Nineteen years ago, my son Mark was born two months before my due date. He spent a month in the neo-natal care section of the hospital, only to be confined again for a week because his tiny body still couldn’t adjust to a normal environment.
Because of that, he grew up with the idea that he was weak and fragile. But I would constantly remind him of how strong he was, despite the circumstances he had gone through.
At that time, my basis for explaining self-assurance to my children was to look at the glass as half-full instead of half-empty—and what we could do to either add to the water or turn it into something better.
I maintained this philosophy until Mark changed his view about what he had experienced as a baby.
One way to understand is to know why things happen. I decided to take up further studies so I could better raise my children myself, and relate more to what they are and will eventually be going through. What I have learned, I now want to share with other parents.
Our children are born with a brain ready to absorb as much information as it can. It is open to anything new. Hence, it is not entirely up to the children how they will develop their gray matter, especially at a young age. It is also our responsibility.
As toddlers, they ran carefree, unmindful of risks. When they were cute kids, your bedroom wall was their canvas.
As pre-teens, they were overly conscious of the way they looked.
In their teens, they wanted to be with their friends more than with us, had to have the latest gadgets, and either great abs or clear, beautiful skin, or both.
They are exposed to bigger environments as they get older, thus explaining their number of interests and concerns.
How did you deal with them as your child went through these phases? Did you react by getting angry, or by learning to understand the reasons for their behavior?
Just after learning how to walk, toddlers actively try their best to master new skills, so they end up being clumsy from time to time.
Our child’s creativity starts to flourish after they become confident enough to somehow master these skills. By then, they tend to develop their artistic side by singing and dancing, drawing and performing.
As early puberty sets in, they experience body changes to prepare them for early adulthood, which explains why we call it the “awkward stage.” The brain develops at an increasingly fast rate, going through many overhauls during adolescence.
Thus, there are magnified moments of indecisiveness, possible uncontrollable moods, seeming lack of tact and spontaneous risk-taking. The kids bloom into their features and growth spurts happen, which will also mark their awareness of self-confidence and need for more self-improvement.
Now I ask again, how did you react when your child exhibited such behavior?
The world is full of new ideas, sometimes unrealistic standards and temptations which pummel a child’s brain every single day. And with a child’s brain acting like a sponge, parents have to do their best to keep track of new knowledge, which range from everyday stuff to intellectual, artistic or sporty pursuits, other forms of abstract thinking, decision-making and moral principles.
Even with feelings of joy, a sense of belonging and achievement, and conquering their fears, children go through times of self-doubt, negative self-talk and feelings of inferiority. Some are verbally expressive, some are not.
Thus we need to learn to communicate better with them. Listen to them, even try to read between the lines of what they are saying. Give them the chance to speak up, even if what they say is not what we want to hear.
At their young age, their brains are not developed enough to fully comprehend reasoning. We have to find other ways so they can understand.
Ask about details. The things they don’t tell us are the things that they presume we will not like.
More often than not, it’s best to let them know what you think, what you know, so then they will get used to the idea of balancing thoughts, which leads to making decisions.
Tell them what you think, instead of just saying “yes” or “no.” Be with them as much as you can.
Being a parent is one of the most responsible and courageous tasks we will ever have to do in our lives. Surely I’m not alone when I say I have had sleepless nights caring for my sick child, states of anxiety when they are apart from me, empathy for them when they feel down and beaten, palpitations whenever one of my sons decides to have a girlfriend, or worrying about how their future will be.
There may be times when we get surprised, disappointed and even angry when they say something we don’t want to hear, or do something that we don’t want them to do. But if we learn to understand, specifically their brains, we can adjust the way we will react.
Do it now
For young parents, this poses a big challenge, knowing that, economically speaking, providing a child the basic needs is already a hard climb on a tall mountain. Have you, at any point, counted how many more years your kid has before finishing college?
The human brain continues to develop well beyond the adolescent years. And while I’m still on my nerve-wracking, suspense-filled, fully educational, but ever-gratifying journey of being a parent to my two sons, I continually fill my mind and heart with hope and prayers that they grow up to become responsible and remarkable adults.
If you feel you have to improve on your relationship with your child or children, do it now. Commit to it. Knowing that your child is going through difficult phases, the change should also start from you.
Ultimately, the rewards and fulfillment we get from being a parent are truly priceless. And it’s not so much what they learn from us; it’s also what we learn from them.