It's A Gray Area: When it comes to kids, teach and love them

I never even held an infant until my son Bill was born. It wasn't that I was averse to small children, it's just that I was never really exposed to them, or given any training about how effectively to raise them as they grew up. So with the understanding that there must be many other people out there just like me, my Christmas gift is to pass along to you various tips and suggestions I have learned over the years about raising children. If you find them to be helpful, pass them on, along with your own comments and recommendations, to young parents as they are doing the most difficult but also the most important thing a human being can do, which is to raise children. Everyone deserves a happy childhood to look back upon. That is certainly not completely possible in the real world, but at least we can get closer to that goal.

To start at the beginning, understand that babies cry. Sometimes, of course, it is for a good reason, and that reason should be addressed. But once they have been fed, burped, changed and put to bed, leave them there. It's almost as if babies are human, because if you reward them by holding and petting them each time they cry, that's what they will learn to do. So let them cry if they must.

Also develop the team approach that if one parent gets too frazzled by the baby's crying, or bad behavior, that is the automatic time for the other parent quickly to take over. Obviously it's hard to raise young children, and sometimes we can lose our tempers when we are stressed or tired. So team parenting is the answer. Actually along these lines, when I was in the Navy, it was well-publicized that if one parent was away and the remaining parent was overwhelmed by their small children, all they had to do was come to the Naval Hospital for a two-day respite. I think this was a sophisticated and healthy approach. Of course grandparents can also fulfill that function, for the benefit of everybody!

After they begin to talk, young children should also be taught to use words instead of whining, even when having a temper tantrum. If they are not able to use words, it means that they are too sleepy to behave, so it is time for bed.

On another matter, never make idle or false promises to your children. So, for example, if you say that your children will be put to bed if they continue to whine, you simply must follow through!

Providing boundaries is also one of the most important things that can happen for their positive development, because that will leave them in a position to thrive inside those boundaries. And equally important for their development into well-adjusted young adults, they also need to know that if they stray outside the boundaries there will be adverse consequences.

One of the greatest and most rewarding things a person can do with children is to teach them the joys of reading. Not only is it genuine fun, the rewards in later test scores will be substantial.

Then do yourself, your children and society a big favor — turn off the television and eat as many meals together as a family as you can. If you develop the habit of talking to each other about what happened to them that day, it will put each of you more in tune with each other, help you lead a closer and fuller family life, and create genuine and lasting positive bonds.

Similarly, if you or your spouse speaks a foreign language, try to use it as often as possible in your household. Children can learn languages without even trying, and if you teach them a second language you will be giving them a truly important and lasting gift.

Of course, children really are like sponges in virtually every other manner as well. They not only will mimic what you do and say (for example, if you hear your young child using a swear word, you will not have to look far to see where it came from), they will also follow your ethics.

Allow your children to take on more responsibility. One way is to give them a reasonable amount of money each week as an allowance, but then have them pay for things like their own haircuts, movie tickets, ice cream cones and, when they are much older, gasoline and oil changes. And have them get a job — any job — first around the house and then with some business. That more than anything will teach them the value of money, which is a necessary ingredient of responsible living.

My final five random thoughts are, first, to love your children openly and fully, and tell them so frequently both with words and hugs. Second, there is a great deal of truth in the comment that the most effective mother is one who is firm beneath her gentleness, and the most effective father is one who is gentle beneath his firmness. Third, just as it is the duty of parents to teach their children responsibility, it is also the duty of grandparents to spoil their grandchildren!

Fourth, the best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. And fifth, slow down and enjoy your children every step of the way. My baby girl just had her 35th birthday last week, which is to say that children grow up quickly. You will never regret spending time with your children while they are young. In fact, that joy will probably be one of the greatest experiences of your life!

JAMES. P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the composer of the Chapman University fight song "Second to None," and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or http://www.JudgeJimGray.com.

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