Updated: Nov 20, 2021
When it comes to raising children, I am reminded of the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. In the fairytale, Goldilocks tries out the food, chairs, and beds of the three bears and selects those that are “just right.” My observation is that our current society reflects three types of parents: those who give their children too much attention; those who give too little attention; and those who give their children an appropriate amount of attention. The number of children who receive an appropriate amount of attention has been steadily shrinking. If you doubt that, just ask a teacher. She/he will tell you that most of the children sitting in classrooms today fall into the either the ‘too much’ or ‘too little’ category.
TOO MUCH ATTENTION – (overindulged)
Overindulged children have an air about them. It is an air that, by the time they reach adulthood, may be identified as arrogant, showing an offensive attitude of superiority and haughtiness. Overly indulged children are at the center of the family and are often ‘given into’ by their parents. As a result, they tend to possess an overabundance of “things”, are self-centered, have difficulty sharing, and can be argumentative and moody. As they reach upper elementary, middle, and high school, backtalk worsens, along with the tendency to question adult authority. They may become obsessed with brand names,, begin wearing make-up too early (girls), have more freedom than their peers, may brag to others about personal and family possessions, just to name a few. Children who are overindulged may flaunt a pseudo sophistication that some peers find enviable and others obnoxious.
TOO LITTLE ATTENTION – (neglected)
Parental neglect can take several forms. In its most obvious form, the neglect is reflected in a lack of basic hygiene. Rotting teeth, bad breath, body odor, malnutrition, soiled and ill-fitting clothes can all be signs of neglect. Even if a family is in financial straits, parents have a responsibility to take care of their children. With the many resources available today, it is willful neglect to not reach out for assistance to ensure a child’s basic needs are met.
Some neglected children may present themselves appropriately as far as outward appearance (well-fitting clothes, shoes, cleanliness) but little else. These are the children whose parents do not attend school events even when time allows, fail to turn in required forms, send lunch money or attend parent-teacher conferences. These are the parents whose children are often absent or regularly arrive to school late.
Parents who allow their children to eat whatever they want, go to bed whenever they choose, watch television, and play video games without restriction, listen to inappropriate adult conversations, and witness inappropriate adult behavior are examples of parenting practices that can lead to unhealthy outcomes for children. Allowing children to make decisions for which they do not have the mental or emotional maturity can also be considered neglect. Because this type of potentially harmful child-rearing tends to fall on a continuum, the pitfalls are often unrecognized or misinterpreted by the parents.
Overly indulged and neglected children often struggle to succeed at school and in life because both groups lack proper adult guidance. Schools are filled with children who struggle every day to successfully cope with social and academic expectations. Some struggle to cope because they have never had to (indulged), while others struggle because they are emotionally drained from having to cope for so long without proper adult leadership (neglected). Neither group has had their needs met in a healthy way. They appear in schools undisciplined and unprepared for the expectations and structure necessary for teachers to teach and students to learn. As these children grow and move through the educational system, their performance and behavior often decline, with their misguided parents baffled as to why such is happening and blaming the school for “not doing its job."
JUST RIGHT – (‘pretty darn close’)
Of course, there is no such thing as just right parenting. All of us make mistakes. However, by effectively teaching positive behavioral expectations and holding children accountable for their actions, parents lay the cornerstones that anchor a child’s emotional well-being and become the foundation for success in school and life. Teachers can readily cite observable characteristics in that make for a more positive student experience and learning environment: following directives, understanding the importance of rules, exhibiting personal responsibility, and consistently demonstrating respect towards others and self.
The #1 child-rearing priority should be character development. Identifying early the character attributes they want to see in their children 20 years down the road, and modeling those characteristics every day, is the best way for parents to prepare children to successfully navigate life. Actively demonstrate the importance of setting goals, being resilient in the face of adversity and persevering when life fails to go according to plan. Instill in your children that ultimately it is not what we get in life, rather what we give, that brings true fulfillment. Simply stated: Be the adult version you hope to someday see in your child.
Because humans possess free will, there are no guarantees when it comes to child-rearing. The best parenting does not guarantee a successful outcome and the worst parenting does not guarantee a poor outcome. But at some point, after the child-rearing journey has ended, parents who have effectively provided unconditional love and strong leadership, may just discover that they got ‘pretty darn close.'
© Sharon Knapp Lamberth, April 10, 2021