I am completely aware of the arrogance of my writing this, having no children and not even being the most well adjusted individual out there. Certainly some of the things that got me through school are not practical for everyone, but I have had some of these ideas in mind for a while, and I was talking extensively with a friend with children who is thinking about some of these things for her own kids, so I’m just going to put it out there.
As I initially conceived this post, it was more about the traits and skills that you want to instill in your children, but we have talked about being loving and supportive as well, and I will give you two big tips for that. The first one, and this is important for success in most aspects of life, is to lose your ego. It’s hard—the ego will keep creeping back when you’re not looking—but if your parental guidance is based on the child being a reflection on you, rather than on what this individual in your care really needs, you’re going to be causing a lot of pain, and the kid will see right through you.
The other thing I would recommend is that in addition to loving, you need to make sure that they feel loved. For that I would recommend reading “The Five Love Languages. I have only read the first one, so I don’t know how the versions specific to children and teenagers are, but I found what I did read insightful.
Now, on to the things that my friend and I were talking about: It was interesting talking with Jennie because while I have only worried about potential children being outcasts, she has also worried about hers being the tormentors, or at least passively supporting the tormentors. My first thought was that I just don’t know what I would do if I ended up with a mean kid, but I think these things work both ways. Not only do they provide a shield and buffer for some of the outside world, but also it should put enough into the child’s life that they don’t need to lash out at others. Also, they set the foundation for a happy adulthood.
(Jennie has also talked to her children about how if they don’t want to be the leaders, that is fine, but then they should choose good people to follow—to go with people who are kind. I think that’s a reasonable discussion to have.)
Actually, I had been thinking about them for quite a while, so then it was nice that I actually had something to say. Well before my children got into their teenage years, I would want to have made sure that they had plenty of opportunities to develop the following things:
Friends: I started thinking about this after the child of a family friend spoke in church. He has some siblings who are quite a bit younger, and he remembers watching play dates when his sisters were really young that didn’t seem that valuable, and asking his mother about them. She said that these kids that she was bringing over had nice parents and they would probably grow up to be nice kids. At that point he remembered all of these friends that he’d had for as long as he could remember, and realized it was not coincidence. Obviously that does not mean that you selectively screen out kids with mean parents, or that all of their friends will come through your machinations, but getting them socialized early, and building that support network early, will help, and if they end up being nice kids, that will help quite a bit too.
Developing a talent: This is beneficial for many reasons, as has been touched on in posts on music and creativity. It can involve the acquiring of patience and discipline, while building satisfaction and self-esteem. That being said, where I really started thinking of it was after reading this article:
This post is lengthy, and it’s a lot more negative than my own memories of school. One thing I have learned talking to others, though, is that most people’s memories of school are more negative than my own. (One of my survival traits was the ability to be fairly oblivious, and I’m not sure that can be taught.) However, the reason I posted, and what I found fascinating, is the idea that having some other sort of guiding interest prevents the child from getting swallowed up in the quest for popularity.
Service to others: This was something my sisters and I have discussed a lot, because many members of their old social group are remarkably self-centered, and they could argue that now they are too busy with children to have time for other causes too, but then how are the children going to learn to care? (Answer: if they do, it will not be from Mom and Dad.)
From a spiritual and religious point of view, I believe serving others is necessary, and a large part of the reason why we are here. I also know that it makes you feel better. Part of that is that it reminds you that you have something to offer, and that you are capable of doing things. It gets you looking outward.
(I have more on that at http://preparedspork.blogspot.com/2009/03/october-2008-three-keys-to-happiness.html.)
Really, any of the previously stated items have the tendency to take you away from the self-absorption into the realization that there is something bigger than yourself, and that leads to the last part…
Developing a personal relationship with God: You can teach children about God, and to fear Him, but it’s not the same as actually building a relationship with Him. I know that a lot of what got me through was the scripture reading and the praying that I did. The morals kept me out of trouble, but just telling a kid that something is wrong without the kid having any personal investment in it doesn’t work. That’s one reason why abstinence-only education is ridiculous.
I have no experience in helping someone else to do this, but I think having your own relationship is a good start, followed by sharing parts of that relationship. One time this happened, and I felt this way. Naturally you need to start this young, because after they start understanding what you say comes a time when they start misunderstanding again, and trying not to listen, and you need to get it in early.
I did actually write a post quite a while ago about starting to get answers, like the basic questions that you would start out with and build on. It felt clunky and unhelpful, and so I have never posted it. I still have the post and I may get back to it.For some reason, I can’t get the thought of children of bad parents out of my mind, though it seems completely unlikely that any are reading this blog. You can put these tools together on your own. You may be getting a late start, but there will still be people who can become friends, you can still find your talents and work on them, you can still build a relationship with God, and you can always find ways to serve others. You will need to be careful, because there are people who will sense your need and want to exploit it, but there are good people out there too, and good things, and whatever troubles come, it’s worth riding it out. And you can contact me if you want. Put it as a comment with your contact information, and instead of approving it I will just write to you.