If, biologically, a person becomes a parent when their child is born—or, civilly, when they adopt a child—from a practical and even moral point of view, a person only becomes a parent when they master a series of crucial skills.
Taking into account the importance of the parenting “profession” concerning the evolution of society—even its survival—parental education is of critical importance. Its results define the lives of the leaders of tomorrow’s society.
The direction and pace of society’s development depend on our ability and willingness to find a social space for the concept of “parenting school”. Who should be responsible for training the individual to acquire the skills and competencies necessary to be a parent? Isn’t the answer to this question well outlined already (through family, school, church, or specialist institutions)?
Love them in their way
Parental education aims to provide tools, skills, and competencies to help children achieve desired results. It also aims to strengthen educational principles stemming from both child and parent psychology. If the goals of education can be more easily identified and undertaken by the parent, all will benefit. The tools and methods by which these goals can be achieved depend on several factors.
First of all, no child is the same as another. The success of the chosen method of education depends on the child’s personality, their temperament, their past, and so on. Secondly, the instructional methods must be continuously adjusted to the child’s age and the stage of development they are in. At the same time, parents need to be aware that it is not enough to feel love for their children and wish them the best, but it is necessary to act on these feelings and intentions. In addition to good intentions and love, parents need to model their protective, guiding, and educational actions by a good knowledge of teaching methods and a good understanding of their children’s perception. It is not enough for parents to love their children through informed actions or behaviours, but it is necessary to love them in the children’s way.
The natural tendency of any person is to give love in the way they feel loved, to assess how and how much they feel appreciated, and to offer as much as they personally need. After all, this idea is found in the Holy Scriptures and underlies Christian morality: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Taking this too literally may, however, justify several actions with a possible negative impact. One may like one thing, another, something else; one may do one thing well, another may not. One can find pleasure in deviant and harmful behaviours, which does not give them the right to direct these behaviours towards their neighbour.
In a narrow sense, in children’s education, parents must speak the language of their children, to love them in such a way that the children can decode love, and educational actions should take into account their personality and age.
The phases of parenthood
Summarizing several perspectives on children’s education, in their congruence with the psychosomatic stages, we could divide children’s education into four phases: 1) commander, 2) coach, 3) counsellor, 4) consultant. These phases describe both the perceptions, needs, and personalities of children, as well as the educational actions of parents in relation to them.
The commander phase: Obedience
The first stage in the role of a parent is the commander. It refers to the education of children from 0 to 3 years. In this period, it is most likely that children will learn to obey, and the authoritarian model of education has its best results during this period. Boundaries, firmness, and authority are perceived by children as conditions of a safe and predictable environment. If during this period children are the most vulnerable, it influences all their future relationships to anything unknown to them. Fear is a defence mechanism against possible dangers and, at the same time, a natural feeling of the child. Depending on the child’s age, and the intensity and rhythm, fear can become an anxiety disorder. Before reaching this extreme, however, it protects the child during their discovery of the world. Having no experience, a well-defined thinking system, or clear meanings and perceptions attributed to all their surrounding elements, children approach the unknown cautiously. This state facilitates the process of learning to obey. Within rules and firmness, children are happy. If parents fail to teach them obedience in the first years of life, as time passes, it becomes almost impossible.
One of the biggest obstacles to learning to obey is parents’ permissiveness, caused by the child’s delicacy and the belief that children aged one or two years cannot fully understand life situations, and, therefore their discipline should be postponed until they understand. However, a child’s ability to understand is sufficient in relation to their age, and parents should work during this period on forming behaviours that carry content and guidance to clearer understandings. The behaviours undertaken by children through obeying protect them from the impact of negative behaviours, and help them understand the motivation for positive behaviours. Just as beliefs and knowledge determine behaviours, behaviours determine beliefs and knowledge as well. In this way, the child is protected and develops by undertaking the behaviours they copied or are imposed on them, along with the understanding of the reason for such behaviours.
Another reason why a child needs to learn obedience is that the same cognitive and volitional abilities needed in the process of parental obedience will be used in the case of obedience to other authorities, such as conscience, or God. Children raised by permissive parents, in a context devoid of rules and firmness, will have more problems as they attempt to impose their own rules and boundaries. 
Obedience: consistency, conciseness, clarity, and firmness
Obedience, as an important feature of the commander stage, can be achieved by implementing several attitudes such as firmness, consistency, conciseness, and clarity. Learning to obey does not mean the formulation of a multitude of rules, but rather the identification of the most important ones, and implementing them with firmness and love. Three or four strictly-kept rules are enough to teach children to obey, and, at the same time, to protect and guide them in the education process. The more there are, the more specific they become and, as a consequence, the more they are violated in different life situations.
It’s almost impossible for children between 0 and 3 years old to contextualize the application of a rule, or to see its purpose depending on the situation they are in. Therefore, when the application of a rule is not required in a certain situation, children may perceive this as a violation of that rule, which may diminish its validity from their perspective. At this age, children perceive that a rule is either good or not, so the rules of the house must be moral, non-negotiable, and generally valid. Such an approach does not stifle the child’s creativity and joy, but protects them, teaches them, and creates a safe environment for them and for their development.
