The one thing that most adults will tell you very quickly – whether they are the parent of one, the teacher of ten, or an observer of just a few – is that children surprise them. Children think of things that we don’t anticipate, are more ingenious than we think they are, and their honesty catches us off guard. It can be refreshing … and frustrating.
In my 30+ years of working with young children, I’ve often been asked what one thing I would want adults to know about caring for young children. While it is difficult to name just one, I can narrow the list to these five that can be applied to parenting or working with young children in a formalized program:
1. Safety first! If you do not keep children both physically and emotionally safe, nothing else matters. Their little hearts, bodies, and minds must be protected. Ensure that locks are on the proper cabinets, that dangerous things are out of the way, and that hurtful words do not come out of adults’ mouths.
2. Matters of the heart matter the most. Relationships matter! After safety, build a relationship with the child. Don’t expect him to know that you love him … tell him. If he doesn’t know that you care, it will be difficult for you to teach him very much. Use words of affirmation and give him loving touches. Praise specific actions so he knows that you noticed exactly what he did.
3. Model desired behavior. So often we drag our children to counselors, therapists, and doctors when actually their behavior mirrors what they saw lived out before them through their formative years. Be careful of the influences you allow in your child’s life. Choose the environments that you immerse her in and model before her what you desire her to embrace.
4. Read to your child every day. Research has proven that sharing great stories, snuggling together, and reading to your child can produce significant gains in his reading comprehension. Keep reading out loud to him even when he is old enough to read on his own.
5. Teach, model, and communicate the GIGO (garbage in/garbage out) Principle. This is true with everything in life. Teach your child very early the principles of logical consequences and cause and effect. Teach her that she can control her thoughts by reading, watching, and feeding on positive material. Recognizing the needs of others is critical to her well-being, so give her opportunities to help others. Don’t hover – let her experience life in a safe way and allow her to face the consequences of her decisions so that she understands and grows from them.
Research evolves daily about how children grow and learn, and the best thing you can do for the children in your life is to stay current. Make it a priority to never stop learning about children.