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You learn a lot of things when you start a family – some of those things are good, some are bad and some are just downright surprising.
Who knew you could function on two hours sleep or leave the house without caring that you’re covered in baby vomit?
Perhaps the most unexpected thing about becoming a parent is overwhelming sense of worry you suddenly experience. As it’s now your sole job to keep this tiny little human alive you become concerned about every action you take and how it will impact their immediate safety as well as their future.
Of course, there is no right way to do the whole parenting thing and no real way of knowing whether you’re actually doing a good job. That said, there are some very simple actions you can take to ensure your child has the best chance for a more a safer and more positive future.
- Phone skills
Although most children can use phones and technology more intuitively than we can as adults, it’s important to ensure that they can use it practically, as well as for climbing up the Candy Crush levels.
Show your child how to use a phone to dial a number, as this is vital in an emergency. Make sure they know how to call the emergency services and encourage them to memorise your own phone number, or keep it somewhere visible, should they ever need to contact you.
- Internet usage
There’s no denying that smart phones and tablets are an absolute godsend when it comes to pacifying a child. And although we know we shouldn’t parent with screens, sometimes it is essential to stop the screaming for even just a minute.
But, technology does have its dangers and we should be very wary of how our children use the internet and how often.
The Net Children Go Mobile Report in 2015 found that 72% of Irish children use the internet daily. 40% of under 11-12 year olds have a social networking profile and, shockingly, 21% of 9-16 year olds in Ireland have reported seeing sexual images online.
Although there are apps that can help you monitor your child’s internet usage, not every parent may want to do this. If that kind of restriction isn’t your cup of tea, try to add value to any time spent online. Introduce your children to fun, educational websites or YouTube videos and spend this time together to make it more special and productive.
Read more tips for keeping your child safe online on the NSPCC website.
- Give them independence
Parents, and especially first time parents, can have a really hard time leaving their children alone. But giving children a sense of independence is important for their personal development. Encouraging them to spend time alone minimises the risk of developing co-dependency issues and gives them a chance to explore their likes and dislikes in more depth.
When it’s appropriate, let them do things independently. Simple things like paying for sweets in the shop can make a significant impact on their self-confidence.
As hard as it may be, have confidence in their abilities and try not to control tasks and reward any independent decision making.
- Encourage hobbies
The importance of having a hobby is something we learn and come to appreciate more as we get older and don’t have time for anything other than working or looking after kids.
Not pursuing hobbies and interests fully as a child is a common regret in adulthood. Many of us wish we’d learned that other language, taken guitar lessons or joined the soccer team when we had the chance.
Having a hobby or interest can be hugely beneficial to a child’s development. Not only do hobbies help stimulate creativity and teach the value of determination, but they’re great for socialising and may help children discover pathways for future careers.
Whether your child has an interest in going outside and playing tennis all day, or sitting in their room drawing pictures, nurture and encourage their interests.
- The value of work
Due to Ireland’s economic crisis, the OECD Better Life Report 2015 found that 21% of Irish children live in a workless household with no employed adults. For that reason, many parents can find it difficult to show their kids the value of work.
But leaving the house every morning at 8am and returning home at 6pm isn’t the only way of showing your children that work is a key part of life. By doing tasks with them and setting simple chores like doing the dishes or cleaning their bedrooms, you help them to understand that working is important. The key is to make it as routine as cleaning their teeth or eating their dinner. Be sure to reward their effort and be appreciative even if they don’t do things perfectly.
- Money skills
Being able to manage money is a valuable skill and, as it’s not something that’s taught in most schools, it’s down to parents to show their children how to budget and save.
Beth Kobliner, author of the bestselling book Get a Financial Life, claims that children as young as three can grasp the concept of saving and spending. When your children get to the age of demanding pocket money, sit them down, negotiate an allowance and provide guidance on how to best use that money.
If you’re giving them €10 a week, encourage them to put €2 into a piggy bank or an account. Set a savings goal, such as to buy a certain video game. You might even want to strike a deal with them and promise to match their savings if they are consistent over a certain time frame.
- Take out life insurance
Insurance. You have it for your car. You might have it for your phone and if you have a pet, you probably have insurance for them too. But, for some reason, as adults we’re much less likely to have life insurance.
Perhaps it’s because we don’t like the thought of preparing for the worst. But, life insurance is incredibly important. Having life insurance will protect your children and family should anything happen to you. It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as sudden death, but if you get in an accident, having life insurance will mean that your family doesn’t go without.
Life insurance plans can cost as little as €15 per month. Find out more about Irish Life’s life insurance for parents
- Make exercise routine
The average Irish person spends a staggering six hours and 36 minutes sitting every single day, according to the 2016 Healthy Ireland Survey. This can be incredibly detrimental to health, as recent research has found that sitting for long periods of time could be as harmful as smoking.
To prevent our children from following in our footsteps, we should encourage them to be as active as possible by making exercise a part of their daily routine.
This doesn’t mean sending them out in the evening to run laps of the garden. Perhaps just go for a fifteen minute walk every day – even if it’s to school and back.
Getting them outdoors and moving often will help them see exercise as just another part of life. Exercise will then become a habit into adulthood, making your children less likely to suffer from cardiovascular or weight related illnesses.
- Getting to know their surroundings
We know it’s an awful thought but, what would happen if your child got lost on the way home from the shop? Do they know their neighbourhood, town or city well enough to find their way back?
It’s important to help your children develop a good sense of direction. It will make them safer and help them feel more self-sufficient. This is something which can be taught early on. Take your children on short walks and let them lead the way home. Not only will this be a fun and rewarding activity, particularly for young children, but it’s a valuable lesson which will stick with them.
- Reward effort, not success
When we grow up, we discover that life doesn’t always run smoothly. As humans, we tend to make a few mistakes here and there but we come to understand that there is real value in the lessons we learn from these.
Knowing this early on can be useful. Children who don’t fear failure are much more likely to try new things and have a wider variety of experiences throughout their lives.
To help instil this notion in your children, try to move away from rewarding success and instead, reward the effort. When they get an A in their spelling test, don’t praise the grade, praise them for all the work they put in to achieve that grade.
On the flip side, when something goes wrong, don’t berate your child or even let them feel sorry for themselves. Praise them for giving it a go and discuss all the new things they learned from simply just trying.
What advice would you give to other parents who want to give their kids the best future? Let us know on social media, by using the hashtag #MyIrishLife.