By William and Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., Web reprint
All parents occasionally become angry with each other in the presence of their young children, but if you manage to maintain a reasonably pleasant atmosphere until you are alone, you will spare your child from dealing with relationship complexities for which he is developmentally unprepared.
However, if, in spite of your best intentions, a quarrel breaks out in front of your son, stop the hostilities as soon as you can and reassure your son by saying, “We’re sorry we upset you—we know it’s hard for you when we argue. Mommy and Daddy love each other even when we fight, and we both love you all the time!”
There is a popular but mistaken notion that “real life” unpleasantness will strengthen the character of the young. In reality, their developmental immaturity prevents young children from defending themselves against the emotional pain they feel when things go wrong. So parental arguments and other painful events leave young children more—rather than less—vulnerable to stress.
On the other hand, if you do shield your son from distressing experiences in general, and especially from the pain of witnessing you and your spouse fighting, over time he will learn to develop an abiding optimism about his world and his ability to have the harmony and love that he wants and needs. As he grows older, this positive outlook will give him the strength and resilience to respond effectively to the challenges of everyday life.
So the next time you feel angry in your child’s presence, try to remember that what feels like an everyday blowup to you feels like a nuclear explosion to him, and do your best to contain your anger until you are alone. It will be easier if you realize that in this way you nourish your son’s emotional well-being as surely as you care for his physical health by keeping him out of the street and away from the stove.
“Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”
By Family Education and The National Association for the Education of Young Children
New insights into brain development affirm what many parents and caregivers have known for years: 1) good prenatal care, 2) warm and loving attachments between young children and adults, and 3) positive stimulation from the time of birth make a difference in children’s development for a lifetime.
Ever look at a baby and wonder what she’s thinking? Well, there’s a lot more going on in there than previously thought. According to the newest brain research, babies’ brains begin crackling with activity before they’re even born!
At birth, an infant’s brain houses 100 billion nerve cells, or neurons. Immediately, connections—or synapses—between the cells form as the baby experiences her surroundings and makes attachments to caregivers. This network of neurons and synapses controls various functions, such as seeing, hearing, and moving. If a child’s brain is not stimulated from birth, these synapses don’t develop, impairing her ability to learn and grow.
The impact of environmental factors on a young child’s brain development is dramatic and specific, not merely influencing the general direction of development, but actually affecting how the intricate circuitry of the human brain is “wired.”
How humans develop and learn depends critically and continually on the interplay between an individual’s genetic endowment and the nutrition, surroundings, care, stimulation, and teaching that are provided or withheld.
Warm and responsive early care helps babies thrive and plays a vital role in healthy development.
What does this mean for parents?
Practice these four parenting tips which will help ensure a child’s healthy brain development and emotional stability for years to come.
1. Be warm, loving, and responsive: Studies show that children who receive responsive caregiving, such as touching, rocking, talking, and smiling, cope with difficult times more easily when they are older. They get along better with other children, and perform better in school than kids who are less securely attached.
2. Talk, read, and sing to your child: Communicating with your child gives him a solid basis for learning later. Talk and sing about daily events. Read stories in a way that encourages older babies and toddlers to participate by answering questions, pointing to what they see in a picture book, or by repeating rhymes and refrains.
3. Encourage safe exploration and play: While many of us think of learning as simply acquiring facts, children learn through playing. Blocks, art, puzzles, and play-acting are some activities that help children develop curiosity, confidence, language, and problem-solving skills. Let your child choose many of her own activities. If she turns away or seems uninterested, put it aside. Let her pick it up again later when she’s interested.
4. Use discipline as an opportunity to teach: It is normal for children to test rules and to act impulsively at times. Parents need to set limits that help teach children, rather than punish them. For example, tell your child what behavior is acceptable and communicate positively: say, “Feet belong on the floor, please,” instead of “Get your feet off the chair!”
By Elizabeth Montgomery, Pre-K Smarties
It is never too early to introduce your child to books. Although infants will be unable to follow a plot or understand a theme, infants will benefit from exposure to books. In addition to the bonding that is inevitable when you hold your baby in your lap and communicate with her, reading to your baby is valuable in the development of language skills. Long before your baby utters her first word, she is absorbing sounds that will first help contribute to the development of speech, and later reading. Books also stimulate your baby’s imagination, helping her to make sense of situations she has experienced and introducing her to new ones.
Reading to your infant today promotes good reading habits tomorrow. As infants are particularly responsive to the sounds of language, the best books for babies emphasize rhythm, melody, and repetition, such as nursery rhymes and books with patterned language. Rhythm, rhyme, repetition, and familiar language sequences will captivate babies.
