Become wiser

David Boxenhorn - How to raise healthy children


Love them

You should continually show your children that you love them. It doesn’t matter how over the top you are, you can’t love your children too much. But make sure that you don’t give your children something else instead of love. If you give them toys instead of love, they will become shallow and materialistic. If you give them food instead of love, they will become fat. If you give them sympathy instead of love, they will become self-pitying. Of course, you should give your children all of these things, in moderation. But not instead of love.

next email: 2024-05-13


Know them

One of the characteristics of children is that they are very transparent, and you should be able to see through them. It will be much easier to meet your child’s needs if you know what they are. Try not to let your own needs get in the way. Your child is another person, different from you, with different needs. Try not to confuse them. This is particularly hard if you have a strong emotional reaction to something in your past. If your emotions are too strong, they can easily overwhelm your ability to understand what’s going on in your child’s mind. If you have this kind of problem, do your best to understand it intellectually, and let your intellect lead you, not your emotions.

next email: 2024-05-18


Teach them about the world, on their level

One of the most important jobs of a parent is to teach their children about the world. It should not be approached on a theoretical level, but on a practical level. You should be giving your child useful information that will help them understand and deal with the things that they experience in their lives. For example, your child is likely to ask something like, “why do men wear pants and women wear skirts?” Now is not the time for you to talk about gender theory, or about how anyone should be able to wear whatever they want! Your child has made an astute observation about the world and asked a good question. A good answer to this question, that will lead into more sophisticated questions as you child gets older might be, “that’s the way we dress in this country, but in other countries they dress in other ways”.

next email: 2024-05-06


Provide empathy and perspective at the same time

It is important to feel empathy for your children. When your child is feeling pain or disappointment, it is important for you to feel it too. However, while you are empathizing, it is important to provide an adult perspective on things. It is important to communicate to your child that, while they are feeling pain, they will get over it, and in the grand scheme of things it is not only unimportant, but might even be beneficial. You can even tell them explicitly that the hardship they are now experiencing will benefit them later in life. This does not have to contradict empathizing with them in the moment. Doing this will give your child strength, and not doing it will teach them to catastrophize their problems.

next email: 2024-04-24


Establish a good mood in the family

Children will naturally absorb your mood, whatever it is. It is critically important to establish a good mood in your family, something that they want to come home to. Whatever mood you establish in your household will be a mood that follows them around for the rest of their lives. You want your children to have a good mood by default. When nothing in particular, either bad or good, is going on in your children’s lives, you want them to feel good. You can do this for them by having a good mood in your home. Conversely, if the mood in your family is bad, you children will run away as soon as they can, and the bad mood will follow them.

next email: 2024-04-28


Make them productive members of the family

The thing that gives meaning to your life is the feeling that you are accomplishing a higher purpose, that you are part of something larger than yourself. It is true for children no less than for adults. Take advantage of opportunities to include your children in the tasks of running a family. For example, you can let your child put the forks and spoons on the table even before they are old enough to be trusted with the knives and plates. Some families go to the extent of doing this even when it increases the workload of the parents. I don’t think it is necessary to go that far. Life provides enough real opportunities for well-raised children to help out.

next email: 2024-05-08


When they can do something for themselves, let them

Every child instinctively wants to grow up. For a child, growing up means doing things that adults and older children do for themselves. They are willing to work hard to accomplish these things, don’t frustrate their hard work! The point when they are barely able to do a new task is a golden opportunity to hand over to the child some of the work of being a parent. If you miss this moment, and keep doing something for your child that they can do for themselves, they will come to like it, and will object when you want to stop doing it. For example, young children can’t put socks on their feet. But they want to! Put them in charge of doing it as soon as they are able, and they will take up the challenge. Miss the opportunity, and you will be doing it forever.

