. She should be taught how to conduct herself in all situations as a lady. Instruction in etiquette and manners is essential. If slovenly conduct and deportment are allowed to flourish in these early years, it will be difficult to break those bad habits later on. Begin early to set right standards! Work now to mold your daughter into a woman of personality and charm. Practical skills such as cooking, sewing and cleaning can also be taught beginning in these early school-age years. Do not wait until the high school years, or hope that home economics classes will do the job for you. Give your daughters a head start by early instruction at home. Proper grooming habits should also be established at this age. Mothers should take time to instruct their daughters in hair care, proper dress and personal hygiene. The habits of proper diet and a regular program of exercise should be stressed in these early years. Your children will thank you for it later. Your daughters are the wives and mothers of tomorrow. They will be the examples for your grandchildren. Be diligent to give them — and future generations — the right start! Boys must understand that the purpose of being a boy is to become a man. Today, one finds far too many teenage boys and young men who are out-of-condition weaklings-sallow-faced, sunken-chested and wimpish. This should not be. Boys should be motivated and taught to develop courage and strength, to be fit physically. They should be encouraged, as should girls, to take an active part in sports and athletic programs to get in shape and stay that way. Basketball, tennis, soccer, softball, volleyball, swimming, jogging — the possibilities are endless. Such physical activity will develop strength and coordination and stimulate mental agility. Boys should also be provided with chances to work. They should be taught to work diligently and conscientiously at whatever job they are given and to enjoy it. Hard work is a trait that has been rapidly on the decline among young people — but one that is an essential for later success as an adult. Boys should also be trained in proper etiquette and grooming. Manners and a clean-cut appearance are essential. Mothers should help their sons develop good habits of neatness and cleanliness. If a mother constantly picks up after her son, he will not learn the habit of personal cleanliness. Encourage in him the habit of hanging up his own clothing, of keeping his own room neat. Both boys and girls should be given chances to develop an appreciation for good music. Music today is a big part of every child's life. Children should be encouraged to develop their musical abilities, vocal and instrumental. Finally, it is helpful to supplement parental example with biblical examples. Read to your children examples of real men and women from the Bible. Discuss with them why these men and women were examples of true masculinity and femininity. And read also the bad examples, explaining why those men and women failed.
Developing Character and Morals
The home is an essential element in the instilling of right character and morals. You can have a profound effect on how your children will conduct their lives after they leave home. Children want guidelines. Most young children earnestly desire help from their parents. It gives them a sense of security. They know you are concerned for them if you give them guidelines. Let children know how you expect them to behave. Give them clear standards of conduct. When it comes to instilling character and morals, realize again that example is of paramount importance. Your actions speak louder than your words. Do you lie, cheat, swear, follow a double standard, gossip, complain, criticize? Your children see it! How can a parent expect to be credible to his children if he does not follow his own advice? Other forces, however, are also trying to shape your children's character. Television, radio, music — these are powerful influences. Any potential wrong effects of these forces need to be offset. It will take time and effort to successfully do battle with them when necessary. But it is worth it. Teach your children to respect you, their teachers, their elders, the laws of the land and the rights of others. Be sure, too, that you are personally living your life in such a manner to deserve their respect and honor. Develop within your child the belief and practice of proper values. Explain the positive and negative results of right or wrong actions, in language your child will understand. Vividly paint the picture. Explain the bad results of smoking, lying, drug use, too much television, degrading music, the wrong kind of friends, laziness, self-pity and irresponsibility. Help him realize why certain actions and conduct are wrong and harmful. Parents should teach their children that there are absolute, living, spiritual laws that govern all life, and that these laws exact penalties if they are broken. Teach your children obedience to God and his laws. Teach them the Ten Commandments. Explain how they apply to everyday life, to situations your children encounter in their day — today existence. These great laws of life summarize the way of giving, the way of outgoing concern to fellowman and of honor to God. Bible study should be a part of every family's schedule. Underscore the principles you have been teaching your children with examples from the Bible. Show them examples of right behavior, explain why this behavior pleased God, and point out the blessings that came from such behavior. Also illustrate the consequences of wrong behavior by scriptural examples. As a parent, you must be alert to the times. Don't live in a dream world. Don't assume things are the same as when you were a child. This is a fast — changing world, a much different world than when you were young. Children have a natural desire to conform, to do what their peers are doing. As a parent, you must be informed about today's youths and their concerns and preoccupations. Talk to your child; talk to other parents; talk to teachers; read newspapers and magazines. Keep your fingers on the pulse of the world. If you fail to understand the influences bombarding your child, you may be helpless to counter them. Watch for wrong attitudes in your children. Be on guard against attitudes of anger, selfishness, dishonesty and rebellion. Inquire why your children feel the way they do. Guide them to understand why any such attitudes are harmful to themselves and to others. Instruct them in the proper responses to situations, and why such responses work for the best in the long run. In the same vein, encourage the right attitudes of love, giving, sharing, understanding, obedience and forgiveness. Show your pleasure and appreciation when they act responsibly. Of course, it will at times be necessary to discipline wrong conduct. When such occasions arise, act with wisdom, love, compassion, mercy — and with firmness. Be strict in things that are wrong. Don't be a permissive parent. Correct in a firm yet loving manner. Help them understand why their actions were wrong, and why discipline is necessary. Exercise the proper judgment in deciding what type of correction to administer. Proper corporal punishment is an effective tool of correction at this age, but should not be the only method used. Often a simple predetermined denial of privileges for a period of time can be an effective form of discipline for the removal of bad habits. When physical correction is administered, remember that it should never cause injury to the child. Child beating causes permanent physical and — even more importantly — emotional damage to a child. Any correction should fit the infraction. Use wisdom in correction. Bear in mind that children are not adults and should not be expected to act completely like adults when they are young. Be realistic. Don't overreact or overcorrect. Strive for the proper balance. Discipline in love, not in anger. If you are emotionally out of control, wait to cool down before administering correction. Don't let your emotions cloud your judgment. Remember, too, that mercy can sometimes be as effective in teaching the lesson as administering actual discipline. The display of a forgiving attitude on the part of the parent ("I'm not going to punish you this time, but...") will impress your children with your fairness if they did not fully understand the problem. And even when proper corporal punishment is administered, never harbor a lingering grudge against them. Let them know that you corrected for their own good, and that the matter is now over. Give them a chance for an immediate change of heart or action. Also, it is important to reward good conduct. Positive reinforcement for right action is as effective a teacher as discipline for wrongdoing. Praise your children when the situation calls for it. Comment on your pleasure at seeing their right conduct. Commend them for their helpfulness and consideration. Such rewards will lend powerful support to your teaching that right conduct brings happiness and harmony. Praise does work wonders. In summary, remember that your preadolescent children are young and full of energy. They are inquisitive, impressionable and pliable. Establish contact with them. And help them to establish contact with God and he will help them. Get to really know your children and understand them. Be interested and concerned. Be encouraging. Lay a firm foundation in these crucial years. Your efforts now will pay eternal dividends! Our next installment covers the teen years.