Parenting is, first of all, about CARING. Caring means love, kindness, compassion and helpfulness. Love and affection are the bedrock of healthy development. Kids know whether their parents care for them or not by the way they’re treated, no surprise. This means more than just putting food on the table. Adults are often distracted with so many other things, that we neglect daily interactions that are so essential, and so meaningful, to children – not easy for any of us on some days!
The need for a positive, supportive home environment cannot be emphasized enough. Stress damages the development of the brain’s architecture; and research shows that children who are subjected to mental, emotional and/or physical stresses for long periods of time are much more likely to experience mental illnesses and various types of depression, often leading to delinquency and incarceration, in addition to having more medical and marital problems. Toxic stress creates abnormal levels of stress hormones, resulting in often long-lived mental and physical impairments. So, pay close attention to your parenting skills.
There is a difference, however, between the effects of long-term stress, and short-term stresses. It is normal for everyone to suffer short term stress, the death of a pet, even a relative is a serious matter but normal. Grieving at such times is normal and you would expect a child to recover their normal pattern of behavior within days or at least weeks. And of course different people react in different ways to similar stresses. One child may seem unaffected by a stress event while another child in the same situation may react quite strongly.
The way in which you counteract the effects of a sudden death, or any other traumatic event, is to take the time to help your children understand the event. Give them more attention and affection for a while. As they recover from the grieving they will feel secure, and will come to you for comfort and support. This will increase their emotional resilience. a critical capability for all of us.
Caring is not just a feeling, it is also about behavior. It means observing and learning about your children, their personalities, preferences, and foibles; and then consistently providing creative opportunities for them to grow physically, mentally, and emotionally. This does not require lots of ‘stuff’ in fact, too much stuff can be very inhibiting. It’s really about actually listening to what your children say and responding with more than a distracted ‘Good’. It means taking time, even if it’s just a few minutes, to specifically focus on David, or Jill, as individuals.
Take conversations, for example. It’s important for you to talk to your infants and toddlers, even when they don’t seem to be paying attention or understand. When you pay attention to them, and talk to them, it tells them that you care about them. We even talk to our pets, knowing they don’t understand the words, but most certainly understand our body language.
This creates an emotional connection and makes them feel secure in their environment. Children who are emotionally secure are ready to learn; not only recognizing words, shapes and colors which will help them ‘read’ picture books and then sight words, but also beginning to understand the uses of symbols, words, in reading and writing. On the other hand, children who are afraid or feel insecure do not learn nearly as well; and some will quickly fall behind.
Paying attention to them when they are doing things you want them to do also reinforces good behavior, since they don’t have to tantrum to get your attention. This won’t eliminate all tantrums, but will reduce the number and severity of them. Rewards for good behavior with attention, affection, polite conversations, an unexpected cookie when they’re concentrating on a task. All of these reward effort and accomplishment, increasing self-esteem and confidence, important for all learning.
CARING is expressed by some very simple things:
Frequent displays of affection, quick hugs, patting heads, squeezing arms, high 5s.
Taking care of basic needs for proper clothing, regular food, and safe spaces.
Providing emotional support when kids are sad, upset, or frustrated.
Spending time with them, and talking about things of interest to them.
Praising their efforts, and encouraging them to try new things.
Rewarding good behavior with praise, hugs, attention and affection.