Great Kids, Helping Your Baby and Child Develop the 10 Essential Qualities for a Healthy, Happy Life by Stanley I. Greenspan
The way you raise your child from infancy through adolescence determines his or her success in interacting with people and dealing with life situations. Every parent wants confident, sensitive, patient and morally sound children. But human beings are not born with these qualities; parents and caregivers are responsible for teaching children about them. Dr. Stanley Greenspan, an authority on infant and child development, describes each of 10 essential traits he believes children need, and advises parents how to instill and encourage them in their kids. His contentions are backed up by 30 years of practical experience. getAbstract recommends this book to parents who are looking for a guide through the complexities of child rearing.
- Children are not born with essential traits; they learn them.
- Empathy and “moral integrity” are the most important traits.
- Parents are responsible for instilling these traits in their children.
- Love alone is not enough to raise emotionally healthy children.
- Every child has the potential for greatness.
- Intelligence and talent do not guarantee the development of a well-adjusted individual.
- Moral people behave according to an internal set of rules.
- Parents can damage children by not permitting them to express emotions.
- Parents must walk a fine line between offering too little and too much praise.
- Building youngsters’ self-esteem requires input from parents at every stage of their development.
Great kids Book Summary
The Stages of Life
Most parents want two things for their children: They hope their lives will be “happy and fulfilled,” with families of their own, and socially useful. The intellectual and emotional traits that children need in order to do this are not inherent, though; parents must teach them at each of these developmental stages:
- “Awakening to the world” – Infants observe the world around them and experience it through each of their senses.
- “Engaging and relating” – Starting with their first smile, children interact with others.
- “Communicating” – They respond verbally to others.
- “Problem solving and a sense of self” – Assimilating the information they gather from the people and things around them, children learn to act upon the world and to differentiate themselves from it.
- “Language and ideas” – These enhance communication and understanding.
- “Logic” – Making connections between ideas and emotions reveals the structures and patterns behind the behavior of people and things.
“The ability to engage with another person is the bedrock skill for the development of a great kid.”
Teaching your children the following 10 fundamental traits will give them a solid foundation for becoming “great kids” and eventually great adults, who reach out to others and act according to their inherent values.
Interacting with others is a basic human need, right up there with food. Babies recognize almost immediately that smiles, kisses and hugs feel good. As they grow, they learn that their gestures and behaviors connect them with others. Use “floortime” to help children learn engagement. Get down on their level, literally in the case of toddlers, and figuratively as children grow older. Follow their lead and encourage their interests. Shy children may have trouble making friends. Encourage them to include others in activities they enjoy. Set up playdates if necessary.
“The lunchroom and playground drama of grade school is so consuming for children that it’s remarkable they get any work done.”
Adolescents may feel alienated from you as a parent. Ironically, some of your best “floortime” moments may take place over the phone or in the car – situations in which you can’t look each other in the face. The familiar sound of your voice may be enough to show your support.
Certain emotions, such as rage or fear, are inbuilt. No one needs to teach them to you. Empathy is different. You learn it only through experience. Infants learn empathy as parents respond to them by fulfilling their needs. Sometimes, as when a baby is sad or angry, parents can help by mirroring the emotion. Rocking a crying baby and crooning, “I know, I know” can make the baby feel safe and calm.
“Without disappointment and sadness, a child can’t learn to have true joy or a true sense of self.”
Empathy emerges as babies learn to read their caregivers’ gestures and facial expressions, and to respond to them with gestures, expressions and sounds of their own. To do so, they must first learn to differentiate Mom’s emotions, for example, from their own. The next step is “shared social problem solving” – reaching out to parents and then to peers to get what they need, as well as for fun. From as early as eight months old, babies can engage in “circles of communication” – seeing a gesture from someone else, responding to it, and so on. Infants usually go about four rounds, but by the time children are 18 months old, they may go through as many as 50 or 60 cycles during play.
“Curiosity is such a reliable force in a small child that a parent’s job is mainly to keep her safe, without dampening that inquisitive spirit.”
Help children learn empathy by showing them your feelings and responding to theirs. Encourage them to express all kinds of feelings, not only positive ones. Show them that feelings can be complex: You can feel happy about moving to a new house, for example, yet at the same time miss your old neighborhood. Encourage children to anticipate disappointment – for example, by asking, “How will you feel if your team doesn’t win tomorrow?” – and to put themselves into the shoes of others – for example, by saying, “How do you think Meaghan feels when you snicker at her?” As children get older, discuss books and films such as To Kill a Mockingbird or Oliver Twist, and news reports on wars or natural disasters, to help them deepen their sympathies.
Children are naturally curious. Indeed, this is such a “reliable force” that your main responsibility as a parent is to make sure they stay safe as they conduct their investigations. Don’t supply answers. Instead, ask children questions that will help them solve problems themselves. For example, if the Lego tower keeps collapsing, ask, “How else can we build it?” Encourage them to look for several possible answers to one question. Ask their opinions: “Who was your favorite character in that book?” Acknowledge “gray areas”: Some answers involve layers of contradiction.
“A reflective child with an internal standard is able to explore her own thoughts, behavior, and judgment.”
Facilitate your child’s natural curiosity by providing learning opportunities. Introduce toddlers to objects of various sizes, shapes, colors and textures. Go on nature walks. As children grow older, their thinking becomes more sophisticated and reflective. Thoughtful children may be less inclined to act impulsively.