Books for infants usually have minimal text; the words often function like labels or captions for the pictures. Infants enjoy looking at pictures of other people, especially other babies. They recognize facial features and expressions. Babies and small children love seeing familiar objects like a stuffed bear or a rubber duck, or people doing things that they have had some experience with in their daily life, such as getting dressed or taking a bath.
Books are not just educational and developmental devices. Babies, like adults, are entertained by books. Parents and other caregivers find that books are a very effective way to keep babies happily occupied. Indeed, early enjoyment of books will help form a foundation for the vital role books will play in your child’s formal education.
We expose children to reading too late. By six years of age the ability to take in raw facts, whether auditory (spoken) or visual (written), without the slightest effort is just about gone. … It is easier to teach a five-year-old to read than it is to teach a six-year-old. It is easier at four than at five, easier at three than at four, easier at two than at three, easier at one than at two, and easiest of all below one. The superb truth is that babies take in raw facts such as written and spoken words at a rate that no adult could come close to matching.
“Why Teach Your Baby to Read?” by Glenn Doman, Founder of The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential (Excerpts)
[This is a short fictional story that was originally published as part of an educational seminar. It explores the positive influence that teachers can have on the future of their students, and the lesson applies to parents and caregivers as well.]
It had been a long and tiring day—the usual case for me as the principal male mathematics teacher in what was then known as a secondary modern school situated in London’s East End. The pupils attending these schools generally majored in manual or artisan courses, what you would nowadays call vocational, rather than academic subjects. Anyway, a group of them had been required to stay back for detention, which was scheduled each Thursday, and went for an hour and a half past the school’s official closing hour of four o’clock in the afternoon.
On this particular week, it had fallen to me to supervise them, and I was as peeved as the detainees were at not being able to clock out at four and go home. It was left up to the supervising teacher to provide or suggest activities while they sat at their desks, so we let them do what they wished within reason, as we generally felt no constraint to put in more work hours. The more conscientious teachers would catch up on correspondence and such like, but most of us would usually sit behind the front desk and read the newspaper. With my brain and nerves often being overloaded at this point, I was usually content to do a crossword or stare out of the window. That day, I watched the sunset.
Every fifteen minutes or so, however, I dutifully patrolled the gangways between the desks and looked over the students’ shoulders to make sure there was no monkey business going on. That is when I came upon fifteen-year-old Pamela Lumley with her face in her hands and her elbows on an open exercise book. She was a working-class girl from the back streets of Bermondsey and attended my fourth form mathematics class. Her detention was a consequence of having been apprehended for smoking a cigarette in one of the school lavatories.
“Is everything alright, Miss Lumley?” I asked her, not expecting an answer nor even wishing to be bothered with one.
She looked up at me with snivel nose and red-rimmed eyes; she had evidently been crying.
“I just can’t get it, sir,” she whined in her nasal cockney twang.
She pointed a dirty fingernail at her dog-eared, grimy exercise book and the opened pages of smudged, pencil-scrawled numbers bordered with pitiable attempts at patterns and flower sketches. I deciphered that among her fanciful doodling she was attempting to solve a mathematical problem.
“It’s ‘omework, sir,” she said, pulling at her teased coal-black hair.
Having long given Pamela Lumley up as a lost cause, I hardly even checked her daily work anymore, let alone her “‘omework.” She had only a few more months to go, anyway, and she would leave school; graduating, I judgmentally presumed, to a life on child-welfare benefits. Mathematics, and it seemed almost any other academic skill, was just not her talent.
“Well, just keep muddling through, Miss Lumley,” I said and looked at my watch. Over an hour and ten minutes yet to go.
Suddenly to her and my surprise, I impulsively snatched up her exercise book and returned to my desk, where I casually flipped through the illegible graphite muddle of Pamela Lumley’s tortured world of mathematics. I stopped at the page on which she had been working. It was still wet on one spot where a tear had fallen, smudging the green guidelines. You may assume it would be easy, considering my eloquence, but I cannot adequately describe what I felt in that instant. It was as though Pamela Lumley’s world opened before my eyes and every painful scratch of her grubby, stubby pencil formed a hieroglyphic tapestry of her life in a Bermondsey backstreet hovel with a divorced distraught mother on prescription drugs.
At the time, I would have recoiled from describing what overwhelmed me as supernatural, but now I am convinced it was. I did not know why, but I so wanted to weep that my heart ached, yet Pamela was watching me expectantly from her desk.
