Parenthood is a long and sometimes arduous journey that presents new challenges at every stage of a child's development. And while learning to handle all the hurdles your child will face is virtually impossible, there's no reason why you can't identify the milestones that are really important. Whether it's encouraging your toddler to share his toys, helping your ten-year-old make healthy diet choices or educating your teenager about saving money, here are some of key lessons your child needs to learn in his main developmental stages.
1. To listen
Toddlers aren't the greatest listeners but there are a few tricks you can use to help them pay attention. Firstly, get down to their level by squatting down or picking them up so that you can look them in the eye. Be clear, concise and to the point - a toddler won't respond to a long-winded explanation about why they should do something - and reinforce your message by giving other signals to make your point. For example, if it's bedtime, coincide that message with dimming the lights or getting their favourite book out.
2. To share
The best way to stop your child from screaming ‘mine' every time another child plays with one of their toys is to teach by example. Offer them a slice of an apple you are eating, or a chance to help you with a task such as baking a cake or putting the washing out and use the word ‘share' when you invite them to join you. When your child offers to share something with you or another child, praise him so that he associates sharing with something positive. But remember, they do not have to share everything. So if they are particularly attached to a certain toy, encourage them to put it away in a safe place before their playmate comes around, to avoid any conflict.
3. To think about others
It's never too early to encourage your child to think about others, says Dubai-based psychologist Devika Singh. "Real-world examples can be used to provide teachable moments for children, by relating a child's personal experience with another child's experience," she explains. "For example, say ‘remember when your favourite toy train broke and you were sad, that's how Josh feels right now after he lost his tennis set.'"
4. To say please and thank you
There's no reason why ‘please' and ‘thank you' shouldn't be among the first words your child learns to say. Use these words when they are babies and when they start to mimic what you say. Encourage them to say please every time they ask for something. By keeping the instructions light and simple, and repeating it often, you will give them an early introduction to good manners - a social grace that will serve them their entire life.
5. To swim
While expecting a two or three-year-old to be able to swim may be a tall order, they are at the stage where they have enough coordination to start learning. Take simple steps such as teaching them how to climb correctly out of a swimming pool, blowing bubbles or putting their face in the water and encouraging them to kick. According to Dr Zainab Malik, specialist paediatrician at City Hospital in Dubai, children as young as four months old can be exposed to water, as long as their vaccinations are complete. There are lots of classes tailored to mothers and toddlers. "Swimming is a great form of exercise, and perfect for the summer," says Dr Malik.
6. Table manners
One of the best ways to instil good table etiquette in your child is to sit down at the table for a meal with them as often as you can, to set the right example. Practise skills such as passing food by asking for something rather than reaching across the table, eating with the mouth closed, using utensils correctly and sitting straight and remaining seated until everyone has finished their meal.
7. To read
While reading ability differs from child to child, it's not just a school's responsibility to teach your child to read. Read books with your child from the moment they can sit up, and once they start school, help them along by learning the methods their teacher is using. Then set aside a period of time every day after school, when they are not tired, hungry or upset, or you are not in a hurry, to read their school books with them. Finally, buy ability-appropriate books not on the curriculum so that they do not associate reading only with school.
8. To express themselves
By the age of five, children can be encouraged to describe events and feelings in more detail than a toddler can. According to Devika, this helps them communicate beyond simple requests. "To develop these expressive abilities, use words to help them describe events and how they feel in as much detail as possible. Try to build your child's feelings vocabulary by using feeling words frequently in your conversations with your child," she says.
9. To tie their shoelaces
While most children's shoes come with Velcro, it's also important to buy a pair of lace-up shoes to train your child with, because it lays the groundwork for knot and bow tying. To ensure they do not get anxious about learning this new skill, make sure they know left from right and choose one method of lacing and stick to it. Finally, sit next to your child and not across from them - so they can copy your movements rather than try to mirror them.
10. To be honest
All kids lie, but sometimes they are just blurring the line between truth and fantasy. While that is fine in some instances, telling an outright lie isn't. Remember one of the key reasons a child refuses to admit a wrongdoing is when they wish someone else had done it, so ask them: ‘Do you wish that had happened?' and when they say yes, give them a cuddle to acknowledge they have told the truth. Then encourage them to put that wrongdoing right by apologising if they have hurt another child or helping you to clean up a mess they have made. If the lie continues, look them in the eye to try to read their body language, or, if there are other people in the room, step outside so you can talk on a one-to-one basis.
