You often hear it being said how times have changed and values have taken a different face among the youth. We hear about the horrors of how teens seem to make it a habit to engage in bad behaviors that lead them astray from what you have envisioned for them.
Think about it. What can we do as parents in order to ensure that our children will flourish and find success in their lives as they leave our fold? A recent research offers viable suggestions on just how we can give our children that fighting advantage.
Spanning 10 years and involving 500 families, the research from the Family Studies Center in Brigham Young University (BYU) states that while attention should be given to risky behaviors, parents should focus on "fostering positive behaviors" to help children and teens flourish, says researcher Laura Padilla-Walker, associate professor and associate director of the BYU School of Family Life.
The research points out four elements, which consist of attitudes, values, and traits. If you are able to nurture these in your child, the research says, he has a greater chance of growing up competent, confident, able to have positive relationships with the people around him, has a sense of right and wrong, and is caring towards other people."
Here is a rundown of the four elements plus how you can help develop the traits and values in your children based on specific tips from the research.
1. Self-control You know when your child is restless, suddenly punches a kid, becomes angry for no reason or has an outburst during the most inappropriate times. These signify a lack of self-control, and they are behaviors that occur less and less as he gets older.
Of course, parents with teens here may say that is debatable. And it is true--teens have mercurial moods, and there is no need to be overly alarmed when he keeps slamming the door. After all, many studies including this one say that much of self-control occurs in the frontal part of the brain, which isn’t fully developed until the mid-20s. That said, the earlier our kids start being able to control their thoughts and emotions, the better.
How can parents help:Padilla-Walker says a parent must model good self-control. If a parent easily snaps and yells or loses his temper, a child will model that behavior. Here are few more tips from the research to help children with control:
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Allow children to struggle a bit with hard things so they can learn to problem-solve and cope with frustration.
Give children opportunities to help others (in the family and outside the family) so they learn to put aside their wants for the needs of others.
Young boys often struggle with self-control more than girls do (though this difference lessens by the teen years). That is because we teach boys that anger is the only appropriate way they can express themselves. So it may be particularly important to help young boys learn to control themselves that do not include aggressive or violent expressions of anger like counting to 10 or taking deep breaths.
2. Self-esteem Self-esteem is more than just confidence; it is about having a healthy sense of self worth and how a person actually sees himself as worthy. As Padilla-Walker notes in the research, “A child or teenager who feels confident about who he or she is will not be as worried about what others think.”
A teen with a healthy amount of self-esteem is generally happy, does well in school and focuses on the needs of friends, family, and even strangers. It also helps protect him from peer pressure.
How parents can help: To build self-esteem in your child, you need to let him make decisions for himself, advises the research. We may be afraid of him making mistakes, but it is how he can learn to make good choices.
Avoid being overly critical. We tend to do this when we have high expectations, which is fine, but it should not be unrealistic. Understand what your child is capable of and nurture his strengths to build confidence.
Dole out proper praise that’s focused on effort--not on the child. If he gets a high grade, don't say, “You’re so smart!” It is better to praise him for the work he made to ace the test. So when he gets a low grade on a test, then that tells him he needs to study harder for the next test, not that he is less intelligent.
We should ask ourselves if we treat our boys and girls differently when it comes to building confidence. Boys generally have higher self-esteem than girls, in part because of the pressure put on girls to be physically attractive.
Research suggests that parents use a strength-based approach. Find out what your child enjoys the most. Does he love academics, athletics, or does he relish interpersonal relationships? You can make a significant impact on his self-esteem if you foster his strengths and teach the value of hard work as it leads to achievement.
3. Positive values We try our best to raise children who know what is right from wrong and instill in them values like integrity, kindness, and resilience. The best values, according to Padilla-Walker, are those that come from within a child and are part of how he sees himself. These are more likely to lead to positive behaviors as he grows up. It's a process that needs to begin in childhood so by his teen years, he has internalized these values and they become his guide as he grows into an adult.
How parents can help: Again, we must model good behavior, and the adage "actions speak louder than words" applies here more than ever. The research also recommends:
Be consistent. Don’t scold a child for not finishing homework one day and decide it’s okay not to do so the next.
As much as possible, parents should also provide explanations and answer a child’s “whys.” An understanding of how the world works helps them choose and accept values on their own.
They will likely accept values if they feel they had a say in what they believe and do.
4. Empathy Empathy, the capability of a person to put himself in the shoes of another thus having a clear grasp of how the other feels, is a key character trait that "leads an individual to help and be kind," says Padilla-Walker. Your teen shows empathy when he does volunteer charity work, help his friends with homework, and share with his siblings.
How parents can help: We can help teach our kids how to be helpful and caring, the research says:
Explain and help a child understand the emotions and feelings of people close to them like a sibling or friend, especially during fights. How would he feel if he was called names?
Let him watch television or movies, or read books where characters engage in good or bad behaviors, and then talk about it. How do you think her mom felt when that character spoke to her that way? How do you think he felt when his friends teased and excluded him?
Another way is to provide opportunities for children to help the less fortunate. Seeing those in need and being given the opportunity to help them is key to the development of a child’s ability to act on empathic feelings.
Raising human beings who are caring, confident and feel a connection to the people around them is a tough job. But we can do it with our awareness of the behaviors above and lots and lots of patience.