“I need to step out for a moment,” I announced with a lump in my throat.
“M-Miss L-Lumley, will you temporarily monitor the class?” I found myself saying to her shock, as well as that of the rest of the detainees and especially mine.
Her face lit up. “Why of course, sir. ”
I locked myself in a lavatory stall, sat down and sobbed. I could not understand it, but I felt stupid and vulnerable, yet wonderful at the same time. I must have sat there for about ten minutes, silently philosophizing to myself in an attempt to dissect this emotion. My analysis seemed to be in vain, until I suddenly saw myself as I was before this epiphany: lofty, cynical, wittily sarcastic and erudite with a sophisticated corner on knowledge. It was a discomfiting sight, and it was easy for me to hate myself and—I sadly concluded—for others to regard me with no less abhorrence.
Nevertheless, I stepped out of that stall determined to retain this strange throb in my heart. Avoiding my reflection, I washed my face and returned to the classroom.
“Did everyone behave, Miss Lumley?” I inquired with a smile.
“Oh they was all little darlins!” she chirped with a giggle.
“Good to hear it. Okay then, come up here and let’s take a look at this problem.”
Pamela’s face fell; it appeared as though she would burst into tears again. Yet she bravely strode up to the front, and I motioned for her to pull up a chair next to mine.
“I’m so sorry, sir,” she said. “But it won’t do no good to explain. I just won’t get it.”
“The solution is probably very simple,” I said softly. “See this flower you’ve drawn here? What’s it called?”
Pamela Lumley’s eyes lit up. “A Canterbury Bell, sir. But that has next to nothing to do with the mathematical problem.”
“I know,” I said. “And this here is obviously a crocus.”
“And this one?”
“That’s a Bleedin’ Heart, me mam’s favourite. But… ?”
“And I notice you’ve drawn this particular one numerous times but you’ve scribbled through it.”
“Oh yeah. That’s a Gypsophila, me favourite. Can’t get it right, though. The shape of the petals, see?”
“Actually sir, I have a hard time with gettin’ the petal shapes right on most of ‘em. The Bleedin’ Heart is easy, of course.”
“I’m no artist, mind you,” I said as I opened my desk drawer. I rummaged inside it until I pulled out a small stencil template of geometric shapes. “But it seems the design of this particular petal is based on the trapezoid. See?”
“And this one has a rather hexagonal shape to it—you know, six sides. This one of course, is a rhombus—a diamond.”
“That’s true, sir. Simple when you look at it like that.”
“You obviously love flowers, Miss Lumley.”
“I do, sir. Don’t ‘ave any, though. Don’t ‘ave a garden and the ‘ouse is dark.”
I turned back a few pages in her exercise book. “Here it seems you are trying to make a design using these two.”
“Yeah. Me mam was goin’ to buy me an embroidery kit for me birthday, but it ended up she didn’t ‘ave the moolah. She was right broke up about it. That was fine, I didn’t take it personal. But I was going to embroider a table mat with the Gypsophila intertwining around the Bleedin’ Heart and give it to her for Chrismiss.”
“Anyways, sir, once I get a job, after I leave school, maybe I can scrape up something.”
“Very well, Miss Lumley, you may return to your desk,” I said, noticing that some tittering and whispering was going on among the detainees. I handed her the template. “Here, you can have this. Hope it helps you with your project.”
She beamed. “Thank you, sir.”
* * *
Late July presently came upon us along with the end of the school year and for most of us, spirits were high with anticipation at the six weeks of summer holidays. For the few departing pupils, however, this anticipation was often mixed with some trepidation at the prospect of acquiring full-time employment; Pamela was one of those few.
I was locking up my desk on that last day of term, when Pamela tapped on the glass window of the empty classroom’s door. I indicated for her to come in.
Tears were in her eyes as she approached me. “Just w-wanted to say bye, sir. And thanks for everything.”
Everything? Since that day of detention, I had manifested only discreet interest in her evident progress at sketching flower design by merely nodding my approval when passing by her desk where she, with the geometric template in plain view, would leave her exercise book open for my perusal. But for the occasional smile and a nod, we communicated little.
“Good b-bye, Miss Lumley. I wish you all the best and … umm … good luck with your choice of career.”
“Ta, sir. Looks like I got something lined up as a cashier at Tesco’s. At least for the time being. It will force me to brush up on me sums, if nothing else!”
As we stood in uncomfortable silence, I stared at my half-open briefcase and I could not renege on a decision I had made that morning. I reached into the case, pulled out a large ribbon-wrapped package and handed it to her.
