You have probably seen those parents who seem to have it all together, their children appear to be doing well in everything: fantastic behaviour, excellent academics, talented in sports and music so on. These super mums or dads have a tendency to make you feel inadequate. Sounds familiar? The truth is no one really has it all wrapped up perfectly even when it looks so. Such parents however often get the fundamentals right and that goes a long way in putting them further ahead in the journey of parenting with success.
Going Back to Basics
One of the essentials for successful parenting is to start early. Research shows that a child learns at a faster rate than at any other time in their lives in the first six years of life. The connections within the brain cells for babies and children are almost double that of adults, making it much easier for children to learn new things very quickly.
The connections made in a child’s brain develop further with reinforcement whilst the unused connections are pruned. In effect if you want something to be reinforced in your child’s life then start it early and keep on repeating it whilst it is easier to learn and retain it. Do not waste the opportunity.
What About Teenagers?
Don’t stop reading this because your child is a teenager… a teenager’s brain is still making the connections and so much can be achieved with consistency and the right attitude. Teenage brains are still young and more adaptable than adult brains; whatever they learn in their teen years will go with them into adulthood. Regardless of age the sooner you start working on developing any new skills, the better.
Consider this… ten years from now how will a teenager who regularly spends time improving their skills on a musical instrument or their mathematical aptitude compare with the one who spends most of their time lounging in front of the television.
Whatever the age of your child, make the most of their ability to learn quickly and start now. They are like sponges who soak up everything therefore put in the best whilst they have the capacity and capability to absorb it; do not leave it a day later else those brain cells will go to waste!
What Does All This Mean in Practice?
The scientific research behind the above principles is interestingly aligned with one of the bible verses that I really love. It admonishes us to train up a child in the way they should go and they will remain on course in their adult lives.
In the paragraphs below I have shared some of the methods that I applied whilst raising my sons who are now in their twenties. These are tried and tested fundamentals that do not change with the weather; they still apply and can be further reinforced with the technological advancements of today.
Decide What Matters
It is often said that if you do not know where you’re going, you would not know when you have arrived at your destination. Having a vision for your child is one of the vital steps in successful parenting. As a Christian mother, two things amongst other priorities were very important to me: that my sons would each have a personal relationship with Jesus and that they would maximise and fulfil their potential.
This meant from very early in life my husband and I introduced them to the bible and ensured they had the best education that we could afford. Basically as a couple we agreed the things that were priority then we consistently and persistently exposed our sons to those values so they could explore, discover and develop in them.
Repeat and Reinforce
Research shows that anything done repeatedly over a long enough period, typically 30 days, becomes a habit. Couple that with the ability of a child to learn rapidly and you are on to a good thing if you reinforce the right behaviours and skills on a daily basis from early on in your child’s life.
Basically we were very clear about the important things we wanted to reinforce as a family using various communication techniques. If something mattered, then we spoke to our sons about it; demonstrated it – led by example; worked with them to master it; and kept repeating the process until it became second nature to them.
Here are some examples of how this worked out for us on a day-to-day basis:
Reading develops the brain; a child’s linguistic skills, creativity and imagination are enhanced when they are introduced to reading early so effectively you set your child up for success by consistently developing reading skills from a very tender age.
We invested in some mental arithmetic books and had our own extra math that they routinely completed on a daily basis irrespective of school homework. This reinforced their numeracy and analytical skills and meant they were comfortable with STEM subjects when it was time to choose their GCSE options further down the line.
From primary school age, our sons knew that all homework had to be completed to a high standard before relaxation time. It meant that by the time they were in secondary we did not need to nudge them to do their homework on time, it was already their way of life.
We invested more in educational toys than any other category of toys. It meant learning and fun were intermingled and this gave our sons a positive mindset about learning. Through this they were introduced to the concept of colours, numbers, alphabets and so on even before they got into any formal nursery or school.
Whilst they were still in KS1, we gradually introduced the concept of the 11+ exams to them through role models – mainly sons and daughters of friends who had gone ahead and were already in grammar schools. That way, they were actually looking forward to tackling the exams when the time came. As any parent who has put their child through the exams will tell you, it was still a very demanding journey but not having to beg and cajole them to put in the extra effort meant the job was already half done!
Following the same principle, we gradually began to talk to them about higher education options and potential career choices from as early Year 7 especially since they had to choose their GCSE subjects at the end of Year 9. What it meant was that they had enough time to experiment with work experience in different fields of work and had some idea of what they did/did not want to do in future before they got to select GCSE and later, A-level subjects.
Apart from aspiration building and developing academic skills, we focused on character building. Thus politeness, respect for authority, a can-do attitude, a good work ethic, taking responsibility for your own actions, an attitude of gratitude and the like were all traits that we started to build in our sons from very early on.
Apart from it being central to our values, there is a correlation between behaviour and academic performance. Thus even if naturally gifted and talented, a poor attitude will potentially alienate the school teachers and the child’s learning is likely to be negatively impacted as a result.
Did we get everything right as parents? Of course not! However we put our hearts and minds to it; made sure our hopes for our sons were aligned with our day-to-day actions, did the best we could with the resources we had and God blessed our effort.
In summary I am truly blessed and thankful to be able to say that both our sons are now graduates and indeed they have continued in the way that they were brought up. My heart’s desire is that team at The Smart Kid will be able to support you along your journey and you will have a similar or even better story.