Reflect for a moment on your childhood. You can probably recall some happy memories as well as 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 a person’s childhood does influence 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.”
Other factors such as socioeconomic status, intelligence, environmental influences, and more also impact a child’s eventual outcome. Nonetheless, the evidence is clear our childhood experiences play a significant role in who we become as adults.
I have four children; ages 33, 22, 20, and 6. While raising the older three, I was a full-time working mother juggling a career and a family. Looking back, there are a lot of things I wish I’d done differently. But, I do believe I got enough of it right, and I learned a lot in the process. Starting over at 45 with the little guy, I parent with confidence and purpose.
Creating your child’s childhood is an enormous responsibility. One day they will be adults looking back on the memories you helped create.
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 Your Child’s Interests
Interests often differ between parent and child. My oldest daughter has always been a huge football fan. I was not. Nonetheless, when the New England Patriots played, I’d hunker down and cheer for them with her until I became a fan myself. A couple of years ago, she and I took a mother/daughter trip to Foxboro, Boston, to cheer for the Pats in person. It was a bonding experience neither of us will ever forget.
Appreciating your child’s interests makes them feel valued, and in turn, creates memories where you were present in their lives rather than them only being 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 offer huge future payoffs. And, as I did, you may find you enjoy your children’s interests and hobbies.
2. Have Your Child Participate in Your Interests
I’ve always been an advocate of physical activity and it was important to me to instill that in my children. Sometimes it was dancing and being silly. Sometimes I’d have them participate in an exercise routine with me. And some of those times, they moaned and groaned. My oldest now runs 5 and 10 K’s, the middle two hit the gym on a regular basis, and the little guy is always up for anything active. The memories I instilled of one of my passions helped them have a positive outlook on physical activity.
If you love to cook, bring your kids into the kitchen. If spending a day on a lake fishing is your favorite pastime, bring your children and teach them. Share your passions and interests with your children, and you’ll create beautiful memories and perhaps also a hobby you can share together.
3. Keep Their Influences Age-Appropriate
When she turned 10, my oldest daughter received a PG-13 movie as a birthday gift. I always ere on the side of leaving the profession up to the professionals. If the Motion Picture Association of America states a movie isn’t age-appropriate for my child, that is the ceiling rather than the floor. She wasn’t thrilled when I told her she’d have to wait until she turned 13 to watch it. Instead, I allowed her to select a new age-appropriate movie in its place. That movie was Babe and quickly became a family favorite. As an adult, she named her robotic vacuum Babe. After Babe finishes clearing her floors of pet hair she says, “That’ll do, Pig!”
Children have their entire life to be adults, but childhood is a minute period of time. Let them enjoy quality and age-appropriate movies, 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
In his Hierarchy of Needs, Psychologist Abraham Maslow states that physiological needs (such as food and shelter) and safety needs (such as feeling secure) must be present before an individual can reach their full potential. Burdening a child with a parent’s financial stress, relationship struggles, job challenges, or family drama can shatter feelings of security.
Your child is not a friend with whom to share your worries. Instead, talk to them about theirs. Help them navigate their struggles in school or arguments with friends. When children are subjected to their caregivers’ problems, they can’t deal with their own.
My grandfather was an alcoholic, a fact I didn’t know until he passed away. My father told him not to come around our home if he had been drinking, but he was always welcome sober. My father also never talked about his alcoholism in front of my siblings and me. 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 Lots of It
One of my oldest son’s favorite memories is standing on a stool in the kitchen with me and cooking his most-requested lunch–fried bologna. He’d wait for the slices to rise like mountains, then smash them flat with a fork. The day-to-day interactions where you are fully engaged with your children overflow a childhood with happy memories.
The little guy is only 6, but I hope he remembers he and I dancing and singing together almost daily. And, if he doesn’t tire of my inability to carry a tune, I don’t plan to stop anytime soon!
Friday night board games, living room tents made out of old sheets, Lego-building until you are cross-eyed, these are the moments that live on forever.
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 strewn everywhere; but the pluses outweigh the minuses.
When she was a child, my youngest daughter loved hosting slumber parties. I secretly loathed them, but she never knew. Once we planned a movie-themed event. At the time, I was a Television Production teacher. I assisted the girls in storyboarding and scripting out an original short film. We cast roles, selected costumes, rehearsed, and finally recorded the film. I stayed up nearly all night editing, and by morning, each girl had a DVD copy of their movie. When I told her I was referencing that event here, she and I spent about an hour rehashing that night, belly-laughing in the process.
I have a saying, “Where two or more children are gathered it goes well until it doesn’t.” Most children don’t have fully developed social skills. Helping guide their play with friends, even if its just suggesting an activity or checking in on them to be sure all is going well, can help them create positive memories of time spent with friends.
7. Create Traditions
Parents can weave traditions into many areas of a child’s life, and those special recurring moments create wonderful memories. When my older children lost a tooth, the tooth fairy always left blinged out bills under their pillow. They would rush into my room in the morning, eyes sparkling, waving their glittery cash. The little guy hasn’t lost a tooth yet, but when he does, I’m sure she’ll do the same.
Traditions also bond families. My husband’s parents host a Danish Luncheon each year on Canadian Boxing Day. But being thousands of miles away from home, as well as separated by the pandemic, we’ve started hosting our own. The role that once was led by his grandfather, then his father, is now his. And our children will grow up participating in this beautiful way to honor their Danish heritage until its their turn to sit at the head of the table.
If your family doesn’t have unique family traditions, consider making some that your children can carry on once they become adults. If your family does have traditions, be sure to teach your children how to continue them.
8. Create Tangible Memories
Creating tangible items can help children remember parts of their childhood they might otherwise forget. Photo albums and framed pictures of your family spending time together displayed around your home, tell your children family is to be cherished.
One year for Christmas, I wrote a personalized poem for each of my children that I printed and framed. They were silly, but the kids absolutely loved them. Each time I’d go into their rooms, I’d read them and my heart warmed.
When my little guy was three, my youngest daughter and I created original artwork for his room. We sat for days at the dining room table painting and laughing. When I walked into my son’s room, I didn’t only see paintings of cars and trucks, I saw the memories my daughter and I created.
Make things for and with your children, and you’ll make beautiful memories at the same time.
9. Be Involved in Your Child’s Education
School consumes a considerable amount of your child’s childhood, and you being involved is so important to them, even if they don’t say it.
In elementary school, my oldest daughter had a tough time learning to read and spell. We spent night after night working hard together. She remembers how much time I spent helping her overcome her struggles. She not only learned to read and spell but was a British Literature major in college and went on to earn a law degree. Today she is grateful, and we have so many memories of us celebrating her successes as she overcame each educational obstacle with me cheering her on.
My oldest son is now a college student, but I continue to show interest in what he’s learning. At the beginning of every semester, together we review each course syllabus to make sure he understands the expectations. We follow the same routine for new course assignments. At some point, he won’t need me anymore. But right now I’m helping him learn to navigate this new role as a college student, and we are building memories at the same time.
I was a teacher for nearly 20 years and some of the happiest, most confident students were the ones whose parents played an active role in their education at all levels.
10. Love Doesn’t Cost a Thing
By far the number one point to remember when creating your child’s childhood is simply to love them through it. Young children want toys and teenagers want 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.
It’s been said that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. A parent’s most valuable 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, maybe it’s time to start. One day they will thank you!
Childhood is like a mirror, which reflects in afterlife the images first presented to it. – Samuel Smiles