Wednesday 7 December 2016

Pat Henry: Parenting in the modern world

Nurture a healthy attitude in children by creating strong boundaries, particularly when it comes to electronic devices, writes our fitness expert

Pat Henry

Published 20/09/2016 | 02:30

Pat Henry
Pat Henry

Last week I was having dinner in a restaurant when I heard the mother of a 10-year-old child promising him a new iPad if he ate his dinner. When he aggressively refused, the father tried to control the child's bad behaviour. The mother then insisted that the father should apologise to the child for telling him to be quiet. What chance has that child got in the real world?

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It's happening all the time: indulged, uncontrollable children. Many health experts advise that if the child refuses to eat good food then there should be no alternative in the house. Don't offer alternatives and when hunger strikes, the food will be eaten. If the parent gives in and provides a junk-food alternative, rather than face a tantrum, then the battle is over and the child has won. Then, when the child starts putting on weight, the parent will have a serious problem.

A child develops a healthy attitude to life in proportion to the amount of love and direction they receive. They have to understand that 'no' means 'no'. It means being assertive with care.

Some parents can find it hard to show real love, especially if they have low self-esteem about themselves or feel that their children are there to fulfil their expectations, or they are subconsciously reliving their own childhood through their children.

Both parents and children are under immense pressure from things such as finances, school bullying, relationships and just coping with everyday life. That's why it's so important to stay together as a unit: eat together and exercise together.

Another big problem that is shared by children and some parents, is spending too much time on iPads or iPhones or watching the TV. Some spend up to six hours daily playing games or on the internet. In Dr Mary Aiken's great book The Cyber Effect, she points out that children as young as 12 are suffering from DVT (deep-vein thrombosis) from sitting for hours and not moving.

You must put a limit on the time children spend on iPad or phones - keep devices out of their bedrooms and remove them from the dinner or breakfast table. Using electronic devices such as iPads means you are disassociating yourself from interacting with other people. You see it in restaurants all the time, a family sitting at a table with no one speaking. It may be a way for parents to keep children quiet, but whatever happened to old-fashioned manners?

Children are losing the ability to speak, write and think clearly. If you allow this with small children, you will pay the price when adolescence comes around. Parents must also remember that each child is unlike any other; each child has their own skills, agenda, interests and abilities. All you can do is encourage them, direct them and show them love. No one knows what he or she will become; they have their own destiny to fulfil and they need you to guide them and show them the way.

Kahlil Gibran put it simply in his great book, The Prophet: "Your children are not your children, they are sons and daughters of life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And thought they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts, you may house their bodies but not their souls. For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children are living arrows are sent forth."

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