Your Role as a Parent
“IF YOU make a child feel loved, connected, purposeful and inquisitive, brain development will follow,” says Peter Gorski of Harvard Medical School. “Our role as parents is not to perfect brain circuitry, but to foster the development of healthy, sane and caring human beings.”
How rewarding it is for you as a parent to see your child grow up to be a morally upright person who is considerate of others! For you to achieve such an outcome, much depends on the initiative you take in being an example, a companion, a communicator, and a teacher. Although all children are born with the basic capacity to act morally, parents must progressively impart moral values as their children mature.
Who Shapes Children?
Researchers differ as to who exerts the greatest influence in shaping children. Some believe that children are primarily shaped by their peers. Yet, Drs. T. Berry Brazelton and Stanley Greenspan, professionals in the field of child development, believe that the role of a parent in early empathetic nurturing of a child cannot be overestimated.
Experiences later in life and peer influences complement a child’s early growth. It is important that children be shown compassion and understanding in the family setting. They also need to be taught how to cope with their feelings in a mature way. Children who receive such assistance are generally better prepared to work cooperatively, compassionately, and empathetically with others.
Child training from infancy is hard work. For you to be successful—especially if you are new parents—it is the course of wisdom to seek guidance from others who are more experienced and then to follow a definite course of action. Experts have written countless books on child development. Very often what they say echoes reliable advice contained in the Bible. When applied, the sound principles of God’s Word have helped parents to nurture their children effectively. Consider the following practical direction.
Be Generous in Expressing Love
Children are like young plants that develop and thrive when nurtured with regular, loving attention. Water and sunlight nourish a young plant and stimulate healthy growth and stability. Similarly, parents who shower their children with verbal and physical expressions of love will nurture their children’s mental and emotional growth and stability.
The Bible states simply: “Love builds up.” (1 Corinthians 8:1) Parents who are generous in expressing love to their children are, in effect, imitating their Creator, Jehovah God. The Bible relates that on the occasion of Jesus’ baptism, he heard the voice of his Father expressing approval and love for him as His Son. How reassuring, even for Jesus as an adult!—Luke 3:22.
The affection you show, the bedtime stories you read, and even the games you play are crucial elements of your child’s development. ‘Everything the child is doing,’ says Dr. J. Fraser Mustard, ‘is an experience that he develops. If a child is learning to crawl, how you give encouragement and respond is important.’ Parental love and attention lay a firm foundation for your child to develop and to become a responsible and mature adult.
Companion and Communicator
Spending time with your children creates a bond. Furthermore, it promotes communication skills. This closeness—in the home and elsewhere and at any suitable time—is encouraged in the Scriptures.—Deuteronomy 6:6, 7; 11:18-21.
Child-development experts agree that the time parents spend with their children is much more important than fancy toys or any specific activity. Inexpensive and everyday activities can allow for such periods with your children. For example, simply going to the park with them to observe nature can provide an ideal occasion for parents to ask meaningful questions and promote communication.
The Scriptures say that there is “a time to skip about.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4) Yes, carefree play is essential to a child’s developing intellectual, emotional, and social skills. According to Dr. Mustard, play is not merely valuable but absolutely essential. He says: “Children develop the wiring of their brains for a full variety of functions primarily through play.” The toys a child uses in unstructured play can be very simple, such as an empty cardboard box. Safe, everyday household items are just as intriguing to infants as expensive high-tech toys. *
Experts believe that overscheduling children with countless adult-led activities could stifle their imagination and creativity. Moderation is recommended. Allow your child to explore his own little world and test his own resourcefulness. Often, a child will find something to do to entertain himself. This does not, however, relieve you of the responsibility of knowing what your child is doing and where he is playing so that he does not harm himself.
Make Time for It
Teaching is an integral part of nurturing and raising well-adjusted children. Many parents set aside time each day to read aloud to their children. This provides an occasion to teach lessons about acceptable behavior, as well as to impart to a child moral values based on what our Creator says. The Bible notes that the faithful teacher and missionary Timothy had ‘known the holy writings from infancy.’—2 Timothy 3:15.
Reading to your infant can stimulate his synaptic connections. A key is that the reading be done by an attentive, caring human. Linda Siegel, a professor of education, cautions regarding the content of what is read: “It should be at a level that children enjoy.” Also, try to keep the reading regular and at the same time each day. That way the child begins to look forward to it.
Teaching includes discipline. Little ones can benefit from loving discipline. “A son is wise where there is a father’s discipline,” says Proverbs 13:1. Remember, however, that discipline involves many things. For example, it can take the form of correction by the spoken word or denial of privileges or other forms of punishment. Dr. Brazelton, quoted earlier, says that discipline is “about teaching a child how to manage feelings and out-of-control behaviors. Every child is looking very hard for limits. After love, discipline is the most important thing you give.”
How can you as a parent determine whether your discipline is effective? For one thing, your children should understand why discipline is being administered. When you give correction, do it in such a way that your children sense that you are a supportive and loving parent.
Efforts That Prove Successful
Fred is one father who made reading to his daughter from her infancy part of a daily bedtime ritual. Over a period of time, he observed that she had memorized many of the stories and followed along, recognizing words and associated sounds. Chris is another parent who was conscientious in reading to his children. He made an effort to vary the information he read. When the children were very young, he used the illustrations in books such as My Book of Bible Stories to teach moral and spiritual lessons. *
Other parents endeavor to balance reading with complementary activities—drawing, painting, playing music, camping, or family visits to places such as the zoo. These occasions can be used as opportunities to teach lessons and instill good moral values and behavior in a child’s impressionable heart and mind.
Is all the work and effort worth it? Parents who do their best to apply the foregoing practical guidelines in a peaceful and secure environment are far more likely to see their children develop a positive attitude. If in their early years you nurture intellectual and communication skills in your children, you will contribute greatly to their moral and spiritual character.
Centuries ago the Bible clearly stated at Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a boy according to the way for him; even when he grows old he will not turn aside from it.” Parents surely do play an integral role in child training. Be generous in expressing your love for your children. Spend time with them, nurture them, and teach them. Doing so will bring happiness to them and to you.—Proverbs 15:20.
^ par. 15 See the article “African Toys for Free,” which appeared in the March 22, 1993, issue of this magazine.
^ par. 23 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Another book, Learn From the Great Teacher, also published by Jehovah’s Witnesses, is being effectively used to teach young children.
[Box on page 7]
Playing With Your Infant
▪ Infants have an extremely short attention span, so play only when they seem to enjoy it.
▪ If toys are used, make sure they are safe and stimulating to the child’s senses.
▪ Play games that make things happen. Infants delight in making you do something over and over, such as picking up a toy that they drop.
Source: Clinical Reference Systems
[Box/Picture on page 10]
Tips on Reading to Your Child
▪ Use good diction and pronunciation. A child learns language by hearing parents speak.
▪ With very young children, point out and name people and objects depicted in storybooks.
▪ When the child is older, choose books that focus on his current favorite topics.
Source: Pediatrics for Parents
[Pictures on page 8, 9]
Spend time in enjoyable recreation with your children