Often, children listen to one parent rather than the other. This is primarily due to the firmness and consistency of the effective parent. Children can feel, from the tone of voice, from previous experiences, and facial expressions, whether they have a chance to win after negotiations, crying, or insistence. Firmness must be understood in terms of conviction, consistency, and determination, and not as aggression.
Touching means “I love you!”
All these behaviours, attitudes, and educational methods need to be backed by unconditional love. More than anything, children need love. Taken separately, methods, behaviours, and attitudes may be lacking in love, or may not be properly communicated. It is not enough to simply love. it is equally important to love in the same language as the one you love for your love to be acknowledged. The most appropriate forms of love, and those best understood by children between 0 and 3 years old, are touch and time spent together.
Studies show a direct link between caressing a child and their emotional state and development. Even from a medical perspective, touching can affect a child’s health. A study conducted at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, reveals that, through hugging, a child’s brain develops better. According to another study, conducted by psychologist Darcia Narvaez, children who are consistently held, especially when they are sad, become healthy, empathetic, productive children, and are less prone to depression.
The pampering phobia
Many parents fear that the relationship between them and their children can degenerate into pampering. The pampering phobia can have multiple causes. Some causes may easily have selfish reasons, stemming from the parents’ comfort and idleness, while others may be due to their lack of information. Thus, solutions such as having a separate bedroom for the child from a few months of age, ignoring them in times of crying, infrequent and brief snuggling, avoiding breastfeeding during the night, or even completely stopping breastfeeding in the first months of life can become customary, even though children need love, and the way they perceive love is through the touch and presence of their parents.
Education through breastfeeding
According to the World Health Organization, for optimal and full healthy development, an infant should be breastfed exclusively for 6 months, and within at least two years, a complementary diet should be added to breastfeeding. According to a meta-analysis cited in the “Infant feeding guidelines: information for health workers” book, children’s intelligence is associated with breastfeeding. Starting from one month of breastfeeding, differences in the scores on intelligence tests can be observed, in relation to those who have not been breastfed. The same correlation is observed from a health perspective. In Romania, 20% of mothers breastfeed their children for the first 6 months.
Parental migration: Abuse by absence
Most of the parents who go to work abroad do so for reasons based on altruism and love for their children. However, children don’t perceive the love of those parents, but rather their absence gives them opposite feelings. In some cases, children interpret possible marital misunderstandings as the cause of one of them leaving, and some even blame themselves, considering themselves as not good enough for their parents. Even in the case of families with extraordinary communication skills, children have a tendency to think that they are the reason for the separation of their parents. Sometimes, parents verbalize their intention, telling the child that this sacrifice is for them: “We’re leaving [or one of us is leaving] to give you a better life.” This pressure inhibits the child’s personality, and, if the child is of early age, the consequences are difficult to treat. Children would prefer poverty than the absence of their father, and, particularly in the period of 0 to 3 years old, poverty is an incomprehensible and unnoticeable concept for the child.
When it comes to absent parents, the Romanian reality is worrying. Depending on the studies which one might refer to, the number of children left at home after their parents leave the country is somewhere between 95 000 and 350 000. The National Authority for the Protection of Child Rights and Adoption provides the lowest number, while the data obtained by the Ministry of Education from the County School Inspectorates reveal a number of 159,038 children affected by this migration. Because school inspectorates do not record pre-school children and school dropouts, we can understand why some studies have reached a number of 350,000 children.
In her doctoral dissertation “Parents’ migration to work abroad and its effects on the children left behind”, Dr. Claudia Mihaela Vâlcu details a series of negative results, such as pain, anxiety, depression, loneliness, school avoidance, youth delinquency, sleep disorders, cognitive-behavioural inhibition, aggression, obsessive memories, social isolation, sexual dysfunction, fear, shyness, addictions, violence, etc. Some of these deviant behaviours are easily noticeable, while others become noticeable only in adulthood. The more a child is deprived of a parent at an early age, the more severe these consequences are.
The first three years of life
Children between the ages of 0 and 3 must not only be fed and cared for properly, but must be educated by utilizing all the resources that a family has, time being the most important one. At the age of 3, a child’s brain has reached 90% of the size it will be in adulthood. At this age, a child’s brain is twice as active as an adult’s. The first 3 years of life are essential to the formation of a strong immune system. What children learn in their first years of life is more than half of what they will learn for the rest of their life. That is why both parents must be by their side and make every effort to educate them — to teach them to obey, to hold them in their arms, to play with them, to caress them, to talk to them, and to read to them often.
Children whose parents read and talk to them a lot accumulate 300 more words before the age of 2 than children who do not receive this treatment. At the same time, the correlation of the information read with the images in the books develops their capacity for visual and auditory concentration. Early social interaction increases the brain’s information accumulation speed. Children who are shown and have things explained to them develop the ability to concentrate. These are some clues as to why we can consider the first parental stage as the most important. In a future article, we will analyse other stages of parenthood.
Ștefăniţă Poenariu is the president of the Holistic Christian Education Association, which operates Transylvania International School.