The Family: A Proclamation to the World states that "parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness". Many of today's scholars support this statement. Family science and child development researchers everywhere are emphatic that good parenting is vital. From the earliest preschool years, the way parents teach and rear their children is critical to their children's development throughout life.
Mom and Dad, that means that your children's education doesn't begin when they go off to kindergarten. It begins in your home--with you as the teachers, even if you are not living together as husband and wife. Studies show that the most crucial years of learning take place before a child is old enough to enter school. Researchers say that no amount of formal teaching can compare to the influence of parents, who teach every day by word and example.
Burton White of Harvard University writes: "The informal education that the family provides for their children makes more of an impact on a child's total education than the formal education system. If a family does its job well, the professional [teacher] can then provide effective training. If not, there may be little a professional can do."
As a child's first teachers, you as parents are in a unique position to influence early learning in a variety of ways.
Develop Your Child's Literacy Skills
The crucial skill of literacy is learned at a very young age. By three or four, most children can understand and use the language spoken around them without any formal teaching. Researchers say these early years are prime time for the brain to acquire language skills. They say parents can take advantage of this learning-sensitive time by reading aloud to their children and talking to them. And they say reading picture books with your children is the single most important way you can your children teach language skills and ensure they children will become good readers.
Specific ideas for helping your child develop literacy skills include:
- Begin exposing your child to books when he is an infant. Read and talk with him, even though you're doing all the talking. Ask him simple questions, such as 'What's that?" Though you'll have to respond yourself ("That's right, it's a doggie!"), you're still engaging him with you and the activity.
- Designate a daily reading/story time. Make it the same time every day so your child knows when it will be and looks forward to it. Many parents have story time just before bedtime because it tends to calm children.
Develop Your Child's Emotional Skills
Children learn to understand and express emotions from their parents. As infants, children turn to their parents for emotional support when they feel pained or distressed. After the infant stage, children begin to notice how their parents handle their own emotions. Parents become emotional role models. Children learn from their parents, for example, when certain emotions are appropriate, what to call their emotions, and how to respond to the emotions of others. Parents who teach these skills tend to raise emotionally healthy and morally sensitive children (Denham, et al., 2002).
Ideas for helping your child develop emotional skills include:
- Ask your children questions on a daily basis. "How do you feel about that?" "Why do you think that happened?" Listen attentively to what they say. They will appreciate that you care about their feelings.
- Make paper masks of different emotions. Masks can be as simple as paper plates with happy and sad faces drawn on them. To make the masks wearable, cut holes for eyes and noses and attach string or elastic to the back. Make them as creative and elaborate as you like.
- Have your child draw pictures of how they feel. For example, next time your child is sad, ask him to draw a picture of how he feels. When he's finished, you can talk with him about the situation. Ask him questions such as, "What is this a picture of?" and "Why does your picture look like this?"
- Respond to your children's emotions. When your children are disappointed, sympathize with them and comfort them. When they're excited, be excited with them. They learn how to respond to other's emotions by the way you respond to them.
Moral Values and Attitudes
Parents are the primary teachers of moral values and attitudes. In a speech at the World Congress of Families, scholar Craig Hart of Brigham Young University said: "What parents teach their children by precept and example about moral and religious values helps them make wise choices, even in the face of biological urges or peer influences that would have them do otherwise."
Specific ideas for teaching children the value of work include:
- Start providing simple tasks to children at an early age. Begin by having your child put away his own toys. Help him at first so the task is not overwhelming.
- Let your children help you with chores. You may be surprised at the fun children find in daily chores that you have long since tired of.
- Bring toys into your home that incorporate work and play. For example, buy your toddler a toy broom. He may enjoy play-sweeping so much that in a few years he won't mind sweeping the patio.
- Encourage and praise your child when he completes a task. Give him a hug and say thank you. Tell him what a great job he did.
- Create a chore chart. Include your children's names and the days of the week or month. Buy fun stickers and put one on the chart next to a child's name each time he completes a chore. Make a goal of a certain number of chores. When his stickers add up to the goal, give him a special surprise or do something to celebrate. (You can create many variations on this idea. For example, use jellybeans in a jar to count completed chores. Or draw a giant thermometer and let your child color in ten degrees as he completes each chore.)
- Leave room for failure. If your child fails to complete a chore or doesn't do a perfect job, don't berate or embarrass her.