next email: 2024-05-04


Make them into a team

Look for opportunities to treat your children as a team. Give them joint responsibilities. When they have a decision to make, let them make it jointly. For example, you can tell them that they can watch a movie, as long as they all agree. Make yourself the bad guy, that they have to cooperate to overcome. They will likely figure out a good compromise. If they don’t, help them do it, don’t do it for them. Make it an explicit value in your family that your children should cooperate and take care of each other. Sibling rivalry can be extremely painful, and a good relationship between siblings is a gift that they will cherish for their entire lives. No other relationship is like a sibling relationship. As they say, the husband-wife relationship starts too late, and the parent-child relationship ends too early. Sibling relationships are the only ones that you have for your entire life, make sure that your children have good ones.

next email: 2024-05-18


Model the behaviors that will succeed with their peers

An adult is very different from a child. The behaviors of an adult are different from the behaviors of a child. Nevertheless, when playing with a child, a parent should model the behaviors that will make their child popular among their peers. Foremost is a playful temperament. Do and say the kinds of things that make your child laugh, and your child will learn to do those things for the benefit of other children. Play rough with them. When your children get to school they will experience rough play, and will sometimes even get hurt. It is important that your children don’t misinterpret rough play as hostile. If they never get hurt while having fun, they will have trouble handling it when, inevitably, it comes. Worse, if they only experience physical pain when they are being punished, any pain will be felt as punishment. Don’t do this!

next email: 2024-04-24


Consequences not punishments

To the extent possible, let children experience the consequences of their actions, rather than punishing them. For example, if they are old enough to make their own school lunch (in which case they should be making it) but don’t get up early enough to do so, let them go to school without it. You don’t have to be the one that punishes them. They should feel that they are making their lunch so that they won’t be hungry, not to please you. Of course, if they have a problem getting up on time, you can help them solve the problem. This puts you on the side of the solution, not the problem. Similarly, if your child is not getting good grades you should make it clear that getting good grades is a goal that they should have, for their own good, and try to help them solve the problem. Don’t punish them for bad grades. If they correctly feel that you are the leader of their team, and you want them to get good grades, the bad grades will be punishment enough. Make “first X then Y” part of your vocabulary. For example, if your children want to go out and play, but they haven’t picked up their toys, don’t say “you can’t go out and play until you pick up the toys” - that makes picking up the toys a punishment. Instead say “first pick up the toys, then you can go out and play” - it makes not being able to go out and play a consequence of not picking up your toys.

next email: 2024-05-03


Never reward misbehavior, never punish good behavior

Children have seemingly infinite patience for misbehavior, so you have to establish early on that you can withstand it. You have to be stronger than your children. If they ever think that they can get what they want by misbehaving, you have lost a battle that you might never recover from. The opposite is also true. You should make sure that you don’t punish good behavior. Think about what you are really doing. It is not always obvious to parents what feels like reward and punishment to a child. For example, praising good behavior might seem like a punishment if you do it in a way that communicates that good behavior is unusual. It helps to be completely transparent about your policy. You can tell them explicitly that they can’t get what they want by whining, or that you give positive feedback to positive behavior, and negative feedback to negative behavior. They will appreciate it.

next email: 2024-05-15


Never punish them for things that are beyond their control

Don’t ever forget that children are children. There are many things that they can’t do, and it is wrong to punish them for not doing those things. For example, you would never expect a baby to be toilet trained, and should not punish or even express dismay when you have to change their diaper. When something is at the borderline of their control, for example when they reach the age when they are being toilet trained, you can express dismay, but your attitude should be that you are there to help them, not to punish them. Only punish your children when they do something wrong that definitely is within their control, and even then don’t punish them if they have already felt the negative consequences of their actions.

next email: 2024-05-05


Tell them the exact words to use

It happens quite often that a child will not tell you something important because they don’t know how. Maybe they’re embarrassed. Maybe they don’t know the right words to describe what happened. Maybe they don’t even understand what happened. When you find out, and ask them “why didn’t you tell me” they don’t know what to say. When this happens, you should tell them explicitly what to say. Exactly. Say, “if this happens again, just say...” and give them the exact words that they should use. They might not remember the exact words, but that’s not the point. The point is to show them that it’s possible, and they will remember your exact words, approximately, much better than they’ll remember any general suggestions that you give them.

