Year three for the docsmo blog, can you believe it! Thanks for joining me. I am the founder and curator of the blog, Dr. Paul Smolen, by day, a board certified pediatrician with 32 years of practice and by night, a blogger. To my new listeners, welcome and to my loyal audience, all I can say is, thank you. I hope that in my catalogue of 120 audio posts, I have been able to live up to your expectations and our title, portable, practical, pediatrics. My desire is that by creating knowledgeable informed parents, children of today will benefit. Todays podcast is one I look forward to all year… my perennial holiday message. I always consider it a special privilege to create and deliver my holiday message, and this year is no exception. So here we go.
I often wonder what it is that parents either provide or don’t provide, do or not do, that determines the kind of person a child will become as an adult. After more than a generation in pediatrics, watching parents practice many variations of parenting, I firmly believe that what parents do or don’t do has tremendous consequences for their children. Which brings up the question, what tasks of parenthood translate into molding children destined to become great young adults? What kind of environment do successful parents create for their children that allow them to thrive? Well, I think the answer can be summed up in one word…STABILITY.
So lets break this down a little further. Before we can talk about parenting, lets define what it means to be a parent, beyond the biology of having children. As any older parent will tell you, Doc Smo pearl “Making the babies was the easy part of parenting!” Lets start with good parenting in infancy- Parenting an infant is all about meeting an infant’s physical and emotional needs… shelter, food, and creating a strong emotional bond where a child feels safe. Next comes the toddlers years- Parents of toddlers spend a lot of their time setting limits for their children while allowing enough independence and exploration for a child’s personality to start to emerge, all while keeping junior SAFE from serious injuries. Next comes the school age years- Here parents need to teach right from wrong, ensure academic success, and cultivate a child’s interests and curiosity. And finally come the tumultuous teen years, where parents need to provide more of the school age stuff in the emotionally charged atmosphere that has been created by the effects testosterone and estrogen on their children. You can see from that short description that parenting a child is a very difficult and challenging task.
In my opinion, the parents that do the best job at all the above tasks are those that create the most stability and predictability for their children. These parents are often not the richest or best educated but solid parents none the less. Good parents in my opinion, consistently give the following messages to their children from their words and actions; -“You are so important and I will always be there when you need me.” -“You are so important that I will love and support you even, if you mess up.” -“ I expect you to always do your best.” -“Your well being is one of my highest priorities.” -“Whatever you need (not want), I will try and provide.” Here’s my DocSmo formula for parenting success; “ Secure love +secure predictable limits +high expectations+ predictable STABLE support = strong kids.”
But good parenting is a difficult thing to achieve; there are so many things that can get in the way to mess up this formula; Here are some of the more common things I see that get in the way of parents creating the kind of stability in which children have the easiest time thriving; -Divorced parents who continue their bitterness even after they have split-up. -Marriages where parents don’t love and support one another. -Families with a parent suffering from a mental illness like depression or severe anxiety. -A family where substance abuse or violence occurs. -A family that has difficulty with limit setting for their children. -A family that doesn’t have realistic expectations for their children. None of these family situations are ideal for providing the STABILITY that every child so desperately needs. You can see how a child’s emotional needs and psychological development are being diverted by these family stresses. The oxygen is being sucked right out of these families. The joy and support of the family is just not there. Childhood should be a time when a child masters the developmental tasks in front of them, not being mired in family problems.
Now for the holiday part of this pedcast; As we approach the busy holiday season and a new year, I want you to stop and think, “How can I create the best environment I can for my children?” “How can I create a little more stability in my child’s life.” We can all improve our parenting skills, that’s for sure. Even Mary Poppins probably had some room for improvement! Here are few little things that might really help;
1.Create as many routines in your child’s life as possible. Children love predictability. Bedtime rituals, chores that are predictable, sharing regular reading and play time… these are wonderfully powerful things for children of all ages.
2. Start some traditions that are special- Holidays are a great time for this. (ex. Walking the neighborhood at Xmas time to (daughter)give out our own personal award for best decorations or son-gathering pecans)
3. Do less talking and more listening to your kids. Their opinions are important because it is also the window into their thoughts and feelings. They might reveal that they are being bullied or feel left out by family or friends. Listen and try and understand…don’t judge or preach.
4. If possible, involve emotionally healthy older relatives in your children’s lives…they are often full of experience and wisdom if you take the time to ask. Make sure your children hear stories of their youth and challenges they faced. Their consistent involvement with your children
5. Verbally recognize when your children do something well and make sure you forgive them when they mess up.
6. Decrease the gifts that are “things” and give them more of the most important gift you can give… your love and attention. Take time to play some games, go for a walk, involve them in cooking and decorating or entertain some of their friends. I am certain, you will be glad that you did and so will your children.
This is Dr. Paul Smolen, wishing you and your family a great holiday season. Until next time.