This article first appeared in the August 2004 issue of Smart Parenting magazine
Can you believe that a tiny baby can teach a grown-up a lesson or two? Indeed, from the moment your child is born, you will be learning myriad things from him all the time.
For instance, his changing pattern of waking-eating-sleeping will teach you to keep yourself constantly attuned to such a pattern. You will learn to adjust your lifestyle to his needs. You will know how to be more caring, more patient, more self-sacrificing.
Husbands who are active in child-rearing also get to learn valuable lessons. When Terry, our firstborn, was a baby, my husband delighted in watching over her whether she was asleep or awake. At her first whimper he was ready to scoop her up into his arms, walk or dance her around the house, and sing nursery tunes to her. She taught him to be attentive and alert. More than this, she brought out an innate tenderness in him that he did not even know he was capable of feeling.
It has been some 30 years since Terry’s infancy, during which we raised two more daughters, Chingbee and Margie. Parenting these tres Marias opened our eyes to the universal truth that, although each child is unique, age-old child-rearing formulas can be applied to all. In the final analysis, raising children gave us unending joy and satisfaction -— even with periodic disagreements, frustrations, and crying spells.
Terry now has three sons of her own (Kevin, 11, Jonathan, 10, and Ryan, 7). In the process of my “second motherhood,” I recall many theories and practices during my daughters’ growing up years. And I discover that there is still a lot of learning to do, and most of it comes from my young grandsons.
1. Be generous with praise. Jonathan usually embarrasses me with profuse compliments. After a satisfying meal, he would blurt out, “Thank you for the delicious adobo, Grandma. You are the greatest cook in the whole wide world!” Sometime during the day, I remember to praise him back with, “Thank you for watering the plants, Jonathan. And to think that no one asked you to do it!” I also get conscious of the little acts of good behavior of Kevin and Ryan, and make it a point to commend them accordingly.
Our expert's take: When children do the praising, you can be sure it is sincere, because “pure ang isip nila, so it comes from the heart,” declares Elaine S. Samonte, guidance counselor at the School of the Holy Spirit, Quezon City. More than adults, children need “the language of encouragement in order to build their confidence, self-esteem, and feeling of worth. It’s important for them to have faith and to believe in themselves,” Samonte adds.
But don’t overdo it. Feny delos Angeles-Bautista, executive director of the Community of Learners and executive director of the Philippine Children’s Television Foundation, says, “Automatic praise or superficial praise is more harmful.”
2. Be fair. In a three-cornered melee, it is sometimes natural to put the blame on the older or supposedly stronger brother for reducing the youngest to heartbreaking sobs. Their cries of “That’s not fair!” make me review how it all started, and prevent me from being too rash in my judgment. Indeed, it is possible that the youngest brother caused the whole trouble.
Our expert's take: It is disturbing for a child to know that he is being treated less than another. In Samonte’s view, a child who feels he is not being treated fairly may ask himself, “Ano ba ang kulang sa akin? Or, “Nasa akin yata ang fault.” Instead he should think that “he is not more or less worthwhile than others. So, dapat equal ang treatment,”
3. Listen to them. Ryan was not yet two when I paid his family a visit in Gurnee, Illinois. Much as I was eager to communicate with him, his words were utterly undecipherable to my untrained Pinoy ears. Sometimes I would let him go on and on, unaware that he was asking me for mawk, or papah tawah, or fwak. Kevin would translate, “Grandma, he wants some milk (mawk).” Or, “Give him some paper towel (papah tawah), Grandma.” Or, “He wants to watch the garbage truck (fwak).”
Our expert's take: The shift today is to encourage children to express themselves freely. Many behavioral problems can be averted this way, says Fr. Rafael T. Cruz, who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the Ateneo de Manila University. When children grow up in an environment of fear and authoritarian rule, they tend to nurse pent-up emotions that may manifest in abnormal behavior.
Psychologist Ma. Lourdes Arellano-Carandang, Ph.D., in her book Filipino Children Under Stress: Family Dynamics and Therapy, says the child who may be overwhelmed by (stressful) conditions may learn not to verbalize his feelings and instead express himself through misbehavior.
4. Be truthful. A classic case was told to me by my sister-in-law who, when an uninvited guest came calling at their house one day, told her four-year-old son, “Let’s pretend we are not here. Maybe she will go away.” Confusion clouded the young boy’s honest face. “But we are here, Mama,” he whispered to his mother. “Natauhan akong bigla!” she confessed afterwards.
Our expert's take: Mildred Ortega-Templo, a regular guest psychologist on the radio program On-air Counseling with Manang Rose on DZBB, says: “We should treat children as equals; therefore we should be truthful to them. We should not undermine their intelligence.”
