Let's say that you're pregnant. As you look ahead to your newborn child's life, what are your hopes and dreams for your child? You certainly hope that when she's in school, she'll...
Let’s say that you’re pregnant. As you look ahead to your newborn child’s life, what are your hopes and dreams for your child?
You certainly hope that when she’s in school, she’ll be a good student, have friends and be a good citizen. You probably even expect that she’ll help out around the house, learn to put her toys away, tidy her bedroom and be well-mannered and behaved.
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Additionally, you might hope that your soon-to-be-born child will grow to be a reader. You’re fairly confident that she’ll learn to read, but you wonder if she’ll choose to read.
Another parent might hope his child’s passion is fly fishing. Others might yearn for their children to be zealous about religion, gardening, politics, community service or cooking.
How can parents nurture the love of certain interests that speak to the parents’ values?
Begin by modeling the activity you hope your children will value. If your children see you reading, most likely they’ll follow in your footsteps.
Today being a good model is not enough. There are simply too many distractions competing for children’s attention — TV, Internet, videos, sports teams and time with friends. If you really want your children to choose reading, fly fishing or gardening above all the other activities, you must do more than set a good example. Over the years, your approach is low key, yet intentional.
It’s important to begin the process when children are young. Children learn good habits during the preschool years. If it’s the love of reading you hope to instill in your children, read to them daily, take them to the library weekly and browse in bookstores.
When your children are between 6 and 12 years, explain why reading, religion or community service is important to you. Engage their intellect. During these years your children are most open to your influence, so use it to your advantage.
Once a teen, your child will question your values and interests, possibly even rebel against them, but if you’ve done your parenting homework when children are under 12 years old, most likely, the interest will be in place and return once they’re young adults. It might be altered to their personality and the influence of their generation, yet it will be in place nevertheless.
If you hope your children will be involved in community service, once they’re preschool-age, take them with you when you volunteer at a homeless shelter. By doing so you include them in what you value and communicate that you value them and their effort, competency and contribution, no matter their age and size.
Create rules and discipline around whatever interest you hope to instill in your child. It’s OK to say, “In this family we always go to church on Sunday. You can cry and be mad, but we are going anyway. You can choose to take some paper, crayons and books along; we will be leaving at 9 a.m.” Then, once at your place of worship, make it positive and pleasant, thereby creating pleasant associations with the religious experience.
Even given your best effort, children may not grasp hold of the activity that you value and hold dear, because each child is a unique individual. A child may discover her own passions and delve into them. So be it.
By nurturing the love of reading, fly fishing or religion, you’ve made your best effort. If nothing else, children live with fond memories of a parent who read to them, took them fishing or took them to a religious ceremony, and that’s what means most when it comes to solidifying the parent and child relationship and valuing your children.
Jan Faull, a specialist in child development and behavior, answers questions of general interest in her column. You can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to: Jan Faull, c/o Families, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111.