Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Being a Good Parent, or What do kids really need to thrive?

photo by Ruth Houston Barrett, Ocean Shores, Washington, Dec 31, 1998
My daughter and her father

The basic needs of children from their parents are simple, and not that hard to meet, really, given that we have years to get there. Much of it can be thought of in terms of fostering the development in the child of certain capacities -- like love, empathy, connection, spirituality, morality, beauty, appreciation, and good judgment -- that will serve them as persons throughout their lives. Most of the rest boils down to teaching instrumental (how-to) tasks, but the latter is shallow and empty without the former, no matter how well learned. As a parent, as a researcher in the field of family science, and as a professional therapist helping children, I've come to believe the following tenants of child rearing.

  • Children need to be made to feel that they are loved and wanted. (We could almost stop here.)
  • Children need to develop their capacity for empathy, to respect it, and to act accordingly, if we are ever to have a beautiful world.
  • Children must feel that they, and their feelings and thoughts, matter -- speaking to modeling and developing empathy and to the most valuable aspects of self-esteem.
  • Children need to learn that they can trust and rely on their people most of the time.
  • They need to learn about forgiveness.
  • They need to learn how to deal well with their own failure, frustration, and disappointments, so that they can develop coping and resilience, persistence and recovery.
  • They need to develop a moral compass, not through harshly punitive, shaming means intended for instant success, but through ongoing explanatory redirections that are firm and consistent and calm, and that tap into what the child already knows really matters and who they want to be, at each age and stage, and as life offers teaching moments.
  • They need to learn social skills in communication, cooperation, connection, respect, kindness, and so forth through being around people who model and teach them.
  • They need to learn what hard work is and why it is worthwhile.
  • They need to learn to express and take joy in their creativity.
  • They need to learn how and why to be courageous.
  • They need to learn that giving to others -- whether that is a material object, an act, praise, apology, love, or appreciation --does not take away from them, but instead enhances their own as well as others' well-being and enjoyment. 
  • They need to understand their own emotions, both "good" and "bad" -- what they are for, how to identify them, and how to manage them. 
  • They need to develop a sense of what is good in the world, what is beautiful, what is spiritually profound.
  • They need to know the joys of generosity and charity.
  • They need to know that they are heard, and learn how to listen.
  • They need to learn self-management and what energizes, motivates, sustains them.
  • And they need the values that their parents impart to them, such as religious and cultural, to provide meaning, purpose, and enrichment of the lives they will live.

I'm sure I've left some things off, inadvertently, but this is a pretty good basis, I think.


  1. Great stuff. No kids of my own, which is for the best, so I have no ability to "chime in," but I loved the stories about J and feel your attitudes about love are truthful. Why can't more parents realize this one need of children that towers above all others?

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  3. I decided to remove the J stories for now --- they seemed too personal -- but I saved them

  4. Hi Ruthie,
    I agree with you on everything. Wish I had seen the J stories. I actually think that every point is made much more powerful and easy to understand through stories. I think we all learn better through stories than anything else. I totally understand though - how it feels to publish something and then feel vulnerable about it. I think that's just how it goes for any writer, whether fledgling or a long time success. There's always that question that keeps popping up that asks, "who am I to share my thoughts, ideas, etc" and then wondering if by sharing you're simply making yourself vulnerable or releasing something that should be released. Unfortunately, I have a hard time answering those questions too. But I like your blog and think you should keep writing. :-)