Research has shown that having a safe, loving and stable home life contributes to healthy development of children. Families that incorporate playing, singing, reading and just spending time talking tend to have children who are more flexible and resilient than those who come from homes that do not include these activities.
There are some key ways that parents from all cultures and backgrounds can support the healthy development of their children. These include:
Responding to children in consistent and predictable ways
Demonstrating tolerance, warmth and sensitivity
Practicing consistent routines and following established household rules
Sharing stories, reading books, and talking with children
Providing developmentally appropriate supervision; supporting health and safety
Providing age-appropriate discipline in a loving and caring manner
A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that while children from birth to age 8 rely almost solely on their parents for the care, parents often lack the information and support they need to engage in the best parenting practices. Many factors contribute to this issue, including: lack of healthy role models for the parents, socioeconomic challenges, physical or mental health challenges of one or both parents, access to resources, and availability of a support system.
As children age, the shift away from their parents and to peers as their primary source of information and influence begins to take shape. Between the ages of 9 and 11, children who feel good about themselves are better equipped to resist negative peer pressure and will make better decisions for themselves.
During middle school, children start to develop stronger and more complex friendships, and it becomes more important for them to have friends, particularly of the same sex. Peer pressure is increased, and children become more aware of changes to their bodies as puberty approaches.
Children in this age group often struggle with educational expectations, and while they feel the need to increase independence from their parents and family, they lack the executive functioning skills to make fully independent decisions. This is because the frontal lobe of the brain, or the “control panel” of our personality responsible for problem solving, judgement and emotional expression, is far from fully developed.
While attention span is increasing and the ability to view situations from the perspective of others is developing, children are building upon the foundation formed in the early years. Parents who struggled during their child’s formative years to create structure, consistency and clear expectations find that as their children age, they are more likely to make poor behavioral choices. This is not because they are bad kids or because they have bad parents, it’s simply because certain foundational skills were not taught.
Parents who start to feel overwhelmed and frustrated with their pre-adolescent’s behaviors are encouraged to seek assistance. A good resource to start with is the child’s pediatrician. Pediatricians are experts on the physical and emotional development of children and can guide a parent in the direction of assistance and support.
Counseling for children and their families is also quite helpful. To be most beneficial, parent(s), or other primary caregivers, will take an active role in the process. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it means looking at ways to do things differently that may be outside of the family’s comfort zone. A good therapist will explore the independent needs of each family member as well as the family, interpersonal dynamics, and cultural practices to provide guidance and support, based upon evidence-based practices, to assist the family to affect positive growth and sustainable change.
Parenting is one of, if not THE hardest job out there. In no other role do our words and behaviors have such a lasting and meaningful impact on others. With some good, solid support, every parent can be the best role model for their child, and every child can grow into a healthy and confident adult.