Think back for a moment on your childhood. You probably can conjure up many happy memories and most certainly a few you’d rather forget. What causes one event to become a long-term memory versus another is a question developmental psychologists can’t answer. But one thing they do know is that a person’s childhood does have an impact on shaping their adult life. According to a recent study published in Child Development, researchers found that “the type of emotional support that a child receives during the first three and half years has an impact on education, social life, and romantic relationships even 20 or 30 years later.”
Of course, parental roles play only one part in long-term adult life. Other things make an impact on who we become such as socioeconomic status, intelligence, environmental influences and more, but the evidence is clear that our parents and the memories we have of our childhood are influential.
I have four children. The oldest is 30, followed by 19 and 17, the youngest being only 3. While raising the older three I was a full-time working mother balancing a career and a family. It’s a juggling act, to say the least, and looking back there are a lot of things I wish I’d done differently. But even though I wasn’t sure what I was doing half the time I still think I got enough right and I learned a lot in the process. This time around I feel more confident in what I need to do, and I parent purposefully.
Creating your child’s childhood is a big responsibility. They will one day be adults looking back on the memories you so carefully placed along the way. Hopefully, their childhood will have shaped them into well-rounded and confident adults who have positive relationships.
How can a parent purposefully make decisions to give their child a positive childhood? I may not have all the answers, but I have some! Here is a list of ten things you can start doing today to help give your child a childhood of great memories!
1. Participate in their interests
Children often have interests their parents have no desire to be a part of. Growing up my oldest daughter was a huge football fan. At the time, I wasn’t really interested in football. However, I would sit and watch with her a little a time until eventually, I became a huge fan myself. This past year she and I took a mother/daughter trip to Foxboro, Boston to see her favorite team, the New England Patriots, play. It was a great experience that neither of us will ever forget. Appreciating your child’s interests makes them feel valued and in turn, creates childhood memories where you were present in their lives rather than them being only present in yours. Learn how to play their favorite video game, pitch baseballs with them in the backyard, listen to their music; these small investments will have huge payoffs later. And, like I did, you may find you enjoy your children’s hobbies!
2. Have them participate in your interests
I’ve always enjoyed exercise and wanted to instill that in my children. Often, I’d have them exercise with me. Sometimes it was just dancing and being silly and sometimes I’d have them do a real workout. At the time they moaned and groaned. My oldest now runs 5 and 10 K’s and the younger two both joined their high school weight lifting and track teams. The memories they have of participating in one of my passions, in turn, helped create a positive outlook on health for them as adults and older teens. If you love to cook, bring your kids into the kitchen. If you love to fish, take your children and teach them. Share your passions and interests with your children and you’ll also create beautiful memories and possibly even help them develop a hobby you both can share together one day.
3. Keep their influences age-appropriate
When she turned 10 my oldest daughter got a PG-13 movie for her birthday from a friend. I always err on the side of leaving professions up to the professionals. If the Motion Picture Association of America has determined a movie isn’t age-appropriate for my child, then that becomes the floor rather than the ceiling. She was quite unhappy when I told her she couldn’t watch the movie until she was at least 13. Instead, we went and bought an age-appropriate movie in its place. That movie was Babe and quickly became a family favorite. We laugh now because she recently got a robotic vacuum for her apartment that she named Babe and after it’s vacuumed she’ll say, “That’ll do, Pig!” Children have their entire life to be adults, but childhood is so short. Let them enjoy all the wonderful and age-appropriate movies and books and music and other media that help them preserve that innocence. They will appreciate it and respect you for it when they are older.
4. Keep adult topics for adults
Adulting can be difficult. Being a child can be difficult. Don’t pile more worry onto your child. They don’t need to know your financial stress, relationship struggles, job challenges or family drama. They need to feel safe and secure. Leaning on your children or having adult conversations where they can hear (and they are always listening) burdens them. Instead, talk to them about their worries. Help them navigate their struggles in school or arguments with friends. Their problems may seem small compared to yours, but to them, they are huge and important. When children are subjected to your problems then they can’t deal with their own. In his hierarchy of needs, Abraham Maslow states that physiological needs, such as food and shelter, and safety needs, such as feeling secure with family, must come before an individual can reach their potential. If a child is worried about a parent’s finances or marriage, then this may impact their ability to reach their potential as adults and impact their memories of childhood. My grandfather was an alcoholic. I never knew this until I was older. My father told him not to come around our home if he had been drinking, but sober he was always welcome. My father also never talked about his alcoholism in front of me and my siblings. Thanks to my father protecting my childhood, I have wonderful memories of my grandfather and none of them include having to deal with alcoholism. I’m so grateful for that.