“You can open it now, if you wish,” I mumbled. “Or wait until you get home.”
Curiosity conquered the girl’s initial hesitation and she tore at the wrapping. Her mouth fell open.
“I don’t know why,” I said, as Pamela shook her head and gaped in astonishment at the gift. “But it took no mean courage to stand in the local sewing craft shop explaining my need to purchase an embroidery kit for a ‘friend’!”
“But, s-sir. You d-didn’t ‘ave to.”
“I suppose not, Miss Lumley. Actually, I bought it that very weekend after your detention, but could never quite muster up the pluck to give it to you. It just sat in this drawer the whole time. Maybe I was tempting circumstance, but I resolved to give it to you today on the one condition that by your own volition you came to wish me farewell. Failing that, I most likely would have posted it to you eventually.”
Pamela’s pale, pinched countenance wrinkled and she burst into tears. It was a while before she was able to speak.
“Thank you, sir. I shall t-treasure it for life.”
* * *
The following year, due to a condition regarding the buildup of water around my heart, my doctor advised me to move out of London. Consequently, I took a post as assistant headmaster in a comprehensive school up near Aberdeen, Scotland, where I continued for twenty years until my retirement at sixty-two. A pretty good life stretch, I thought, considering the dire predictions of medical advisors.
Anyway, an odd “coincidence” happened on the very day of the end of my term of office in the education administration. I had attended a small gathering to celebrate and toast my “departure” at a nearby pub, where I benefited from, I am happy to say, the sincere appreciation of my teacher colleagues and a number of departed students who had attended my classes within the past decade or more. I was touched to the point that my heart began to hurt much like that day in that East London Secondary Modern School, and I had to excuse myself. Edith Standwell, a younger female colleague graciously drove me home to my one-bedroom flat overlooking the town square. She asked if I needed help, and I hesitated at first—being a confirmed bachelor all my life. Nevertheless, I changed my mind, as I felt compelled to accept her offer and allow her to aid me up the stairs.
To my surprise, stuffed in the letterbox was a parcel, and I waited until we were inside my flat before opening it. The parcel contained a small hardcover book and a letter. Concerned for me, Edith Standwell made sure I was comfortably seated in the armchair, and waiting warily by, offered to make some hot cocoa. I accepted her offer, indicated where the ingredients were, and began reading the letter.
This might come as a surprise—it’s been about twenty years I would say since you left our way, and I was thinking that you was probably retiring soon. Well, to be honest, I didn’t even know if you was still alive, pardon me bluntness. Anyways, I went by the old school the other day and I got your address from Mr. Wills, the old geography teacher who’s the headmaster now.
Anyways, I wanted to send you a book that just got published about embroidery and flower design, written by yours truly (with lots of help from an editor, of course. Me spelling and grammar still leaves a lot to be desired). Now ain’t that a turn-up for the book world? Pamela Lumley has a bestseller in W. H. Smith’s! Well I do, sir. They even wants another one, but I think I’ve said me piece. Anyways, I put a dedication to you after the title page ‘cos after all, this book wouldn’t have been possible without you.
Curious, I took my first look at the book and its title--The Floral World of Pamela Lumley, and I opened to the dedicatory page. As I read, my heart surged again with that wonderful throb and I smiled.
…and so it is to him, a mathematics teacher who saw this floral world beyond my clumsy scrawl, I dedicate this little book. Without his encouragement, it would not have been a reality, and to him I am ever grateful.
- Pamela Lumley –
Story by Jeremy Spencer. © The Family International.
* Never lose faith in your children! If you can’t determine what’s right or wrong when a child claims innocence in some situation, and there’s no way to prove otherwise, it is almost always the wisest thing to let it pass, rather than risk punishing or judging unjustly for something. Try taking your child’s word for it!—such love will prove your faith in them and will inspire them not to disappoint your trust. Showing a child that you trust and believe in him shows him that you love him.
* Try putting yourself in your child’s place as much as possible. This will give you a much better understanding of him. Make it a habit to try to see things through their eyes and understanding. Ask yourself, “what if this were I? How would I want to be treated in this situation if I were in his shoes?—if I were only 5 years old and were the one being laughed at by the adults, how would I feel?” What may seem cute or funny to us, may be very embarrassing and humiliating to a child. Most of us know what it’s like to be embarrassed, hurt or slighted by others. Realizing that such unpleasant experiences can be much more traumatic and painful to a small inexperienced child should cause us to do our best to spare them from such incidents. By putting yourself in as close a situation as you can think of to your child’s situation, imagining how you would feel, you will gain a much better understanding of him and his feelings.
