Here is a quick-reference summary of five basic ingredients ‘” each of which is indispensable ‘” in order to raise a mentally healthy child.
Children are not born into this world as organized, thoughtful beings. Like most newborns, they operate at a level of instinct and survival impulses. The process of becoming socialized as a human being is a core need that must be addressed by the parents or parenting people.
Structure includes fair and achievable expectations and a basic ‘˜design’ to daily life that the child, as they approach toddlerhood, begins to integrate and make truly their own. Once integrated, that learned structure becomes a central part of the core of the child’s ability to structure and focus themselves.
Without doubt, the love a child receives from the parenting person/people in their life is of the essence. Through it, they learn not only how to give love, but also to value themselves as people who are worthy of love.
Probably no two people express love in precisely the same way, so ‘” as with so many things ‘” there is no one ‘˜right’ way to do this.
Within each parent, there is a knowing about what love is and about how and when to express it to children. Having seen, professionally, many people who figured their parents loved them but never heard them say so, I would suggest strongly that it be overtly said from time to time — and demonstrated through actions often.
There are people who don’t seem to need much, if any, support from others. Some adults develop in a way that is fully self-sufficient and self-supporting. Rarely, however, can a child develop in a healthy way unless they receive the support of the parent.
Children struggle, all the way through to and including their adolescence, with the issue of who can be trusted to provide them with support when they need it. A well-adjusted child needn’t wonder if his/her parent(s) is/are in their corner when they need some understanding, help or support. As ‘˜their’ adults, we need to be there for them when they need us.
As with other items in this cluster of requirements, children learn how to support others by being supported themselves.
Inconsistency makes the world unpredictable for children and unpredictability makes kids afraid. Being anxious because they don’t know what is coming next leads many children, depending on their dispositions, to either withdraw and risk becoming depressed, or angry and risk getting into trouble by ‘˜acting out.’
This is one area most impacted by children who have parents who drink too much or use mind altering substances. It makes them unpredictable. That unpredictability unsettles children and the consequences can be dire.
Once you have determined what seems fair and right, don’t be afraid to stick with it. On the other hand, sometimes things deserve to be rethought and changed.
Always listen to your children. You may not always like what they have to say but it is of the essence to hear them out anyway. Be consistent unless and until you think something needs to change. Once changed, stay consistent with that!
Like my favorite bumper sticker said, “If you can’t change your mind, are you sure you still have one?” Changes should always be presented up-front to children so they can adjust their expectations accordingly.
Yes, believe it or not, children sometimes do things that call for some form of discipline. ‘˜Good’ discipline is that which does not have compliance as the end goal, but as a means toward a more important end. That more important end is helping, though effective discipline, the child develop the ability to self-regulate their own behavior.
There won’t always be a parent standing there with the ‘˜look’ when a child must decide whether or not to do something. A healthy child learns the ability to manage and control their own behavior. The right kind of discipline helps the child develop this ability.
Good discipline is never abusive or delivered from a position of rage. It is thoughtful, deliberate and intended to help the child need less of it ‘” If it encourages the child’s dependence upon it to behave appropriately, it is simply not working in a way that will make the child stronger, wiser and better able to control their own impulses.
Good discipline never includes humiliation or sarcasm. These techniques tend to result in children less well able to self-regulate — Not what most parents are really after.
No doubt every parent could think of things to add to this list and will have their own view about the admittedly simplified five items on it. That being acknowledged, if these five aspects are attended to, the chances of any child growing up to be a mentally healthy person are greatly enhanced.