Esther Tyson: Making children feel secure
It is the Christmas season once again. For some of us it brings fond memories of growing up with traditions that focused on attending church on Christmas morning, carol singing, going to grand market, making sorrel and Christmas pudding, smelling the roast beef and pork, and spending time with family.
For others, it is a time that reminds them that they are not part of a family that values them. Their memories of Christmas are painful ones.
Let us determine to create good memories for our children by building a stable family context for them in which to grow up, not just at Christmas, but right through the year.
Children need stability in their lives. This helps to give them a sense of security. Stability can be established by setting up daily routines that the child comes to depend on. As a family, determine times for getting up for school in the morning, having breakfast, getting to the bathroom, and heading out the door to school. Make a routine for after school such as bath time, dinner time, homework time, bedtime.
Such routines help the child to develop discipline in his/her own development. These habits eventually become ingrained in the child's mind and assist him/her in ordering his/her own lives in a structured way.
Children need to feel safe. Establishing boundaries for children helps them to feel secure, therefore, the parents or caregiver should be consistent in setting guidelines for children about what they watch on TV and when they watch TV; about how they use the computer, and when and where they use the computer; about the type of music they listen to; about the friends that they have. These are all boundaries that children need to have to guide their psycho-social development.
As parents, we have a responsibility to help our children make wise choices, guiding them based on principles we adhere to. This is an important aspect of our role as caregivers. In addition, determine the behaviours that are acceptable in your family and establish reasonable consequences to teach these behaviours when children do not display them. This type of structure helps children to feel safe. Children need boundaries.
Children need attention in order to flourish as emotionally stable individuals. There is the myth that it is more important to spend quality time with your child than quantity time. It is not possible to have quality without quantity.
Parents with young children need to be there for them when they are most vulnerable - when they begin to go out to school and interact with other people and need you to be there to listen to their stories and to guide and reassure them. It takes time to listen.
Make bedtime a set time and establish a routine. Turn off your cell phones and use this time to focus on your young ones. Listen to their stories. Give them your attention. Take their stories seriously and respond so that they know they are important to you. Tell them stories - Bible stories, or stories to teach them life lessons. Pray with them and for them.
If you drive them to school, use that time to talk with them. Try not to be dealing with work-related matters on the phone, but get the conversation going with your child. Later, when bigger challenges come when they are older, you will have established an ongoing conversation that you can use to influence their thinking. To begin having conversations when they are tweens or teens might be too late.
Try to eat meals together, even if it is only on the weekend. Make dinner time a place where you hear about each other's day and connect with each other. Make it a rule to turn off the cell phone, or mute it, or only take emergency calls. Such practices build healthy communication habits in your family, which, over time, become valuable traditions.
Connect with your aunts, uncles, and cousins. Spend holidays together by doing road trips together, going to the beach on weekends, having picnics together. We live in a beautiful country where there are so many sights to enjoy and share with our family.
To connect with your family takes time and planning. It has to be intentional. During such times, your child should also hear the family stories that help to place them in their family's history and will help to shape their identity.
Christmas time is such a time to share with the extended family. Make the effort to invite the family over or go to be with them in the country. Expose your children to other people who might be strange to them, but the interaction will help them to learn to relate to different types of persons in the world.
Children need to be celebrated. Celebrate their birthdays. Celebrate their accomplishments. If your child takes home a report that shows that he or she is doing well, celebrate that accomplishment.
Celebrations such as going out for ice cream might be enough. You do not have to spend a lot of money. Celebrations mean to give your child your focused attention and to do something out of the ordinary with them such as preparing their favourite meal and eating together. Have fun together as a family; play games together; watch a TV show together; wash the car together; and do household chores together. In all these ways, you live your life together with your child.
Children who feel safe in their families, who feel valued and listened to, are less likely to get involved in antisocial behaviour. In an age when the Internet presents real dangers in raising our children, make sure to connect with them in real life, not to lose them in cyberspace.
Have a wonderful Christmas!