The advice I’d like to offer is partly “hindsight.” I have two teenagers in the house now, so we are long past the early childhood years. But I used to write/edit a parenting magazine and I still work with kids. I was just helping with our parish Vacation Bible School program which is what prompted me to want to reach out to other parents. So here is my advice, for whatever it is worth:
1) Gender matters. Much as you’ll hear people tell you that boys and girls are the same except for a bit of biology–that is a LIE. I’m sorry if that’s blunt. But truth is truth. Children are infinitely varied and unique; YET boys and girls have innate and predictable gender differences which need to be understood.
2) Boys need to run. They are more prone to be physical, aggressive and protective. They need to run. Their developing bodies seek a balance between mental and physical activity. The qualities of masculinity are God-given gifts that will help them be “defenders of truth, protectors of families and warriors for justice.” Celebrate boys! Let them run and let them play-act as tough soldiers. Remind them always to fight for truth and goodness. Remember: They are growing into manhood and men are different from women.
3) Girls seek affirmation. Girls have been told they have to “do it all”–succeed in a job, be the best, compete in everything and squeeze in a family as a side note. They feel they have to forsake the “feminine.” But girls instinctively like glitter and frills. They want to look good. Girls are better able to sit and focus. They can tune in to emotions. They need to be able to play “dress up” and learn about modesty. Then they can learn how to accept compliments and discern the difference between flattery/manipulation and truth. The qualities of femininity are God-given gifts that will help them “nurture and support life itself.” There is nothing more important than caring for the young and supporting physical, mental and spiritual GROWTH.
4) Technology is addictive. Limit it. Video screens are mesmerizing and disrupt the natural patterns in a developing young brain. Don’t let children spend their days in front of screens. Limit the use of TV, video games and cell phones. It is just common sense not to let kids build their lives around such artificial devices.
5) Tantrums happen. Be forgiving. Our modern world tends to be over-stimulating. Young children sometimes act up in public places and this can be terribly embarrassing for a parent. You feel as if all eyes are on you. But the truth is most parents have had a similar experience at some point! People are less judgmental than you imagine.
Still the focus should be on leaving the prying eyes of strangers. Then contain the child by having him/her sit in his/her bedroom or on a special chair. Quietly explain the consequences for behavior. “Because you didn’t respond when I told you it was time to leave and you made a bad choice to yell and kick, we won’t be able to go for ice cream today.” Help them begin to make associations between their behavior choices and natural consequences. Remind them they can make better choices the next time.
Also make sure you monitor your own emotions so you aren’t acting out of embarrassment. Such experiences are teaching moments—for both parent and child!
Copyright 2013 Judith Costello