Gifts You Give Your Child

As a parent, you have many vital gifts to offer your child. Some are subtle, but all are very powerful. Giving them will make you a good parent. Receiving them will help your child become a healthy, happy, capable individual.

Unconditional Love

Love lies at the core of your relationship with your child. It needs to flow freely in both directions. Just as she loves you without question, you must give her your love and acceptance absolutely. Your love shouldn't depend on the way she looks or behaves. It shouldn't be used as a reward or withheld as a threat. Your love for your child is constant and indisputable, and it's up to you to convey that, especially when she misbehaves and needs to have limits set or behavior corrected. Love must be held separate and above any fleeting feelings of anger or frustration over her conduct. Never confuse the actions with the child, and never let her think that you do. The more secure she feels in your love, the more self-assurance she will have as she grows up.

Self-Esteem

One of your most important gifts as a parent is to help your child develop self-esteem. It's not an easy or quick process. Self-respect, confidence, and belief in oneself, which are the building blocks of self-esteem, take years to become firmly established. Your child needs your steady support and encouragement to discover his strengths. He needs you to believe in him as he learns to believe in himself. Loving him, spending time with him, listening to him and praising his accomplishments are all part of this process. If he is confident of your love, admiration, and respect, it will be easier for him to develop the solid self-esteem he needs to grow up happy and emotionally healthy.

Values and Traditions

Regardless of whether you actively try to pass on your values and beliefs to your child, she is bound to absorb some of them just by living with you. She'll notice how disciplined you are in your work, how deeply you hold your beliefs and whether you practice what you preach. She'll participate in family rituals and traditions and think about their significance. You can't expect or demand that your child subscribe to all your opinions, but you can present your beliefs honestly, clearly and thoughtfully, in keeping with the child's age and maturity level. Give her guidance and encouragement, not only commands. Encourage questions and discussions, when age and language permit, instead of trying to force your values on your child.

If your beliefs are well reasoned and if you are true to them, she will probably adopt many of them. If there are inconsistencies in your actions, something we all live with, often your children are the ones who will make that clear to you, either subtly by their behavior or, when they are older, more directly by disagreeing with you.

The road to developing values is not straight and unerring. It demands flexibility built on firm foundations. Self-awareness, a willingness to listen to your children and change when appropriate, and above all, a demonstration of your commitment to traditions will best serve your relationship with your child. While the choice of values and principles will ultimately be hers to make, she depends on you to give her the foundation through your thoughts, shared ideas, and most of all, your actions and deeds.

Joy in Life

Your baby doesn't need to be taught to be joyful, but he does need your permission and occasional encouragement to let his natural enthusiasm fly free. The more joyful you are, particularly when you are with him, the more delightful life will seem to him and the more eagerly he will embrace it. When he hears music, he'll dance. When the sun shines, he'll turn his face skyward. When he feels happy, he'll laugh. This exuberance is often expressed through his being attentive and curious, willing to explore new places and things, and eager to take in the world around him and incorporate the new images, objects and people into his own growing experience.

Remember, different babies have different temperaments, some more apparently exuberant than others, some more noisily rambunctious, some more playful, some more reserved. But all babies demonstrate their joy in life in their own ways, and you as the parent will discover what those ways are and nurture your child's joy.

Good Health

Your child's health depends significantly on the care and guidance you offer her during these early years. You begin during pregnancy, by taking good care of yourself and by arranging for obstetric and pediatric care. By taking your child to the doctor regularly for consultations, keeping her safe from accidents, providing a nutritious diet, and encouraging exercise throughout childhood, you help protect and strengthen her body. You'll also need to maintain good health habits yourself, while avoiding unhealthy ones, such as smoking, excessive drinking, drug use and lack of adequate physical activity. In this way, you'll give your child a healthy example to follow as she grows up.

Secure Surroundings

You naturally want to give your child a safe, comfortable home. This means more than a warm place to sleep and a collection of toys. As important as it is to provide shelter that is physically safe and secure, it is even more important to create a home that is emotionally secure with a minimum of stress and a maximum of consistency and love.

Your child can sense problems between other family members and may be very troubled by them, so it's important that all family problems, even minor conflicts, be dealt with directly and resolved as quickly as possible through cooperation. This may entail seeking advice, but remember, your family's well-being maintains an environment that promotes your child's development and will allow him to achieve his potential. The family's dealing effectively with conflicts or differences will ultimately help him feel secure in his ability to manage conflicts and disagreements and will provide him a positive example for resolving his own challenges.

Skills and Abilities

As your child grows up, she'll spend most of her time developing and polishing a variety of skills and abilities in all areas of her life. You should help her as much as possible by encouraging her and providing the equipment and instruction she needs. Books, magazines, play groups, and nursery schools quickly will take on a central role as your toddler becomes a preschooler. But it's important not to forget some of the most important learning tools: Your child will learn best when she feels secure, confident and loved; and she will learn best when information is presented in a way that she will respond to positively. Some information is best presented through play, the language of children.

Young children learn a tremendous amount through play, especially when with parents or playmates. Other information is best learned or incorporated through actual experience. This may mean learning through exposure to diverse places, people, activities and experiences. Other things are learned through stories, picture books, magazines and activity books. Still other things are learned by watching, sometimes just watching you, sometimes watching other children or adults. Preschool experiences also promote socialization.

If you enjoy learning and making discovery fun for your child, she will soon recognize that achievement can be a source of personal satisfaction as well as a way to please you. The secret is to give her the opportunities and let her learn as best fits her style and at her own rate.

Excerpted from Caring for Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, Bantam 1999

© Copyright 2000 American Academy of Pediatrics