Ask any set of parents what they wish for their child, and they’ll likely give you some form of “happiness and success” answer.
There are a cacophony of voices in today’s overbearing world telling us how to raise such happy and successful children. “Give them a good education,” one voice says, while another suggests “lots of extra-curricular activities,” while a third insists they “roam free and independent.”
Each of those voices likely has some truth to it. But in looking for the latest and greatest child-rearing tactic, we often overlook the basics.
Chore CreativityMama’s girls were not angels, Taylor makes clear, and as such, they did their fair share of complaining about chores. Dusting the front room was an especially dreaded chore.
After one particularly difficult battle over whose turn it was to dust, Mama turned the chore into a game, hiding 12 buttons around the room in strategic places to ensure her little ones would do a thorough job. Such a move produced a new problem: Every one of the girls insisted it was her turn to dust! But the right one was selected and went on her merry way to the front room, eventually finding all 12 buttons and producing a wonderfully clean front room.
So get creative and occasionally make chores fun! Set a timer and have children race the clock on a certain task. Offer an occasional incentive for the child who is most faithful in completing chores over a certain amount of time. Or even try a spin-off on Mama’s idea, hiding items for children to find in the process of completing dreaded chores.
The trick, however, is to be strategic about such games. Mama “was a wise mother,” and continually mixed things up. After the first week of the dusting game, her children never knew when the buttons would appear, nor how many there would be, nor if there might be a special prize, such as a hidden penny, so they always had to do a thorough dusting job, just to make sure.
Clear Rules and ConsistencyFollowing through on what you say is one of the most important components of successful parenting. It helps parents maintain their sanity because consistency enables emotional security in children, resulting in regulated emotions and better behavior, research from the University of Georgia explains. For Mama, such consistency was especially necessary at the dinner table:
There was a strict rule about not wasting any food in Mama’s house. This rule had been made into a chant by the children:
No soup No meat.
No meat No vegetables.
No vegetables No fruit.
This battle of the wills wasn’t only hard on Sarah. “Mama was equally miserable,” the author tells us. “She had to keep steeling herself to her firm resolve. Don’t be too sorry for her, she told herself. You mustn’t. She must learn her lesson. If only she’d take just one spoonful, it would be enough. I’d be able to give in then.”
CompanionshipIt is sometimes said that one of the best things parents can do for a child is to give him siblings. Research confirms this, showing that siblings can provide an individual with better mental health and better relationships—depending, of course, on how positive the sibling relationship is.
The sisters in “All-of-a-Kind Family” had their share of squabbles, but they were generally fast friends. One of the ways Mama fostered this positive friendship was by sending them to bed early. But Mama didn’t make them lie quietly in bed. All five girls shared a room—some of them even sharing beds—and were allowed to talk freely with one another, sharing stories and secrets, subsequently strengthening their relationship and trust with one another.
We need to give our children similar opportunities, first by giving them siblings, and second by allowing them to have positive time together apart from parents. As an added bonus, this enables parents to spend much needed time alone together, too, talking and building their relationship, which makes both parents and children happy.
In the end, it’s not the latest tech gizmos or extensive opportunities that promise to make our children happy and successful as adults. Instead, it is our consistency in ensuring they know the basics of responsibility and are surrounded by loving familial relationships.