Vital Parents Raise Vital ChildrenJul 29, 2011 ● By Margaret A. Cochran, Ph.D.
When we talk about raising healthy, happy vital children, it usually means things like what to feed them, what education is best, which medical attention is ideal and how to maintain a balance between praise and correction. What usually isn’t discussed is the real key; making sure that they have healthy, happy, vital parents.
Research shows that after correcting for genetic factors such as intelligence, temperament and so forth, it’s the model that the parent is for their child that serves as the key to that child’s healthy development. It’s really as basic as that; healthy parents equal healthy children.
The way you conduct and take care of yourself builds a lifetime foundation for your child. Do you make time for yourself? Of course there are household chores, play dates, athletic meets, dancing lessons, music lessons, homework, visits to the doctor and so forth. There is just no time for you, it seems, and you are right; you have to make time.
For many parents, the idea of thinking of themselves and their needs feels wrong. You have to sacrifice for your kids and always put their needs before your own, right? The truth is that to be selfish allows you to be selfless. That may seem counterrational, but it’s of the utmost importance that you care for yourself first, because that’s what gives you the energy and strength to be the best parent you can be.
The airlines actually do a good job of explaining it. They instruct you to put your own oxygen mask on before you put it on your child. If you are deprived of oxygen and struggling, the likelihood is that you’ll both die. In the parenting world, that roughly translates into—if you are tired and cranky and you attempt to assist your tired and cranky child—then there is a very good chance that you are both going to achieve nothing except to be tired and cranky. Without the emotional “oxygen” to effectively deal with parenting challenges, you will not parent well and all will suffer.
To get started you need to make a list of things and activities that fulfill and relax you. You may discover that it’s been so long since you thought about your own needs that you have some trouble remembering. Then, arrange it in terms of things you can do by yourself and things that you might need help with. If you are thoughtful and willing to do a little planning, you can get the assistance you need with a minimum amount of fuss and a maximum amount of enjoyment.
Take a dip into what I call the helper “gene pool” of friends, family members, church, temple, mosque or club members, grandparents, siblings, responsible adolescents in your neighborhood, professional nannies for hire, your spouse, ex-spouse or partner for assistance. See if there are other parents with whom you can engage in ‘timeshare’ babysitting. The concept is a total win-win—you get away, you know your kids are safe, they get to play with other kids—and the parents left watching the children enjoy looking forward to their own ‘timeshare’ day out.
Once you start taking an adult timeout on a regular basis, you will begin to notice that you are more relaxed and patient, because the timeout is an opportunity for older children to learn to self-soothe and direct their own activities, while simultaneously learning about empathy, generosity and healthy boundaries. As a bonus, you will have the energy and enthusiasm for spending more quality “special” time with your kids.
It’s the model that the parent is for their child that serves as the key to that child’s healthy development.
Special time comprises a 30-minute period in which you interact with your children in activities that are child-directed instead of parent-directed. It’s an incredible treat for youngsters, because most of the time, grownups are calling the shots, but during this special period they get to decide what’s going to happen and who will do what.
Say your child wants to play with building blocks—you would ask your child to tell you what to build and how to build it—if you were painting, your child would give you the theme of the day’s artwork, and so forth. Kids love special time and then remember that parents need their adult timeout to give them the energy to make it happen.
Being a parent is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. It’s also one of the most important and enjoyable, and it’s vital not only for your child, but for society as a whole. Do the best job you can and remember, the key to having a vital child is being a vital parent.
Dr. Margaret Cochran is a transpersonal psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, educator and author, with more than 30 years of clinical experience. She is the creator of PSIchology. Visit her online at DrCochran.org and Facebook.