The schoolchild – Care and upbringing

The achievements of school-age children often fill their parents with a justified sense of quiet pride. Most parents also experience anger or disappointment with their children at times, although normally this is short-lived. Both a sense of perspective and a sense of humour are essential to harmonious family relationships; parents who go too far in trying to make their offspring conform unquestioningly to their wishes are all the more likely to be let down.

Parental influence

All parents have their own style of upbringing. The manner in which they do it will be largely predetermined , because the basis of all kinds of attitudes and concepts, such as authority, is already formed from their own youth. Conscious or unconscious memories of the authority of their own parents, brothers or sisters will prove to have retained their influence. This is sometimes clearly recognizable when an adult rebels against his or her own youth-memories by displaying an opposite attitude towards the child; for instance, by allowing the child more freedom as a reaction to the strictness and limited freedom the adult was granted in his or her own youth. However, this is no reason to try and go one better. Every family consists of different, individual members, all of whom will associate with each other in a different, individual manner.

Both parents have to develop a mutual course of behaviour in theirs view about the upbringing of their children. Yet, naturally, in many matters both parents will carry their own point of view. The child, then, may become confused when the parents demand two completely different patterns of behaviour. It is an unhealthy situation for both the child and the marriage when one parent is used against the other, in which case something should be done about the rearing of the parents rather than the child. Although it is essential for parents to be warm and caring, children whose parents are too indulgent or permissive tend to lack self-reliance and to become demanding and uncontrolled. Parents who are overprotective of their children are likely to cause problems for them, too. An intensely ‘close’ family may on the surface seem an ideal environment for children; but the family whose members are entirely emotionally dependent on one another and who have few outside contacts, may be difficult for the children to break away from when the time comes for them to make the adolescent bid for independence.

Neither does rigid, authoritarian discipline seem to work. Rules that are rigidly enforced and unilaterally decided upon, without consultation or bargaining with the children, probably do little to encourage self-discipline or self-esteem. Most research suggests that the best way to treat children is to be firm (authoritative), but not authoritarian. Parents need to have rules and to set limits, but it is also important to let children have some say in making decisions about their own life; they have rights and may make reasonable demands, all of which should be recognized. Other factors influence the way parents care for their children, and the children’s behaviour. Not the least of these is the child’s own personality. Children all have different temperaments. They respond in different ways to people and to new situations, and may evoke a variety of emotions in those who care for them. A child who is placid, outgoing and adaptable normally finds life easier, and is more manageable, than one who is excitable, unsociable or anxious. Parents do not have to be perfect. Children are extraordinarily adaptable, and it is within the family that they first have to come to terms with the fact that life is not always easy, or perfect, or fair. It is good for children to learn that an occasional loss of temper does not mean a loss of love, that arguments and differences are sometimes inevitable but can be resolved, and that disappointments are a part of life. Children are better off learning all these lessons within the context of a loving family, rather than having to cope with them for the first time in the outside world.

Feeding

During their pre-school years, and then again during adolescence, children grow rapidly. The middle years of childhood, however, are a time of slower physical development. So it is natural that food is not a major preoccupation for children of school age; indeed, their appetites often seem to dwindle away. School-children’s tastes are straightforward and unadventur-ous, and it is probably not worth spending too much time and effort trying to introduce them to a more innovative or exotic diet. Parents need not worry if their children much prefer snacks when they happen to be hungry rather than regular meals. Frequent, small meals are in fact rather better than large, infrequent ones. It is still a good idea to have at least a few family meals each week that everyone attends – for social reasons rather than nutritional ones. No particular food is ‘bad’ for children, but their diet should be well balanced, containing a variety of components, without too much or too little of any particular item. Their appetites can be allowed to govern the amount they eat. Parents should never try to force food upon them. It is a good idea to restrict their appetite for sugar, because this contains no essential nutrients, is a major factor in tooth decay, and will contribute to any weight problem a child may have. The best way to keep sugar intake down is probably not by forbidding sweets, which makes them infinitely more desirable, and children will anyway procure them from other sources if they are forbidden at home. Rather, parents ought to cut down on sugar-based squashes and soft drinks, and on cakes and biscuits, finishing a meal with cheese or fruit instead of pudding.

Hygiene

Besides the normal hygiene it is good to pay extra attention to the dental hygiene of children because on their own they will probably not feel the need nor see the importance of it at this age.

The first permanent teeth appear at six to seven years. If children learn good dental hygiene when they are young, there is every chance that the teeth may indeed prove to be permanent. Regular brushing after meals, the use of dental floss, and a reduction in sugar consumption all help children to keep their teeth and gums healthy. If the level of fluoride in an area’s drinking water is less than one part per million, dentists will probably recommend that children take fluoride tablets until their teeth stop forming at the age of 12. Family dentists may also suggest painting the teeth with a special fluoride solution, and using a fluoride toothpaste.