11. To stand up for themselves
At this age, children can be encouraged to develop assertiveness skills to be able to set physical and emotional boundaries with their peers and other adults if necessary. "To teach children to say no, and coach them on effective ways to do this, be as specific as possible and role-play sample situations to help them retrieve the skills when they need them most," says Devika.
12. To keep fit
With 12 per cent of children in the UAE overweight and 22 per cent at risk of becoming obese, it's vital to ensure your child is exercising regularly. But rather than enrolling them on an exercise boot-camp, choose exercise such as swimming, cycling or playing football that you can do together as a family. "If they are active at a young age and see parents doing the same thing, they will learn to include exercise into their routine throughout their life," says Dr Malik.
13. To give back to others
Whether it's getting involved in a beach clean-up, doing a sponsored walk or collecting clothes for charity, giving up their time to help others is an important part of growing up because it teaches children to be less selfish and think of others. "Children should be encouraged to participate in deeds that benefit the greater good. It will set the stage for a more involved individual later on in life," says Lola Lopez, founder of Volunteer in Dubai.
14. To value what they have
By the time they are ten, you could be facing endless demands for material things their friends have, that they have seen on TV or in the shops. "Parents who give their child everything they want, are eventually doing them a disservice as it takes away the incentive to be self reliant," says Daniel Britton, author of The Financial Fairy Tales (AuthorHouse). Britton suggests explaining what money is, where it comes from and why some people have more than others. He adds, "Set an example by saving yourself; use a jar kept in a highly visible place. Then perhaps make an event of counting the coins when full and taking to the bank. And avoid negative language around money - describing people as ‘filthy rich', or using limiting statements such as ‘money doesn't grow on trees', can create negative associations."
15. To eat healthily
By the time they are ten, children will be making more decisions about what they eat, so you have to ensure that they are making the right choices. "We don't want to put children on diets because it can deprive them of the nutrients they need, particularly if a parent chooses a diet that is more suitable for an adult," says Dr Malik. "The best way to teach healthy eating is to lead by example. If, as a parent, you are eating healthily, buying healthy groceries and not eating at fast food joints frequently - then that's the lesson that kids learn to mimic themselves."
16. To handle puberty
During adolescence, your teen will go through a series of physical changes that can be confusing or worrying. From changes in body shape to hormones, acne and a whole host of other horrors, the early teen years can be tough. All you can do as a parent is respect their need for privacy, be accessible for conversation at any time and know when to back off. You can also be proactive by encouraging your teenager to lead a healthy lifestyle, develop strategies to control mood swings and help them realise that what is happening is completely normal. And don't be afraid to sit down and talk about puberty before it comes - they may have already learned about it at school or talked to friends. But accurate information, however embarrassing it may be, will aid them through the process.
17. Not to answer back
If you want to stop the back chat, you need to set the right example in the first place. Remember it takes two people to argue and while you may want your word to be final, teenagers love having a good row. Set down a series of rules such as no name calling, shouting, swearing or slamming doors and then listen to what they have to say. By allowing them to speak and then quietly coming back with your argument on the issue of the day, you will educate them in negotiation skills they can take into the workplace at a later stage.
18. To deal with peer pressure
To help your child stand up to peer pressure, give them responsibility to make their own decisions early on. By giving them room to make their choices about when to go out with their friends or what time to do their homework, you help them feel confident in any decisions they make, and this will help them assert themselves when a situation arises where other youngsters are trying to cajole them into doing something they don't want to. Also make it clear that being different is not a bad thing and not doing what everyone else thinks you should, is simply a sign of independence.
19. To be financially responsible
While educating your children about the value of money is something you can start at a very young age, the teen years are the time to really drive the message of financial responsibility home. "Encourage them to look for ways of earning income, either through extra help at home or enterprises," says Daniel. "When they start asking for items, rather than saying no, help them come up with ways to earn for themselves. Also start introducing the idea of budgeting." According to Lama Kabbani, corporate communications manager, Visa CEMEA, "The most fundamental thing a parent can do to help their children get to grips with money is to help them understand the value of creating a budget. We have a really simple budget guide on our website (www.mymoneyskills.me) which will show parents how to teach their children this valuable life-skill."
20. To balance their lives
Teens tend to struggle the most with striking a balance between academic responsibilities and recreation, says Devika. "Help them map out their time on a pie chart if necessary, so the details of their day or week become visually available to them," she says. As most teens strive to find a sense of independence from their parents, help them try to achieve this by following their own ideas rather than yield to others'.