My husband and I were talking about how it's ironic that neither of us had been taught much about parenting and so we had to learn as we went and made lots of mistakes that could have been avoided, but now that we're older and wiser we don't have any children to use that knowledge on (not currently anyways.... looking forward to grandchildren someday!)
This got me thinking about the top ten things I wish I had known to do or not to do when my daughter was younger so I decided to write them down here, just in case my daughter or anyone else ever wants some advice on raising their children. A lot of this advice comes from my own experiences, some is what I've learned from other successful parents, and some is what I've learned as I've gotten older and have had opportunities to teach other people's children.
1) Young children are like sponges. They absorb everything around them. They come to us with no knowledge of anything and are eager to learn about everything. The number one thing I will tell my own daughter when she has children is to teach, teach, teach! It's never too early, and during those first 5 years or so they will willingly soak up just about anything and everything you try to teach them, as long as its within their ability.
2) Young children are a lot smarter and capable of learning than we often give them credit for. The only time they may not seem as intelligent to us is when we are judging them by adult standards. If you aren't familiar with the different life stages and their accompanying skills, abilities, and traits- educate yourself and then adjust your teaching to what your child's needs are at their particular age.
3) Children learn more about how to live their life from their parents than they will from school, church, peers, or anywhere else. If you're doing things that you don't want your child to learn, stop doing them. And if you want them to learn to do things that you don't know- learn how to do them yourself so you can show them, or find resources to help them learn it. Learn about the difference between healthy and dysfunctional relationships and work to model healthy ones for them.
4) Think ahead. Don't just think of your child at the age they currently are, but think about them as an adult. What do you want them to be like? What do they need to know to be successful in life? Teach them and raise them with the "end" in mind- imagine them as the self-sufficient, intelligent, respectful, kind, loving person you want them to be and then teach them to become that. If you don't know how to teach that, do what you can to educate yourself and ask for help from others who have already "been there and done that" successfully.
5) Be there for your child. Not just physically in the same room or house, but actually WITH your child. Spend time playing, teaching, talking, listening, and bonding. Don't just sit on your butt- be an active part of your child's life! Turn off the TV (and other electronics)!! The things your child can and will learn by spending time away from a screen is invaluable. Read books, explore nature, take the time to notice and teach about the world around you. Remember, it's all new to them!
6) Don't assume that school is going to be enough of an education for your child. They aren't going to learn 1/2 of the things they'll need to know from school. Also don't assume that "educational" children's programs are going to contribute much to their learning. Too much screen time is detrimental regardless of what it is.
7) Don't just want a better material life for your child. Many want their child to have things they didn't have, but in trying to provide the material things they lose sight of the fact that what we should want most for our children is for them to be more happy, more content, more socially capable, more hardworking, more loving, more intelligent, and more kind. Those are the "mores" that we should be aiming for, not just more stuff, more electronics, more toys, more fashionable clothes, or more money.
8) Put your child's needs before your own wants. I'm not saying to neglect yourself or make your child the center of the universe, but a child's needs (not wants) should come first. They need love, food, clothing, shelter, learning, and attention. They, and you, can do without electronics, TV, the latest toys and gadgets, nicer clothes, and a bigger house, but they aren't going to thrive if their basic needs aren't met. Be mature and learn to sacrifice for the sake of your child.
9) In contrast to #8...don't make your child the center of your entire universe and don't sacrifice everything you are and have to satisfy their every whim. A child needs to know that they're loved and that they're special, but they don't need to think that they are more important than everyone else, or that their wants should be fulfilled every time. They should know and respect the word "no."
10) Be consistent with discipline. As much as possible, work with your spouse (or other parent if not married) and come up with the rules that are most important to both of you, what the punishments should be if the rules are not obeyed, and agree to back each other up. Children can't play one parent against the other if the parents present a united front. Often one parent will be more authoritative and the other more lenient and that can work to balance things out, but it can also create disagreements as to how to and when to discipline the child- try to work those differences out BEFORE the situation arises, or take the time to counsel with each other before deciding on a punishment. Be consistent and follow through!
I know I said I'd list the top ten, but the absolute number one thing that goes with and affects all of these others is to teach your child the gospel. Teach them about Heavenly Father and His infinite love for them. Teach them about Jesus Christ and all that He has done for them, and how His atonement can help them in their daily life. Teach them about the commandments, and how obedience isn't burdensome but actually gives us greater freedom. Teach them to repent and how to forgive. Teach them to love others. Teach them to sacrifice, to serve, and to give generously and willingly. Teach them to have an eternal perspective and to think about how their choices affect their lives.
The gospel gives a child the solid foundation they need to learn everything else they'll need to know to have a better life than we've had. They'll have more love, more peace, more wisdom, and more joy in their life. Of all the things I think I did right with my daughter, I think that this is the one that's made all the difference, and has helped to make up for many of our other educational and parenting shortcomings. It's what I've seen with many other parents, also. The children who have the most solid foundation in the gospel do all right, regardless of the parent's ignorance or inexperience in any other subjects.