Each parent as an individual influences a child’s health. Regardless of the health of a marriage, each parent brings personal qualities and skills to the parenting task. No matter what your circumstances are, you can, for the benefit of your children, work to develop the personal attributes of a great parent. And the more your children are at risk, the more significant your efforts need to be. If you are a sixty-hour-a-week working mom, a single parent, or a parent of a blended family, the odds are against your children becoming as highly healthy as they could be–unless you take action to reduce the risks.
Great parents teach and model virtues. The teaching of virtues is an area in which the parents’ individual attributes are essential. Parents want their children to practice virtues. The virtues that parents in one survey rated the highest and considered to be essential to teach to their children were honesty and truthfulness (91 percent), courteousness and politeness (84 percent), self-control and self-discipline (83 percent), and doing their best in school (82 percent).
Teaching virtues is first and foremost the job of parents. Virtues are more effectively caught than taught. Children are most likely to develop the virtues their parents model. Children best learn from their parents that virtues are both valuable and essential, which motivates them to make the effort to learn and practice them. Parents, however, are surprisingly candid in admitting their failure to teach the virtues they’d like their children to learn. According to one national survey, parents reported the most difficult virtue to teach is self-control or self-discipline. The second most difficult area is teaching children to save money and spend it carefully.
Of course, virtues are taught by instruction as well as modeling, and some good tools are available to help children learn. Some examples of resources include a PBS series based on William Bennett’s The Book of Virtues and character education curriculums that are available through bookstores and the Internet. Find one, read it, and then being practicing it! This will be an important step toward teaching virtues to your children.
Great parents develop their parenting skills. Many of the skills parents need in order to raise highly healthy children are learned, not natural. Highly healthy parents will teach and pass on these skills to their children. If you weren’t taught or didn’t learn these skills, it is suggested that you (1) commit to learning and improving your parenting skills and (2) find a mentor to help you develop parenting skills and hold you accountable.
Elizabeth Pantley, author of Perfect Parenting, offers four broad approaches for positive parenting that we each can learn and put into practice. She says positive parenting is based on:
Action rather than reaction;
Knowledge rather than chance;
Thoughtfulness rather than anger; and
Common sense rather than nonsense.
You can also study and understand the normal development stages of children so you can distinguish “normal” behaviors from “problems.” Learning and developing thoughtful approaches to child guidance and discipline is a much better strategy than reacting in anger or resorting to manipulation.
Great parents invest their time and treasure wisely. Parents must choose the best ways to invest their time and their treasure (money and things) in their marriage and in their children. Those who choose not to invest wisely will negatively affect the health of their children, their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren! Overindulging children is not essential to their health or well-being; it may, in fact, harm them. Parents who overinvest in giving their treasure will often make the mistake of underinvesting in giving their time. According to one national survey, almost half of all parents say their children’s “fashion demands” have forced them to sacrifice a family vacation. What is truly tragic is that 25 percent of children surveyed listed a family vacation as one of the top three ways to spend quality time with their parents, while only 11 percent of parents thought so.
Child psychologist Richard Woolfson warns that parents should not take self-sacrifice to extremes because they may end up resenting the child–and the child the parent. Furthermore, overindulging prevents children from learning essential truths about life. He adds, “No matter how many consumer sacrifices a parent willingly makes for their child, children still need to accept that there are limits and that part of family life involves thinking about others.” Many parents have the delusion (a fixed false belief) that treasure is more influential in shaping children than time. But the simple truth is that children internalize, value, and model the virtues of the people they most respect and with whom they spend their time. So parents who spend generous amounts of time with their children have the greatest opportunity to influence and shape their children’s lives.