Children are like seedlings. When parents raise seedlings in rich soil and provide them with the right amount of water and sunshine, remember to fertilize regularly and give them a big enough pot, seedlings grow deep roots and sturdy stocks. When it is time to transplant these seedlings out into the world, they will be not only hardy enough to survive, but vigorous enough to bloom and grow.
Research on child development indicates that when children are given what they need to build a solid foundation in the early years, they are likely to have more resilience to deal with life’s curveballs later on.
Here are the key ingredients to cultivating an environment where family can thrive:
1. Good Soil: A sense of security
The most critical ingredients a child needs to develop and thrive on are security and stability. Ideally, families are a safe haven for children where they feel secure, accepted and are guided as they grow and develop into competent individuals, socially and emotionally. A child can feel the sense of security nurturing parents provide, from the very first days of his or her life.
Children possess an amazing ability to learn, experience, and feel. When they are nurtured with warmth, compassion, and consistency, they can develop at their own pace. Children, at all stages of development, always need to know that there is a place of security where they can touch base, find protection and know that they are valued.
2. Water: Healthy communication
Healthy communication is a key characteristic of strong, healthy families. Research identifies communication as an essential building block of strong parent-child and sibling relationships. Communication within the family is extremely important because it enables members to express their needs, wants, and concerns to each other.
Healthy communication entails being open and honest and listening actively to the other person, which in turn creates an atmosphere that allows family members to express their differences as well as love and support for one another. It is through having open lines of communication that family members are able to resolve the unavoidable problems that arise in all families.
Conversely, poor communication are usually found in dysfunctional family relationships and these can lead to numerous family problems, including excessive family conflict, ineffective problem solving, lack of intimacy, and weak emotional bonding.
3. Sunshine: Mutual respect and trust
Trust and respect are fundamental to the growth and maintenance of family relationships. Unconditional love, honesty, reliability, and a concern for the needs of others are vital in order for people to believe that the other members of their family are committed to their care and well-being. If children know that they can rely on their parents for support and love, they will be more likely to grow into trusting, caring individuals themselves.
Respect is about showing esteem by communicating honour and consideration for each other’s needs, thoughts, and feelings. A trusting and respectful home considers others’ boundaries, encourages family members to take responsibility for their own attitudes and behaviours, and sees each individual as uniquely formed and having a specific purpose in life.
4. Fertiliser: Values learning and small acts of love
Values determine the way people live. Whether parents are paying attention to this or not, their child’s value system is being shaped every day by: parents themselves, peers, teachers, celebrities and the media. Values are inculcated in the home environment more through observation than formal teaching. Generally, through observing and emulating parents’ behaviours, children shape their sense of right from wrong, their behaviours, their motivations, and how they choose to spend their money and time.
Little actions speak volumes for how people love. Parents who do things that require effort, planning and some sacrifice convey to their children that they are putting them first. Little love—small but frequent acts of kindness, consideration, and compassion— is what sustains the parent-child relationship in the long-term.
5. A Big Enough Pot: Space to make mistakes and grow from them
Nurturing requires a sensibility for the degree of “hands-on” involvement required at the various stages of a child’s development.
Children need plenty of time and space to explore the world on their own terms; they need to make mistakes in order to learn and live life in order to know what life is. Children need to figure out who they and giving them space means letting things happen rather than immediately jumping in to solve their problems or making them do things the way you want.
It also means accepting that the richest kinds of learning and experience often cannot be measured or neatly packaged. A child is not a product but a person with his or her own character, aptitudes and flaws. In that sense, parenting is more about discovering and celebrating who children are rather than striving to turn them into what parents want or think they should be.
Children, like seedlings, need an appropriate supply of sun, air, water, soil and fertiliser to realize their full potential. Parents on the other hand are their patient gardeners, lovingly watchful, intervening when necessary in order to provide for the most nurturing physical and emotional environment possible for optimum growth.
- Becker, J. 15 things children can (and should) value more than possessions. Becoming Minimalist.
- Diehl, D., Wente, J. & Forthun, L. F. (2011). Strengthening families: nurturing and attachment. University of Florida IFAS Extension.
- Family GPS. Develop your family’s growth, potential and strengths.
- Honoré, C. (2008). Giving children space.
- Leo, P. (1989). Creating more nurturing environments for children. The Natural Child Project.
- Peterson, R. & Green, S. Families first-keys to successful family functioning: communication. Virginia Cooperation Extension.
 Researchers call this “compassionate love” – recognizing another person’s needs and concerns and putting them ahead of your own. Harry T. Reis, a University of Rochester professor of psychology says that “It’s a way of communicating to the other person that you understand what they are all about and that you appreciate and care for them.”
About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.