next email: 2024-04-29


Give them as much responsibility as they can handle

Eventually, your children will grow up and have to handle all the responsibilities of adults. The worst thing that you can do for your children is baby them, and protect them, until the age of 18, then throw them out and expect them to be adults. Just as you should let your children do things for themselves as soon as they are able to do them, you should give them responsibilities as soon as they are able to take them. But pay attention! Be there to guide them. If you guide them with a gentle hand, they will come to you on their own volition to seek advice. When they come to you, try very hard not to punish them for doing so by taking away their responsibility. Doing this will teach them not to come to you with their problems. If you give your children responsibility as soon as they can handle it, you will give them many years to practice responsibility under your guidance, before they have to be responsible on their own. In the worst case you can step in and take back responsibility, if absolutely necessary.

next email: 2024-05-06


Embody your values, but also make them explicit

Say please and thank you to you children, and they will naturally say please and thank you too. You won’t have to teach them, it will come to them naturally. The same is true for speaking politely, listening politely, working hard, and every value that you have. But it is not necessarily enough to just embody your values. As your children progress though the stages of maturity they will naturally question your values, especially if your values are not reinforced by their peers. You should give your children the answers to these questions before they are asked. Young children will accept what you say as true without question, but they won’t when they get older. Your answers should be age-appropriate, and grow in complexity as they get older. By the time your children are teenagers, you should give them adult answers.

next email: 2024-04-29


Don’t pretend that you’re perfect

You don’t have to pretend that you’re perfect. Young children will believe that you’re perfect no matter what you tell them, but eventually they will come to realize that you’re not, no matter what you do. Instead of pretending to be perfect, let them know that you are a fallible human being that tries to do the right thing. Let them know that some things are difficult for you, but you do them anyway. Let them know that sometimes you face dilemmas and don’t know what to do. Let them know that you are sometimes caught in a situation where there are no right answers, only wrong answers, and you do your best to pick the least wrong way forward. Let them know that you often fail, but pick yourself up and keep going. This is your lot in life, and it will be their lot too. Teach them how to be fallible with dignity, and you will teach them one of the most valuable life skills.

next email: 2024-04-27


Don’t pretend to be their equal

Children don’t want you to be their equal. They want you to be their parent. They want you to be a person that they can defer to. It makes them feel safe. Take this mantle upon yourself with love and good humor, with honesty and humility, and they will gladly defer to you. They might protest, but as a last resort you can remind them that you are the parent, and they are the child. You can say (with humor), “Do the parents tell the children what to do or do the children tell the parents what to do?” and they will agree with you (though they might humorously say the opposite). If they defy you and suffer as a consequence, you can say “that’s why you should listen to your parents!”. If said with good humor, they will feel reassured.

next email: 2024-05-01


Choose their peer group

Perhaps the most important thing you can do for your children is choose their peers. After a certain age, your children will be more receptive to the values of their peers than they are to yours. They will unconsciously absorb the beliefs, habits, and thought patterns of their peers. If you choose good peers for your children, raising them will be relatively effortless. The most important peers are usually the ones that they go to school with, though other sources, for example religious and social groups might be of equal or greater importance, under the right conditions. A good peer group is one with low social competition and high life skills. A good peer group will be a lifelong asset for your children.

next email: 2024-05-15


Some useful lines:

You can’t get what you want by whining.

I give positive feedback to positive behavior and negative feedback to negative behavior.

First X, then Y.

Do the parents tell the children what to do or do the children tell the parents what to do?

That’s why you should listen to your parents! (Said with a smile.)

Stay together and take care of each other. (When leaving your children alone.)

next email: 2024-05-02

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