“Honesty is the cornerstone of trust, and trust is the foundation of any meaningful or constructive relationship,” Bautista maintains. If children ask about family matters, never make the mistake of saying, “Bata ka pa. Hindi mo naiintindihan ang mga bagay na iyan.” Bautista says they deserve to know the simple facts. By leveling with them, we are also telegraphing the message that we trust them enough to tell them the truth.
5. Be creative and use your imagination. What other test for creativity or imagination can you get than a trio of young kids wildly dueling with plastic hangers, rulers, paper towel rolls, straws, and pencils? When they do this, it is as though they are telling me that you may not have the real thing, but you can pretend.
Our expert's take: "Children have rich imaginations. It is surprising to see how they will react to certain events if only they are allowed to act out their ideas. Given the opportunity, they sometimes behave like grownups," says Templo. She says, “there is an adult in every child, just as there is a child in every adult.” That adult character in the child should be nurtured by the parent and allowed to come out.
“Giving (them) opportunities to solve their own problems or participate in family problem-solving without stepping in too fast and too soon to stifle their own attempts to solve problems is important,” says Bautista.
6. Love and care for living creatures. During their Quezon City visit, my grandsons showed us how to treat some living creatures that we adults often take for granted. They petted a tiny bird that fell from a tree in our yard -— alas, it had a broken leg. They gave it water to drink in a bottle cap, and provided it with a soft piece of kitchen rag. Sadly, it died before they could release it “back to its Mommy.”
Our expert's take: When it comes to showing love and tenderness to animals, experts agree that children should, by all means, be allowed to show it. “The ability to care, to have a sense of compassion toward all living things, to really love -— this is the core of being a humane being,” Bautista says.
Samonte adds, “Love is the greatest motivation in life. It nurtures and nourishes us, and we become more optimistic. How children treat their pets will give us a hint on how they want to be treated.”
7. Look at the funny side of things. Behind the corrective glasses on his seemingly serious face, Kevin often thinks up the corniest jokes. He may have picked them up from schoolmates or from comic books, and they are not at all original. But the fact that he likes to repeat them at the dinner table shows his funny streak.
Our expert's take: Fr. Cruz. says, “Humor helps us relax, loosens the tension that is within us, and relieves whatever pressures have built in us.”
8. Try something new. In 1999, during my grandsons’ first and only trip here so far, they were not contented with the games and toys they brought from the US. The tall coconut trees in front of our house seemed to be more interesting to them. Without much ceremony or adult permission, they “rode” on the huge coconut leaves and swung to and fro, high and low, hither and thither. We adults stood by and gave them the freedom to experience the novelty of swinging a la Tarzan, while cautioning them to be careful.
Our expert's take: Another term for trying something new for the first time is “taking risks,” which, in the words of Bautista, does not mean thrill-seeking. “Risk-takers are lifelong learners. We must be ready to venture out of our safety nets and comfort zones, and have the courage to try new things.”
Samonte elaborates, “Sometimes we tend to be complacent or mediocre, i.e., we just stick to what is convenient for us. We should take calculated risks and be more daring.” A person who takes risks is well on the road to achieving his potential: knowing how he wants to grow, becoming what he is capable of becoming, and making decisions even though he is still young,” she adds.
9. Be prayerful. Like bedtime, mealtime is supposed to be preceded by prayer. But sometimes, we harassed adults tend to forget. It is Ryan who reminds us, “We forgot to say grace!” And he would close his eyes with reverence and lead everybody in intoning, “Bless us, O Lord, and these Your gifts, which we are about to receive from Your goodness ...”
Our expert's take: What is significant about prayer? According to Samonte, “Being prayerful is one of the important values that a child can develop.” If he learns to pray while still young, he will carry the habit with him into adulthood. “Your faith is the driving force that guides you to travel safely through life,” she stresses.
A child learns to pray because he must have seen his mother pray. The mother is usually the stimulus to a child’s actions or behavior. It is therefore important that she be a positive role model.
10. Have time for play and work. The boys like to play a lot. They spend long hours assembling Star Wars pieces or pitching or batting a softball. But at study time, they bury their noses in books or notebooks doing school assignments and projects.
Our expert's take: There must be a clear-cut division between play and work, although to a certain extent play is work for very young children. “Play is a child’s way of learning,” asserts Bautista.
But one must be aware that, “there are rules for every game or play, just as there are rules and guidelines for work,” says Samonte.
Bautista adds that household responsibilities are also important though. Chores can be an opportunity for teaching children responsibility. “Children’s leisure hours should not be dominated by TV viewing,” she adds. “They are better off playing with peers or with parents.”