Helping Children Be Children

Following are some practical suggestions to help parents keep their children from growing up too fast.

Stay in Touch With Your Child’s World

Familiarize yourself with what’s going on in your children’s lives so that you can know whether or not they’re growing up too fast. You may be able to offset some of the pressures and influences.

For example, read their magazines and books to learn what their age group is concerned about. Watch movies and television programs with your kids, and listen to some of their music CDs and their favorite radio stations. Get to know your children’s friends, their parents, and your children’s teachers, coaches and school counselors; they can tell you what your children do and talk about when they’re away from home and also give you a better idea of what kids are like in your children’s age group.

Keep the Communication Channels Open

Make time to talk with your children every day, no matter how busy you or your children may be. When your child comes to you to talk, stop whatever you are doing to listen. It can also be helpful to set aside a regular time each day when you always talk with your children, such as during breakfast or dinner, or right after they get home from school. Or you might want to cook dinner with your children and talk then, or take a walk together every evening after dinner. Starting this kind of regular communication early in your child’s life will foster better communication when he or she is a teenager.

Talk About News Events—But Know How Much Your Child Can Handle

If you have young children, limit how much of the really intense or unsettling television news coverage you allow them to see. It’s best to watch footage of these types of news stories in another room, away from your children, or after your children have gone to bed.

Of course, “if it’s a really big story in the news, such as the type of coverage that was given to the collapse of the World Trade Center or the recent Iraq War,” child development expert David Elkind says, “you won’t be able to hide it from your children, and neither should you try to do that. But your kids don’t need to hear all the gory details either.” Try to judge how much information they can handle, and then explain it in terms they’ll understand.

If you’re concerned that your children are hearing too much of the “heavy” news stories being discussed at school, voice your concerns to your child’s teacher or your local parent-teacher association.

Set Limits

If your child wants to wear an outfit or see a movie that you believe is inappropriate, don’t be afraid to say no. “Your kids need you to be their parent,” says school counselor Kimberly Chastain. “You cannot be your child’s friend. They have plenty of kids to be their friends.” If your children don’t understand your reasons for saying no, it’s okay to simply say “Because I said so.”

That’s gone out of favor,” Chastain admits, “but at some point you have to make it clear that you’re the adult and you have the final decision.”

Simplify Your Schedule

Don’t think you have to run all over town every night, transporting your children from one activity to the next, just because everyone else is doing it. Know how many activities your child can handle (and you too, since you’re most likely to be the chauffeur) and keep it at that. Be sure to allow for some downtime every day.

It’s probably the relaxed evenings at home when you played board games with your children or read books together that they’re going to look back on with fond memories when they’re adults, not the science camp or swimming lessons you enrolled them in,” Chastain says.

Be Willing to Go Against the Tide

There may be times when your child is about the only one in his or her class who hasn’t seen a particular movie or isn’t wearing a certain style of clothing. Not only is your child likely begging to go along with the crowd, you may be getting flak from other parents as well. They may say to you, “Well, why don’t you let your kids watch that movie? There’s nothing wrong with it.” Chastain observes, “Your kids are going to get peer pressure from their friends, and you’re going to get peer pressure from your kids’ friends’ parents.” It can feel like a lonely battle at times, but for the sake of your children, you need to stand your ground and do what you know is right.

You’re probably not doing a good job as a parent nowadays if your kids don’t think you’re mean,” notes professor William Doherty. “If you just do what all the other parents are doing, your kids won’t think you’re mean, but they’re going to lose their childhood.”

You shouldn’t be afraid to say no or put your foot down when your children want something you don’t feel is best for them. Parenting is not a popularity contest.