5. It takes quality time and a lot of it.
One of my oldest son’s favorite memories is standing on a stool in the kitchen with me and cooking his favorite lunch, embarrassingly it was fried bologna! He’d wait for the slices to rise like mountains in the middle then smash them flat with a fork. Sure, he also has fond memories of a family vacation to Maui and a cruise to the Bahamas, but it’s the day to day interactions where you are fully engaged with your children that will do more to create a childhood filled with happy memories than a few monumental vacations. The little guy is only 3 ½ but I hope he remembers he and I dancing and singing together almost daily. If he doesn’t tire of my inability to carry a tune, I don’t plan to stop anytime soon!
6. Help create special times with their friends
Sometimes being the house where all the kids hang out has its drawbacks. Piles of shoes at the front door, noisy laughter, toys are strewn everywhere, but the pluses outweigh the minuses. My youngest daughter loved to have slumber parties when she was younger. They are work! I secretly loathed the time commitment on my part, but she has some of her fondest childhood memories planning and having them. One party she and I planned was movie themed. She invited her friends over and I helped them storyboard and script out a short film. Then they acted it out and I filmed it. I stayed up nearly all-night editing and by morning they had their own DVD to take home of their movie. When I began writing this article I told her I was going to include that party and that began a long chat of laughter of who was there and all about the movie they did. Seeing her smile thinking back on that night made me feel so happy! There are times when the kids were just left to play on their own, but I tried to always help guide or be involved with them and their friends in some way. It may have been just suggesting an activity or popping my head in to make sure all was going well, but I am so grateful they have good memories of times spent with their friends.
7. Create traditions.
When people think of traditions the holidays are what first comes to mind. However, traditions can be woven into so many areas of a child’s life and those special recurring moments can create beautiful memories. When my children were at the age where they were losing teeth the tooth fairy always left money under their pillow, but first, she would bling it all out. They would rush into my room in the morning waving their glittery cash with absolute wonder in their eyes. Traditions also bond families. My husband’s family has a Danish Luncheon each year on Canadian Boxing Day. This past year was the first year my husband wasn’t with his family for the luncheon, as we are thousands of miles away, so we hosted our own Danish Luncheon. The tradition he grew up with he will now take the lead on. He will raise his children to look forward to this wonderful way to honor their Danish heritage enabling them to create special memories of a special tradition as he did.
8. Create tangible memories
This is so important and so often overlooked. Children need things to hold and touch and see to sometimes help create memories and it’s work on a parent’s part. Things like photo albums and framed pictures of your family spending time together displayed around your home let your kids know their lives are important. One year for Christmas I wrote each of my children a poem that represented them. I printed them out and framed them. They loved them so much. And each time I see them hanging in their room I feel happy. Have your children help you create photo books of special events or create original artwork for your home. My youngest daughter and I recently got several canvases and created artwork for her little brother’s room. It’s not the greatest but we did it together. We sat for days at the dining table drawing and painting and laughing and making happy memories! When I walk into my son’s room I see more than paintings of cars and trucks, I see my daughter and I bonding. Make things for and with your children and you’ll be making wonderful memories at the same time.
9. Be involved in their education
School consumes a huge amount of your child’s childhood and you being involved is so important to them, even if they don’t say it. When my youngest daughter was in high school one of her teachers used an online program to make quizzes for the students to study from. My husband and I would do the quizzes with her after dinner and we would all have so much fun. Not only was she studying and learning, as were we, but we were giving her memories of us caring about her education and of us having an interest in what she was learning. I was a teacher for nearly twenty years. I can tell you that some of the happiest and most confident students were the ones whose parents were involved. In elementary school, my oldest daughter had a very difficult time learning to read and spell. I didn’t give up on her. We spent night after night working hard together. She remembers how much time I spent helping her overcome her struggles. She went on to not only learn how to read and spell but was a British Literature major in college and then went on to get a law degree. Today she is so grateful, and we have so many memories of us celebrating her successes as she overcame each educational obstacle with me cheering her on.
10. Love doesn’t cost a thing
As cliché as this might sound, this may be by far the number one point to remember when creating your child’s childhood. Young children indeed love toys and teenagers love electronics and expensive clothing, but those things last for a season. They won’t remember each item they played with as a child or how many pairs of basketball sneakers they had. They will remember you playing board games with them and teaching them to swim. They will remember you reading bedtime stories with them and helping them work on school projects. Matthew 6:21 NIV reads, “ For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” A parent’s best treasure isn’t their checkbook or their credit card, it’s their time. Where do you spend the majority of your time? Is it purposefully creating a beautiful childhood for your children? If not, then maybe it’s time you start. One day they will thank you!
Childhood is like a mirror, which reflects in afterlife the images first presented to it. – Samuel Smiles
Raby, K. L., Roisman, G. I., Fraley, R. C. and Simpson, J. A. (2015), The Enduring Predictive Significance of Early Maternal Sensitivity: Social and Academic Competence Through Age 32 Years. Child Dev, 86: 695–708. doi:10.1111/cdev.12325