The most important thing you can do is love your children and show them that you really care about them. Even when pre-teens are acting “unlovable” or saying they don’t need to be loved, they still need to know that they are loved so to make sure that you show it. Such love gives children a sense of security and belonging and helps smooth out the rough edges of the middle years. When you regularly express your affection, your children are unlikely to wonder if they are loved.
It is also important to give clear directions and set limits of children’s behavior, even when they are older. “Say what you mean and mean what you say” was the advice of parents in the survey. Children get the message when you set up a few simple rules, spell them out clearly in advance, and enforce them consistently. When discipline is necessary, try to exercise it in a calm but firm manner. Follow through and if your children try to talk you out of it, have the courage to stand firm.
It’s important to put your own life in order. To get along well with your children, you first need to be comfortable with yourself and your spouse. Remember to take care of your own needs and not sacrifice everything else for the sake of your children. In addition, love and respect between husband and wife provide children with needed security. By expressing warmth and tenderness in your marriage, you will foster love and affection in the hearts of your children. Parents in the survey suggest that you “put your marriage first, for a happy mother and father are most likely to have happy children”. If you are single, it is important to uphold relationships that are important to you.
When you actively teach your children basic values and good manners, they are more likely to identify right from wrong when they are on their own. Show them how to treat others with kindness, respect and honesty. By assigning chores at home, you can provide opportunities for them to be responsible members of a community. Most important of all is the example you set for your children through your own actions. Children tend to model their behavior on what they see at home.
When your children have problems and you want to offer guidance, be brief—it’s not necessary to make a long speech. Also make it clear that you expect them to think through problems and come up with solutions themselves.
Gradually give your children more and more freedom or control over their own lives. Let them make minor decisions at first. As trust builds, give them more independence. “Phase yourself out of the picture,” one parent said, “but always be near when they need you.”
“No matter how busy or involved you are,” said one parent in the survey, “listen to your child as a person.” When you listen, you also encourage your children to express their feelings—both good and bad—without fear of judgement or losing your love.
“Insist that all family members treat each other with respect,” parents said in the survey. It’s important to be polite, apologise when you are wrong, show interest in your children’s activities, and be willing to trust their judgement. In return, you deserve your children’s respect. When husbands and wives treat each other with respect and kindness, they increase the chances that their children will do likewise.
As your children reach the teen years, outside influences and peer pressure increase dramatically. During those years, pre-teens and teens need opportunities to make some choices on their own; making choices helps children grow and mature. They will make mistakes and they will learn from their mistakes. Take comfort in the fact that parents also make mistakes. Parents in the survey reaffirmed the saying that child rearing is a series of “tough times and tender moments”.
Setting aside time together for parent-child activities is important. Find time to talk to one another. Teach your children practical skills, such as cooking or repairing things. Plan for shared family activities—regular outings, special family dinners, and holidays. One parent said, “You can’t fool children by giving then TV, electronic games or toys. There is no substitute for a parent’s time and attention.”