Raising a Healthy Child: On Parental Support, Structure, and Control
Studies show that parenting is the biggest variable implicated in childhood accidents and illnesses, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, truancy, childhood mental illness, and juvenile crime.
Not only are these issues serious in and of themselves, but they can forebode even bigger problems in adulthood. It is no accident that governments in many countries are giving positive parenting such high priority.
Raising a healthy child is a buffer against negative factors in children’s lives, such as criminal influence or poverty. Raising a healthy child is not limited to biological parents – teachers, caregivers, nurses, and other people can fulfill parenting tasks.
This article aims at helping you understand how to raise healthy children or how to raise happy kids.
The three pillars of parenting
Parenting has three main components which are a summation of some simple rules for raising a healthy kid. Parental care helps promote the child’s physical, emotional, and mental health and protects them from harm.
The second component is parental control, which involves establishing and enforcing boundaries to make sure children and those around them are safe. The areas of activity, to which this applies are always expanding.
Finally, there is development, which involves maximizing children’s potential.
The implications of parental support
“Good” and “bad” parenting are both difficult to define, but the former is more so. A study published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology set out to find out the extent, to which parental structure, support, and behavioral control could moderate the adversity stemming from socioeconomic disadvantage and predict health care use in early childhood.
250 parent-child dyads took part in the study. Higher parental support was linked to a higher ratio of nonemergency to ER services and increased rates of outpatient care.
In other words, the children of more supportive parents went more often to the doctor, but not for emergency reasons, but for things like scheduled checkups. This tendency reflects a better use of health services.
Parental support was also found to moderate the adverse effects of economic disadvantage. Among socially disadvantaged families, behavioral control and structured parenting were associated with lower incidences of lung illnesses.
What is a supportive parent?
Being a supportive parent is one of the most powerful ways to raise healthy kids
According to expert definitions, a supportive parent is aware of and responsive to their child’s needs, states, and goals. Supportive parents are respectful, accepting, and warm to their children.
Higher parental support has been positively linked to mental health and greater social competence. Supportive parents create an emotionally safe environment, where children are not afraid to express their feelings and needs.
Children of supportive parents are more compliant and better able to cope in stressful situations, and it is less difficult to take these children to the doctor for preventive care services.
Supportive parents respond to a child’s feelings or problems with validation and acceptance. They encourage their children to express their feelings and needs rather than be critical or ignore them.
The parent is an outlet for these feelings so they can be expressed safely and coped with rather than directed inward, hurting the child, or aggressively “acted out” toward another child or children.
The ability to deal with negative feelings and adverse effects constructively is fostered in childhood and very important to have for raising a healthy child.
“Parental structure” is an approach to parenting that involves making efforts to create a consistent, well-organized environment for children. Studies have linked higher levels of parental structure to improved competence, adjustment, and compliance of children.
Researchers believe that parents who apply structured parenting are better at keeping health care appointments and raising a healthy child. As they provide a safer environment, the risk of injury or illness is reduced as well.
What is parental control?
In a study by Kochanska, parental control is defined as behavior directing or guiding children’s behavior toward age-appropriate, acceptable standards without resorting to harsh or strict punishment.
There are two types of control: behavioral control and psychological control. The former refers to attempts on the parent’s part to manage or control the child’s behavior, while the latter refers to attempts that affect the child’s emotional and psychological development.
Behavioral control protects against exposure to health risk and injury during early childhood, especially for families living in unsafe home and neighborhood environments. This in turn proved crucial in raising a healthy child
How do the concepts of parental structure, control, and support translate into practice? Below, we’ve outlined some helpful approaches.
Proactivity is the opposite of reactivity, a trap many parents tend to fall into. Reactivity is a type of damage control behavior where parents react emotionally and often irrationally after a problem has occurred.
Proactivity refers to being able to recognize and making an effort to accommodate the child’s needs for acceptance, safety, success, belonging, limits, recognition, and power without letting your own needs as a parent remain unfulfilled.
To be proactive is to impose restrictions in advance and make sure the child is aware of them. This way, problems can be avoided or at least anticipated and planned for.
One of the best tips for raising safe and healthy kids is being a proactive parent.
Positive parents avoid punishment. They build on the child’s fortes and focus on what they are doing right, not where they’re slipping up. Positive parents are able to create reward-oriented situations where the child receives privileges and other benefits for cooperating.
They communicate using rewards instead of punitive measures and promises rather than threats and keep their sense of humor throughout their interactions with their children.
Have realistic expectations
It’s a constant struggle between expecting either too much or too little from your child. When your expectations are too high, you’re inevitably setting your child up for failure. When this happens, some parents will take the diametrically opposite route and settle for nothing.
This instills a sense of worthlessness in the child. Instead, offer your child opportunities to negotiate and choose tasks appropriate to their age. Give them some room to self-manage.
Look for middle ground
The ability to have your needs met without compromising another person’s interests takes time and effort to develop. It’s a fine line between empowerment of a child and disempowerment of a parent.
To develop this ability, offer your child options (within a reasonable limit) to encourage cooperation rather than passive obedience. We’re aiming for the middle ground between permissiveness and powering to ensure the family’s emotional health.
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