Guest Article by Helen Franks, Last Updated 12 June 2016
The habits we pick up in childhood last us for a lifetime. If we pick up bad habits, it’s extremely difficult to break them. If we pick up good habits, they stand us in good stead for our lives to come. But it can be hard to know what to do in order to ensure that your kids turn into the kind, empowered, capable, happy adults you know they can be, particularly when they resist your well-meaning efforts! Here are a few tips that may help.
Remember, Childhood Is Training for Adulthood
Everyone wants their children to have a good childhood. And it’s certainly true that a happy childhood gives a great emotional grounding for the future adult. However, there’s a marked difference between a happy childhood and an overindulged childhood. Childhood was never meant to be a magical wonderland in which every day is Christmas and all of your whims are indulged. Don’t make the mistake of sanctifying your children. Imbuing them with ‘special snowflake’ syndrome will not give them the tools that they need to cope with adult life. However well you prepare for your children’s future, and however well you personally set them up in life (materially speaking), if they’ve not learned enough coping strategies in childhood to deal with the rigours of adulthood, they’re heading for a big fall.
Childhood is (and always has been) a time of training for adulthood. Your job is not to make your children materially replete – it’s to ensure that they’re getting a safe, loving, and supportive environment in which to learn the essential lessons they need. While you definitely shouldn’t go out of your way to throw your child into harsh or overly challenging situations, you also shouldn’t try to overindulge or to insulate them from learning about the world in their own way. There’s a big difference between being an overly indulgent parent and being a kind parent, and there’s also a big difference between being cruel and being firm. Both overindulgence and cruelty have extremely negative results. So be kind to your children, and keep them safe, but don’t ignore unacceptable behaviour, don’t spoil them, and don’t coddle them. If you ever feel like this is more trouble than it’s worth, remember that unspoiled children tend to grow into the most emotionally stable and happy adults. Think of the long game.
Imbue Healthy Habits
The evidence could not be clearer: children who grow up living sedentary, unhealthy lifestyles and eating unhealthy diets continue to do so into adulthood. Children who grow up with active lifestyles and healthy diets are far more likely to maintain healthy habits throughout adulthood. Self-sustained healthy lifestyles result in fewer medical problems, greater personal happiness, and generally better quality of life than the alternative.
You can lead by example in a lot of this (kids tend to imprint upon their parents’ lifestyles, even to quite a late age!). Take your kids on walks with you, play sports with them, and so on.
Diet can be a bit trickier, as children are naturally less likely than adults to enjoy the taste of vegetables. However, introducing a wide variety of healthy foods at as young an age as possible tends to ensure that your children will happily eat them as they get older. Involving them in shopping for and preparing ingredients can also instill valuable lessons about nutrition and cookery, as well as promoting much-needed vegetable intake! At the end of the day, kids who eat healthily and are encouraged to be active will tend to continue these habits, even when they’re responsible for their own lifestyles, so it’s definitely worth it.
Lead By Example
As we mentioned, children tend to imprint upon their parents’ behaviors. And why wouldn’t they? We all, to a certain extent, follow the ways of the culture that surrounds us, and children are intensively surrounded by their parents. These are the people from whom they take their cues as to how to live in the adult world, so what you do around them is very important. If you’re happy and confident, they’ll take that on board. If you’re not, they’ll reflect that. If you smoke and drink, they’re likely to smoke and drink too. If you complain about the way you look, they’re likely to look critically at their own bodies. It’s scary how much kids internalize their parents’ neuroses! While you probably shouldn’t be constantly checking your own behaviour around them (that would make you even more neurotic!), it is worth considering what kind of message your actions are giving to your children. If you don’t want your children to end up with a particular habit or pattern of behaviour, the very best thing you can do is drop that habit and break that pattern in yourself.