* Praise and encouragement are one of the most important parts of child training. Be generous with praise and appreciate your child’s good intentions and strong points. For example, if your son makes a failing grade on his school work, you can still find something to commend him for, his neat handwriting, perhaps. There’s always some good to be praised and appreciated. All children thrive on praise. It’s more important to praise a child for his good deeds and his good behavior than it is to scold him for his bad behavior. Try to always accentuate the positive!
Of course, it’s important when giving praise and appreciation to remain honest and sincere, and it must relate to him or her. For example, you may consider your pre-teen daughter to be beautiful, but if she perhaps doesn’t compare favorably to many others her age, in spite of your opinion and feeling on the matter, she could think that you are being insincere or falsely flattering if you are constantly telling her how beautiful she is. So why not commend her in some other positive area in which she excels and shines: her eloquence of speech or her good grades or her loving, sweet character and spirit.
Be outspoken with praise for your children. Just about everyone loves kids, but it’s extremely important that the children know this by hearing you say it and seeing you show it.
All these suggestions and pointers are ways to put love into action! Love is not “real” or practically applied without a living example by you and me, today’s parents who are molding the future! The world of tomorrow is what the mothers and fathers of today make it, according to the way we raise our children!
Excerpted from writings by D.B. Berg. © The Family International. Used with permission.
* From the very beginning, strive to promote an atmosphere of honest, open communication with your children. Encourage each child to feel free to honestly share what is on his heart with you. Of course, it’s very important to avoid reacting in a critical, condemning or condescending way to a child who is pouring out his heart, confessing a mistake or sharing a fear etc.—if your child meets such a negative reaction from you, he will probably have second thoughts before sharing his heart with you next time.
“Special times” of open-hearted discussions, combined with lots of loving embraces, greatly assures young children of our love and genuine concern, as we strive to intently listen to and understand them! Your child will never forget such special times spent with you. In most cases, these are the moments that we treasured most when we were children: when our parents invested their love in the form of personal time and attention with us, just talking about things together.
Of course, before we can expect our children to be honest with us, we must be honest with them. It greatly encourages children to know that their parents are not exactly perfect. (Besides, you can be sure they’ve noticed!) By your own honest admission of your mistakes and weaknesses, you are setting a good example for them of what honesty and humility are all about, and your children will love you the more for it!
As in any kind of honest communication, it can’t be emphasized enough how important it is to be a good listener to the one who is talking. A good, listening parent is not busy reading the newspaper or making a cup of tea while his or her child is pouring out his heart about the loss of a best friend, or communicating his innermost worries and fears. As parents, one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is our sincere interest in them and their problems, as manifested by our undivided attention and uninterrupted listening whenever possible.
By the act of simply listening, you are telling your child: “I want to understand and help you. I think you are worth listening to, and i want you to know that I have faith in you. You can always talk to me because I love you.”
* Ask questions. (Kids shouldn’t be the only inquisitive party!) When genuinely communicating with children—or with anyone for that matter—asking questions helps to draw them out and shows your concern and interest in them. Get them to talk.
When they are asking you the questions, be careful not to philosophize or pretend to be something you’re not. Just stay simple! And don’t offer any advice that you wouldn’t want to practically apply yourself.
* Learn to present your advice or answers in ways that are easy for them to accept. Make it “easy for them to be good” by allowing them to think that it’s at least partly their idea too. For example, “I liked your comment on needing to change things a bit. Let’s try your idea!”, or “what do you think about trying this idea?”, or, “haven’t you found that this works better?”
* When something goes wrong, it’s important not to be too quick to judge a matter. There are always at least two sides to every story, and it helps greatly to hear all sides from all those who are involved. Most of us have made the grave mistake of making a snap judgment or acting impulsively, resulting in a child being unjustly accused and deeply hurt. A mother could hear a crash in the room, and run in to find her young daughter in tears beside a shattered vase on the floor. To immediately whack the child with no explanation adds insult to injury, when by merely asking what happened first, the child could explain that she was attempting to stop the cat from climbing on the table, trying to shoo it away, when the cat knocked the vase over, not she!
We should forgive our children and be as fair and merciful with them as possible. But by continually passing quick harsh judgment on them, our children could easily lose such trust and confidence in us.—and could wind up being afraid to confide in you and confess things that they really are guilty of or need help with!
Excerpted from the writings of D.B. Berg. © The Family International. Used with permission.