To Cultivate means to nurture and develop, as in gardening or farming or growing a business. A gardener must have a certain level of knowledge and skill in order to be successful in growing fruit or flowers. Gardeners become highly skilled in reading the weather, observing the health of their plants, and mitigating potential damage that might be caused by poor soil or dry weather. They decide when to plant, when to fertilize and with what products, and when to spray for insects. If they miss certain windows of opportunity, their crops will not grow as well ? or at all.
So it is with parenting. There?s a lot of care-giving involved, especially in the younger years. This isn?t always the most fun part, and can be hard sometimes; but even in infancy positive nurturing and care-giving is essential. Nurturing your children means positive touching and loving talk, even when changing dirty diapers or cleaning up food off the floor. Most of us don?t think about all the developmental stages because babies are so cute, but taking loving care of them through their colic and dribbles and throwing food stages is critical to their positive development later on.
Cultivating is also about discipline ? planting in rows rather than willy-nilly, pulling the weeds, pruning the plants, applying fertilizer, and watering regularly. For some kids, a ?look? (or even a lecture) will suffice to stop certain behaviors, while others require more concrete penalties ? a time-out in their room (no more than 5 to 15 minutes usually makes the point), or with-holding television or phone privileges. Whatever you do will likely result in some conversations about what?s fair, and what?s not fair ? does the punishment fit the crime? Answers are very elusive, since all kids and families are different ? but 5 minutes to a 2-year-old can seem like an eternity, so be sure to use age-appropriate consequences.
A word about neglect and abuse.
Neglect can be as simple as often ignoring your baby when they cry because they?re hungry or their diaper is wet, which turns into abuse when this happens every day. Or leaving them to swelter in a too-hot car, or not changing their diaper when needed. When farmers neglect their fields ? no plowing, no fertilizer, no spraying ? the fields become choked with weeds; and if neglected long enough, become virtually un-usable.
When parents neglect their children ? no hugs, no conversations, no happy times ? the children become frustrated, negative, and withdrawn. This has been demonstrated time and again by studying children in orphanages ? even with sufficient food and shelter, when there?s little touching or conversation or positive feedback, the children become very quiet and inhibited, lose weight, and are often way behind in physical coordination, speech development, and intellectual development. These deficiencies remain throughout their lives.
If this neglect is paired with abuse, or negative interactions such as hitting, yelling, or shaking, then children become actively hostile toward others. Spanking, even with your hand, is also abuse ? spanking is hitting, and is done in anger, not love. We know that when abuse continues over time, children act out in school, and often skip school; thereby losing more ground academically and socially, and may ultimately end up on the wrong end of the law.
We would wonder about the sanity of a gardener that planted a garden, failed to weed and water the plants, and then started hitting and tearing them up because they didn?t grow. But we see this happening with children!
So, in the role of CULTIVATOR, parenting skills include:
Assure proper food and shelter ? nutritious food, a safe place to eat and sleep, clothing appropriate for the weather. When children are routinely given pizza and fast foods, we know that they can become addicted to salt, fat and sugar; often resulting in obesity and future health problems.
Loving physical interactions ? hugs, kisses, pats on the head ? all conveying that the ?self? is valuable, and valued; critical for positive emotional and social development.
Conversations about their world ? a book, pictures, birds in the trees ? even (maybe especially) with infants. We know that infants learn language from Day 1 ? they hear the cadence of their primary language from children and adults around them, and begin babbling and sounding out words within weeks.
Name and count things, repeating colors and shapes ? all build the architecture of your child?s mind. In the grocery store, name fruits and vegetables, count them out, name their colors over and over.
Take a walk and put names to common objects ? trees, cars, animals ? along with colors and shapes. This teaches vocabulary words, and attaches meaning to objects all around us.
Exposure to art and music ? there?s more research today about the important role that art and music play in cognitive development. Our brains react to auditory sounds ? music and voices ? from infancy; developing synapses or connections. Same with art ? color, form, movement ? that also expands our minds and forms complex neural networks.
Loving words, softly spoken ? for comfort, safety, love. Little research is available on the impact of war on children; but we know that children exposed to routine gunfire and sounds of war, and to death ? especially of family members ? are often angry and hostile, growing up to become more cannon fodder.