I ASKED a friend of mine the other day what his main new year’s resolution for 2016 was.
The answer he gave surprised me. He said he would be spending more time with his children.
This sounded odd to me and I looked at him quizzically to see if he was teasing me.
I had been hoping that he would say something that would be earth-shattering to stir my imagination.
When he explained his reasoning, I had to admit it was an excellent resolution.
He said he had realised that when he was growing up, his parents spent a lot more time with him.
I raised my hand in protest, but he held my hand down, and continued.
The parent of today is preoccupied with providing for the child’s needs and not providing time for the child.
They preoccupy the child with toys so that the child does not get in their way; things which cannot invest in the life of the child, like televisions, computer games, laptops, ipads, iphones and cars.
However, in this process, the parent does not have time to provide the most essential need of the children, which is the parents themselves.
The parent provides surrogate parents, be them teachers at a very good private school, the driver, the house maid, the gardener or the music teacher.
All these people teach the child what our parents used to teach us about life. The parents of yesteryear invested their time in their children.
They considered this their biggest calling and job.
My mouth opened then gaped and my hand fell limp onto my knee. I played in my mind my experiences in the hospital which was so common.
Parents came in with children far advanced with disease which they had never noticed. I decided that I should also adopt this resolution for 2016.
1. How does spending time with children improve health?
2. What are some common behavioural health problems in children?
3. How can good parenting help?
How does spending time with children improve health?
These days, with the increasing human rights issues, children are being protected from adults more and more. Adults are seen as some of the biggest sources of harm to children.
The result of course is that adults are more reluctant to spend time with children, in case they are accused of child abuse of various forms.
This includes physical, psychological as well as sexual abuse.
Therefore, many parents feel much safer letting children play on their own with various indoor games and gadgets without any adult interference.
However, the development of children is often dictated by the environment in which they are placed.
This includes the vital areas of development like walking, talking, speech, seeing, feeding and using the toilet.
These functions develop within the first five years of life. The other more complex social behaviours develop between five years and 10 years.
The interaction of the parent with a child helps both parties. It acts as a stimulant to the child and as a learning process for the young parent.
When parents spend time with their children they recognise any changes in the behaviour or health of the child. In playing with the child they teach what normal body parts of a child are like and will quickly notice any changes.
They will know what the normal cry of their child sounds like; they will know the normal colour of the stool or urine. When they carry the child they will be able to tell what the normal body temperature feels like.
When children are older than 10 years, they push back from their parents and want to be more independent.
They want to be closer to their friends and make decisions on their own. This is often a point of conflict with parents, who often feel that the children are not yet ready for this independence.
Children at this point are at the greatest risk of peer influence which may lead to unhealthy habits, such as smoking cigarettes, taking alcohol and unsafe sex.
When parents spend time with children at this age they will often notice early when children are getting into bad company and unhealthy behaviour.
What are some common behavioural problems in children?
There are several behavioural changes among children, and many occur at transition points.
This would be from early childhood (zero to five years) to childhood (five to 10 years) or from childhood to teenage years (11 to 15 years).
The transition point is often the time that it becomes clear that development in the previous stage was incomplete or poor.
Some of the common behavioural problems among children include:
1. Temper tantrums
2. Speech delay and stammering
3. Attention disorders
4. Personality changes
You may be familiar with the child who is below five years and who can be totally disruptive if they are refused something they want.
This typically results in the child screaming and shouting until what it wants is given. These temper tantrums are very disturbing to parents.
Most parents notice it late, and play along hoping it will pass.
Another common problem is delay in speech and stammering.
This becomes noticeable when a child begins to play with other children, and is unable to communicate as well as other children of the same age.
The child has difficulty speaking fluently and stammers. The other common problems are children who are unable to concentrate on a single task for more than 30 minutes.
The children have difficulty learning because they can never keep their attention on a single thing long enough.
Often parents are too busy, or not there to notice, until they get summoned to school by the head teacher about their child’s behaviour.
Many parents are perplexed by a child who was extrovert in his young years, always explaining what happens in school, who suddenly becomes quiet and withdrawn, or introverted.
The teenage years are a mine field because children are moving from childhood to adulthood. The rapid physical and emotional changes tend to be confusing to the child and they tend to become rebellious.
Parents are suddenly surprised to find that their respectable child has been picked up by the police for shoplifting.
Then parents are in denial and insist that their child is in school until the go down to the police station.
These experiences often come out of the blues and frighten many parents.
What are some good parenting skills that can help?
Parenting is not taught at any school; it has to be learnt.
None is born with perfect parenting skills; they have to be learnt on the job. If you are lucky to have your parents alive when you have your own children you can learn a lot from them.
However, with each generation the challenges of parenting change. Parenting needs time and patience. It cannot be done by remote control.
Unfortunately, the demand for parenting often conflicts with demands for work and career progress.
Many parents tend to sacrifice parenting in preference for career progress.
Unfortunately, this tends to backfire later because the job comes to an end some time, but parenting does not.
Eventually you may spend your life picking up the pieces left by your poor parenting.
Some things that can help are:
1. Accepting that parenting is a full-time job
2. Making friends with your children
3. Seeing their point of view
4. Being honest and learning from others
5. Getting professional help.
Apportion some time to parenting at least daily or minimum weekly. Work with children on the home, school or other tasks.
Take time to be with the children at home or on outings. Let the children lead these.
Try and be a friend, first of all, to the children, and be willing to learn from them. Do not talk down to them, but talk with them.
Talk individually to each of your children, do not lecture. Do not compare your time to theirs, too much has changed.
Let them spend time with your parents, this may help bridge the gap. Try and see things from your children’s point of view, and put yourself in their shoes.
Do not expect perfection; do not insist on bringing up old mistakes.
Accept that parenting is a journey and you are always learning to do it better. Try and be open to learn from others.
Notice problems early and try and get professional help.
Do not be embarrassed about your children’s problems which will often be common developmental and transient.