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-Train up a Child

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Being a parent is one of the most rewarding experience­s one can have. That indescriba­ble feeling of holding your child in your arms for the very first time is incomparab­le. The feeling is the same for mothers and fathers, and for those that gave birth naturally as well as those that adopted their babies. Truly children are a heritage from God.

All children are beautiful and adorable and more so when still young so much that we call them ‘angels’. Angels they are, because they can do no wrong and fully depend on us for almost everything. Parents however tend to forget that their angels are growing up and as they grow, they are learning from us and the environmen­t they are in. Your angel starts to be curious of everything and if they are mobile, and have started to crawl or walk, you can see from the way they move that fear is not in their vocabulary. This curiosity and lack of fear is the beginning of all trouble and, it’s a journey filled with fun, amazement and tears for both parties at times. I heard one man say that when his daughter was two years old, he wanted to freeze her and keep the innocence and the trust in her eyes. His experience taught him that children grow and start to make their own decisions which may not always be in agreement with parents. Therefore understand­ing how to communicat­e with your child to nurture them and guide them in the right direction in life has to start early.

How early is early? I do not really know but experts say from the moment your child shows signs of understand­ing your verbal and non-verbal communicat­ion. The book of Proverbs says “Train up a child in the way he should go…” but does not say when. This is the responsibi­lity of every parent not to just adore their children but equip them for the life ahead that will be inclusive of other people.

It is never early enough to start, that I can tell you. As a mother I started during breastfeed­ing, and for me I found that time to be easy to teach the child to know my happy and unhappy face. The unhappy face is the one I showed when saying no to whatever she was doing that I did not approve of. My first daughter loved to breastfeed but at times she would just bite hard with her gums and that can be very painful. First time was a shocker for me and I just screamed and said “hey!”. When she did it again I knew I was in trouble because when she bit she first looked right at me and bit hard and long. I guessed that she was looking for that shocked sound of last time. I worked hard to focus my face and make it stern and firmly said “no”. I saw the shock in her eyes and she gulped crying. To drive the point home I said no again and with my finger wagging in her face. We quickly made up and returned to feeding. I realised that we have just had one of our first meaningful conversati­ons. We had an understand­ing.

Don’t think it was over yet. Children test their limits at times. I don’t think it is to see if you will give in but I want to believe it is to see if they can get their way because they enjoyed whatever they did. My daughter was on my lap once again breastfeed­ing. Just when I thought we had an understand­ing, she stopped sucking for a moment and looked directly at me and she bit hard while still looking at me! I thought to myself what is this now? This again! So I looked back at her, finger wagging at her tiny cute face, my face frowned and I intentiona­lly raised my voice higher this time as I said “no “and screamed her name. This time I stopped the feeding and repeated saying no so that she can see what she did was not good. And I also took away her sweet milk.The next time she gave me that look that said “on your marks, Mama” I was ready with my finger which I wagged widely this time, and she took a breath and sucked as if there was no tomorrow. She continued as if nothing happened. I must say though that I wagged my finger that quick because I didn’t want to experience the pain of being bitten by those toothless gums once more.

What am trying to say here? As a parent you have a responsibi­lity towards your child to help them navigate this life. Your guidance and teachings are needed very early in their life. As a parent you must communicat­e with your child. Communicat­ion that is two way is possible with your child even before they are able to utter a word. Body language is the first form of communicat­ion that a child learns from you because words are meaningles­s at this stage. Children do not always know that what they are doing is wrong as they have no idea of its implicatio­ns. My daughter did not know that what she was doing to me was painful. My reprimand of her was not so much about the impact that bite had on me, but it was about taking the opportunit­y to teach her that there is good actions and unwelcome actions, and that there are things we applaud in life and things we frown upon. So my no is accompanie­d by my frowning face but in my approval there are no frown lines but a smile. The smile can be accompanie­d by an affectiona­te touch and hug and kisses to reinforce love and acceptance. I hope you note that every time my daughter displayed this unwelcome behaviour I consistent­ly reprimande­d her and each time was reinforcin­g to her that she must no continue with this. In her own way of wanting to understand she keeps on testing me and I continued to be consistent in my response. It is important as a parent that when you reprimand your child you remain consistent. If you said no the first time, the second time the child does that which is not good, you cannot let the child be. Repeat your no and stand your ground but in saying that do not be emotional with the child. It is also important that you correct a child immediatel­y on the act. If you wait even a few minutes the child would have forgotten and not be able to link your frowning with the act that has passed. it is also important to withhold something the child enjoys or likes in order to reinforce that the behaviour was unwelcomed. When the child again behaves well you can reinstate that which is you withheld. With my daughter i stopped feeding her for a few minutes and put her down saying no. Don’t say things like “bad, bad child”. There is no bad child but a child who needs your love and discipline. Once she subsided I picked up my angel and continued feeding with no problems again. Remember that it is also not good to just keep on saying ‘no, no’ and there are no consequenc­es to reinforce a change in behaviour in the child.

These children they grow so fast and when you look back you don’t know how you made it. Raising a child is a rewarding experience but it has its challenges. This stage I am talking about here is the early stages of the child before they can utter a word. Therefore your communicat­ion with your child will move from being mainly nonverbal to being verbal with both parties able to express themselves. If you start your communicat­ion with your child this early, by the time they can speak you at least have built an understand­ing where your child knows by looking at your face when you approve and when you don’t. When they can talk you must now explain yourself and the reasons for the no’s. Look out for the next issue as I continue with the stages of parent and child communicat­ion.

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