A child’s healthy upbringing requires great responsibility from parents. Anita Papas shares some lessons she learned by being both a mother and a clinical psychologist.

I recall my thoughts as my husband and I were planning to have our first baby. I was torn between my desire to have a baby and the immense responsibility of bringing up this child. I did overcome my worries, and did have my first baby. And little by little I noticed I could not create the perfect world that I had in mind for him. I was 24 at the time, had just graduated from college, and I realized I had a lot to learn.

Over the next 20 years I grew and developed tremendously both as a parent and as a clinical psychologist. Here are some of the valuable lessons that I acquired along the way.

Give your child unconditional love

More than 50 years ago, the psychologist Carl Rogers suggested that simply loving our children wasn’t enough. He insisted that we have to love them unconditionally; for who they are, not for what they do.

Most parents, without even being aware, withhold affection for undesirable behavior and turn up the affection when their children have been good. I call this conditional parenting. The primary message of all types of conditional parenting is that the child must earn a parent’s love. In my opinion, not only is this type of discipline unfair, but, I guess, it is cruel. I do not believe parental love should be used as a tool to control children. Our children must know that we love them no matter what. From then on discipline can take on  so many faces, such as explaining to the child the reasons behind our house rules and regulations, maximizing opportunities for the child to participate in making decisions, and reinforcing good behavior rather than punishing bad behavior.

There is no doubt that every parent loves his or her child; nevertheless, every child needs to be reminded of that love through comforting words and concrete actions.

Believe in your child

One of my most favorite quotes on parenting comes from Pablo Picasso, and he said: “My mother said to me: If you are a soldier you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope. Instead I was a painter and became Picasso.”

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, affirmed to us that if a man has been the indisputable favorite of his mother he keeps for life the feeling of conqueror.

Yes, this is the kind of confidence we need as parents to instill in our children.

Believing in our child, all the while gently guiding them to the right path. Let us concentrate on what is good and positive in our children rather than what is weak or negative. Believe in your child no matter how different they may be. Believe in your child no matter what society’s definition of a “normal” child is. Believe in your child because they need you on their side; and believe me, your faith in your child will allow them to excel, stand out and make you proud. Criticism can be constructive for a child when they are comforted by a trusting parent. Letdowns are surpassed if the child has enough support back HOME.

Let us be on their side, listen to them; and, most importantly, believe in them. I always tell concerned parents to try to find one thing – just one thing – that their child is good at, and work on it and perfect it at great length. I believe every individual is given an unparalleled gift and we should discover that gift in our child and help them cultivate it – and that is our greatest gift to them.

A friend of mine shared a beautiful saying with me. It was once said by Kamari aka Lyrikal, and I would now like to share it with you: “If a drop of water falls in a lake, there is no identity. But if it falls on a leaf of lotus, it shines like a pearl. We need to choose the best place where we can shine.”

“My mother said to me: If you are a soldier you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope. Instead I was a painter and became Picasso.”

Communicate and stay connected to your child

Communication is by far the most important tool for a healthy upbringing. Staying connected to our child, listening to them attentively and giving them the age-appropriate advice is of tremendous importance.

Our words as parents count. Choose them carefully. Once we have uttered a word there is no way we can retrieve it; that is why it is of critical importance that we abstain from using hurtful language with our little ones. Statistics show us that, for children, verbal abuse left bigger marks on their self-esteem than did physical punishment. The emotional scars of words were more intense than physical ones.

Once a trust and connection is built, children will learn to communicate their needs, feelings and everyday life issues. They will share with us their worries and concerns – and also their joys and achievements.

We parents have an important message to convey to our children. We need to let them know that they have a listening ear; someone they can talk to and confide in. We need to instill in them the faith that their family is there for them, right by their side. This is so crucial as it will give your child the trust and confidence to become a strong and independent young adult.

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