Friday, August 31, 2012

How to Raise a Healthy Child

photo by Melissa Nelson

Looking for a good parenting tip? Here's one simple rule to keep in mind when embarking on this twenty-year journey: Begin with the end in mind. The hardest part of parenting is knowing when and how to let go, but there will come a day when a child will leave the nest and determine his own course. Parents who regard that day as their end goal can avoid an empty-nest syndrome so many others suffer from.

Raising Good Children

Books with parenting advice could fill entire libraries, so this article doesn't presume to answer everything, but if one aims at nothing, he will hit it every time. Instead, begin one's parenting journey with the ultimate destination already decided. Of course, parents should have realistic expectations based on genetic factors like athletic ability and IQ. Not everyone has the raw material to be an Einstein or Michael Jordan, but knowing the final destination will help one to clearly see the map showing the way.

Rent Books at BooksfreeBabies begin life completely dependent, requiring lots of cuddling, conversation and social interaction with people, but they must eventually mature beyond total helplessness to learn independence and self-sufficiency. Visualize one's child at the legal age for adulthood as an interdependent, emotionally stable person. What attributes would he have, physically, mentally and spiritually?

It's easy to get sidetracked by the urgency of the moment, but raising a child is a marathon, not a sprint, and keeping the final objective in mind will help oneself to stay focused. The second habit of Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is "Begin With the End in Mind." Don't unnecessarily hurry the process, but encourage the child in age appropriate ways towards maturation. If one wants his child to grow into a responsible, healthy adult, he will be on the right track if he sticks with this simple guideline.

Well-Adjusted Kids

Let the child learn independence by self-managing his feelings and desires, and by solving some of his own problems instead of having a grown-up always come to the rescue. Let him experience a bit of failure so he can learn to accept defeat and pick himself up afterwards. Failure is a process on the way to success when it involves discovering what doesn't work and trying something else. Obviously catastrophic failure should be prevented, but experiencing and surmounting a measure of it is healthy. Teach him how and where to get help if he doesn't know the answers by pointing to resources he can use, such as wise people within his sphere of acquaintances, books and when he is older, reputable websites. The world is at anyone's fingertips when he can read and has access to the internet.

Interpersonal skills, respect for others and sociability are nurtured by interacting with the child and encouraging friendships. Give the child his place in the family to foster a healthy sense of self-esteem, and let him know who he is with a sense of pride balanced with humility. Read aloud to him and provide age appropriate books and puzzles to promote critical thinking skills. Tell him what he is expected to master by the time he reaches adulthood, involving him in the process.

To help the child develop physically, teach him about nutrition, exercise and hygiene, and provide healthy foods in the home. Encourage discipline in his eating, waking and sleeping patterns. For spirituality, a parent must demonstrate its value since it is generally caught rather than taught. Don't just send him to church; take him. Good character traits like compassion, honesty, integrity, kindness and generosity must be modeled before they will take root in a child. Teach them life skills like how to drive a car, balance a checkbook and make meals.

It is wonderful to give children solid roots, but they also need wings. Eventually they must launch into the world, and parents will have to set them free. By keeping this end in mind, parents will find themselves better prepared for when that time inevitably comes. By remembering that at age twenty-one their job of managing their child's life is over, it will be much easier to let go.


Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2004.

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Swamplandia! Book Review

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell has received glowing reviews by Stephen King and others, so one would expect this novel to be exceptional, but the author's clever writing fails to compensate for a bad plot.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

The dysfunctional Bigtree family lives in isolation in the swamp land of Florida, doing alligator shows for tourists who must arrive by ferry. The three children are homeschooled and have no real friends, and the oldest child, seventeen-year-old Kiwi, particularly can't relate to people. The mother dies before chapter one, and is the catalyst for the deterioration of her brood. Her husband, The Chief, is unable to deal with his loss, leaving their three children to fall through the cracks.

Rent Books at BooksfreeThe chapters disjoint the book when they vacillate between Kiwi's and Ava's point of view, but ultimately the ending is happy, and Russell does have a unique way of describing things, like calling their lake "black silk, the water bunched and wrinkled." Her humor can also catch one off-guard to laugh out loud, like when she calls the Bigtree Family Museum "The Louvre" of the Swamp Islands! though it is only filled with common garage sale items the family has outgrown and discarded, set behind glass and labeled "ARTIFACTS."

However, the negatives of Swamplandia! outweigh the good parts of the book. Personal hygiene and nutrition fall by the wayside, and the only one who seems to face the world honestly is Kiwi. Everyone else is in denial. No one does the laundry after Hilola Bigtree dies, and the two daughters resort to spraying their mother's rancid perfume on their itchy clothing to become presentable. The Chief abandons his kids to work on the mainland, but doesn't tell them the truth about what he is doing. Ossie, the middle child, descends into mental illness and necromancy, absurdly chasing a ghost she wants to marry. Alone, Ava enlists the help of a strange man to find her sister and then is raped by him. She blames herself for his actions, though she is just a child, and then doesn't reveal her victimization when she is finally reunited with her family. The novel glosses over her situation and never resolves this tragedy.

The story involves horror and family, but is not sufficiently scary like a Henry Lovecraft tale or even sweetly syrupy like Little House on the Prairie. It is plain depressing, like forcing people to watch ignorant neighbors neglect their children and home. Read Swamplandia! by a crackling fire with a soothing cup of tea or hot chocolate to counter the sadness one will inevitably feel for these pitiful characters.

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