For the first few months of their lives, babies are observers. Soon, though, they begin to move their mouths and make sounds. They imitate what you do, and they learn that their sounds can make things happen. By the time they are six to eight months old, they are able to communicate nonverbally. To produce verbal children, respond to their signals and babbling. This encourages children both to express themselves and to listen.
“Life is a process of continuing to explore new realms and mastering additional levels of thinking at all ages.”
Once children can talk and express their emotions and ideas, they begin “thinking of an internal sense of self.” They can judge their words and actions against their personal values and standards.
Raising communicative children boils down to one thing: engaging them often in long conversations. When you play with them, let them take the lead, but draw out the game by doing the unexpected. When your child plays the “mommy” and offers you “soup,” instead of saying, “Thank you,” say, “No, no, no! I want a cookie!” Ask “why” questions, and challenge them to tell stories from different points of view. As they get older, ask their opinions about everything from family dynamics to school to current events.
Children must learn not only to express their full range of emotions but also to handle them appropriately – although, of course, no one is perfectly calm and balanced all the time. Children practice modulating their emotions through play: banging toy cars together for a scary crash, then healing “injured” dolls at a “hospital.” As they get older, they learn to figure out the sources of their feelings – “Mary ignored me on the playground, so I feel angry, and sad, too” – and even to look for explanations – “Maybe she didn’t see me.”
“Simply being able to express a range of feelings isn’t enough. Children need to master the skill of returning to a sense of equilibrium.”
To encourage emotional range and balance, don’t categorize some emotions as “good” and others as “bad.” Insisting that children always be happy and calm may make them passive and repressed. Instead, learn to work with assertiveness, sadness or anger. If a child is overexcited, calm him or her down by staying calm yourself.
“A sense of engagement, warmth, and delight in others is the foundation for self-esteem.”
Understanding your child’s personality type will help guide your interactions. Sensitive children may not enjoy roughhousing or loud noises. Active children may have difficulty settling down.
Children don’t develop self-esteem because they hear constant praise. In fact, praise that’s not based on genuine accomplishment seems empty and meaningless, and promotes insecurity. Instead, children learn self-esteem when they face and overcome obstacles – with your support. Don’t do their homework for them; the A grade will mean more if they achieve it themselves. Acknowledge children’s accomplishments and challenge them to do even better next time.
“The internal values someone has created, and a sense of how well he or she is progressing toward meeting those values, is not crushed by minor setbacks or even by major tragedies.”
Self-esteem involves many aspects of maturation: body awareness and acceptance, curiosity and engagement with the world, and a realistic assessment of personal strengths and weaknesses. Self-image is important, especially when it comes to trying something new: You must be able to picture yourself in the unfamiliar situation.
“Emotions organize a child’s senses and actions.”
Adolescents feel particularly vulnerable as they mature. Although you can’t take away the hurt when your children’s peers tease them, when they don’t make the team or when they get a bad grade, you can redirect their attention to their strengths and to activities they do well and enjoy.
Self-discipline is the ability to follow through, ignoring distractions and finishing what you started. Parents often want to punish children who are inattentive, distractible or impulsive – but “tough love” may exacerbate the problems by teaching them that discipline comes from the outside rather than from within.
“Adults who have had their creativity encouraged during their developmental stages find it easier to develop new levels of reflective thinking and empathy that are necessary to get along with a spouse and to raise children.”
Encouraging your children’s natural drives helps them learn how to follow through. Help them understand the consequences of not completing a task by setting limits. Eventually, they will develop an “inner voice” that keeps them going. Adolescents rebel against all sorts of outside boundaries, but they do this to find their own limits and “establish themselves as themselves.”
“Creativity and Vision”
For children, play is “work, a critical developmental task.” Through play, they reflect on their experiences and experiment with new ideas. Creative people “search for the unusual,” enjoy new ideas and experiences, and are not afraid to make mistakes. Creativity involves the ability both to “generate” new ideas, and to “reflect” and analyze them.
“We reach children by joining them in their world and then pulling them into ours.”
Encourage experimentation. Instead of teaching by rote, ask children to come up with ideas and solutions from their reading and experiences. Help them express their fantasies and emotions through the arts.
Logical thinking is about collecting information, making connections between causes and effects, and recognizing patterns. It begins in the crib when a baby realizes that squeezing a toy results in a sound or that touching Daddy’s face makes him smile.
To learn logic, children must be able to distinguish fantasy from reality. Help by participating in their games: Your voice represents the outside world. As children get older, they can engage in “differentiated thinking,” the ability to weigh the positive and negative, and assign values to each. Promote differentiated thinking by asking children not just to express their opinions but also to back them up.
Integrity and empathy are perhaps the most essential qualities of great kids. Almost everyone knows what is right and wrong. But moral individuals care about the distinction between the two. Students with strong morals wouldn’t cheat on a test because it would compromise their integrity; they care less about the penalties the outside world imposes.
Toddlers learn about being “mean” or “nice” through their interactions with adults, through imaginative play and on the playground. Set an example with good behavior, and discuss limits and punishments for bad behavior. Without love and respect, children can’t internalize values, and behaving well becomes only a means to an end: If they do the things adults demand, they will receive rewards. If they don’t, they’ll be punished. And when no one else is around to see, they do what they want.
To raise moral children, set a good example and reasonable limits. Allow your child to be upset about being punished for misbehaving. When he or she has calmed down, engage your child in a discussion about the incident so he or she can understand all sides. Tell children about your own moral dilemmas and how your values or faith helped you solve them.
About the Author
Stanley I. Greenspan is a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at George Washington University Medical School and the author or editor of more than 40 books.