Q. Please list a few of the most important things for us parents to keep in mind as we raise our children. Maybe we can put a list up on the refrigerator as a reminder. We know there are tons of things we CAN choose to do that might help our children ... the talk shows on TV are always discussing them. But if we had to list only a few things that are REALLY important, what would they be? -- Joyce C.
A. I'll do my best to share some tips I believe will help. But first, let me say that new health challenges in my life have made me realize that above all things, giving and accepting love is the most important thing in our lives. It's about loving and appreciating everyone that touches your life, not just your family and children.
• Try to truly and sincerely listen to children whenever they need to talk to you. Whether it's a concern or just sharing an idea, it's important to let them know their words, concerns and ideas are important. Look into their faces as you listen, and think before you respond.
• Don't assume you know your child inside and out. Your perception is colored by your own expectations, and your child is continually changing. Be ready to observe and accept all the changing aspects of your child's developing personality.
• Give the child clear, simple rules and expectations. Don't be afraid to say "No" or "No, that is not acceptable." Remember you are in charge, not the child. Saying "No" will NOT damage self-esteem; it will help your child feel secure within your limits and helps teach self-discipline.
• Teach children to help out and do daily chores as members of the family team living under the same roof. If and when you give an allowance for "extra" jobs, help children learn (sometimes the hard way) about wise spending and saving.
• Give children experiences that make them learn to make choices. Start with small choices (among several you set up) when they are young, and increase the challenges as they grow. Help them to learn to make choices in their best long-term interest by insisting that they accept the consequences of poor choices. This is how they learn to accept responsibility for their behaviors.
• Teach them delayed gratification, and the difference between wants and needs. If you let them have whatever they want when they want it, you are not preparing them for the real world, and like it or not, preparing them for real life is your job. Doing the "hard" things means extending yourself to help your kids grow as people; it's one of the most important ways you show your love.
• Take time to play and laugh and have spontaneous fun with your kids. It's good for all of you. Laughter and love build relationships that last a lifetime.
Evelyn Petersen is an award-winning parenting columnist and early childhood educator and author who lives in Traverse City; see her website at askevelyn.com.