WOODSTOCK – Parents often see their role as helping their children become contributing members of society.
For evolutionary human ecologist and Woodstock resident Don Wilkin, it’s even more important than that: It’s vital to the survival of humans as a species.
To help parents with their weighty responsibility, Wilkin, who has a doctorate in population and environmental biology from University of California – Irvine, and Cynthia Martin, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Parenting Matters Foundation, have written a book, “Sustainable Parenting: Unlocking Our Human Potential – Healing Our Plundered Planet.”
In it, Wilkin and Martin offer not only a look at the precarious position humans find themselves in, but also tips that parents can use to raise children who will make a difference in the future.
Wilkin, who is the book’s lead author, has spent his more than 40-year academic career looking at humans as a species, particularly how they are using the earth’s resources.
“What are we doing to either be sustainable or unsustainable?” Wilkin said. “Basically, we are abysmally unsustainable.”
Over the years, Wilkin, who is an associate professor emeritus at the University of Arizona School of Natural Resources, has become more pessimistic about the fate of human civilization, he said.
“The reality of collapse or the potential for collapse is huge and growing greater by the day,” Wilkin said.
In examining how to address the crisis, Wilkin concluded that hope lay in building a foundation in the next generations.
“The human species will not be sustainable until we raise a generation of children with sustainable values,” he said.
Those values would be put to use in communities that work together in a “mutualistic” way, Wilkin said.
They also were ones Wilkin saw echoed in the work of the Parenting Matters Foundation and Martin, who has worked as a clinical psychologist and counselor and has a doctorate in human behavior from the United States International University.
Martin’s nonprofit foundation, which is based in Sequim, Wash., works to assist parents with the important responsibility they have.
“Their role from Day 1 is critical, and they’re teaching them from Day 1,” said Martin, who has raised 10 children, most of whom were adopted. “They need to be mindful of what they are teaching.”
That message was one that resonated with Wilkin.
“It was pretty clear that a lot of the values that [the Parenting Matters Foundation] were espousing had to do with how do [children] become successful members of a community,” Wilkin said. “Working cooperatively and sharing and caring and being empathic.”
And so the seeds of “Sustainable Parenting” were sown and became Wilkin’s way to help the foundation, of which he is a board member, and to serve as a culmination of everything he’s been studying during his career. A portion of proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the foundation.
“When I look at the childhood development research, what they’re talking about is a more mature human community,” Wilkin said. “Most of the answers we’re looking for in terms of what would you do if you were trying to create a community with sustainable values, you would look at parenting literature.”
Each chapter looks at a different sustainable value and offers specific tips that parents can use to reinforce that value.
For instance, in chapter 8, “Teaching Cooperation and Sharing,” parents are encouraged to model behavior that demonstrates cooperation and sharing in front of their children.
Additional tips in the chapter include:
* Be observant: A younger child is often “proto-sharing” when he tentatively holds a toy or a piece of food out to you. Even though he’s not ready to let go of it yet, praise him for his generosity and sharing. He’ll get the message that this is something good to do.
* Look around you: Keep your eyes open for ways to encourage your preschooler to be responsible. One simple way is to have her learn to turn out unnecessary lights for you. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it makes her feel important, as well as teaches her the value of saving energy. Praise her when she does it and tell her how much it helps you when she does things for you.
Other chapters offer guidance on conflict management, teaching good manners and consistent discipline.
Four chapters look at the “moral precursors” of social orientation, self-control, compliance with social standards and self-esteem.
“A positive but realistic sense of self is psychologically healthy,” Wilkin and Martin write in chapter 13. “Children behave much more appropriately in social situations where they feel accepted and appreciated than where they don’t.”
Empathy, conscience, altruism and moral reason get their own chapters as “central moral attributes,” and chapter 18 focuses on the most powerful parental influences on their children’s morality.
Each chapter concludes with a list of keywords for parents to do additional research online.
Martin hopes parents who read the book will be able to take away something that will help them.
“We’re not going to change parents overnight,” Martin said. “But they can make a difference in how their children turn out.”
For Wilkin, that difference has an even greater significance.
“So why teach all these values to parents? The answer is because somebody will come out the other end,” Wilkin said of what will happen after the collapse of civilization, something that some environmental analysts say will take place by the middle of this century.
“And they’re going to try to build a new civilization,” he continued. “The hope is, this time they will do it with a little different kind of value.
“It’s going to be a value that recognizes we are a community and we’re all in this together and that your well-being and my well-being is a function of the well-being of the community.”
* “Sustainable Parenting: Unlocking Our Human Potential – Healing Our Plundered Planet” by Donovan C. Wilkin, Ph.D., and Cynthia D. Martin, Ph.D. (PublishAmerica, 252 pages, $27.95) is available at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble (BN.com).
Tips from “Sustainable Parenting: Unlocking Our Human Potential – Healing Our Plundered Planet”
* Conflict management:
Treat siblings fairly – You will limit disagreements if you treat your kids fairly, if not always equally. This doesn’t always mean identical gifts at identical times. It means being fair to both over time, not showing any consistent favoritism to one or the other and enforcing the rules in identical ways with both. This takes both determination and a good memory.
Setting and enforcing rules – Be careful what rules you set for your toddler, particularly “don’t touch” rules. It is extremely important that rules, once established, are consistently enforced. If you establish a rule, you have to enforce it. No choice. Not because protecting any particular knick-knack is so important, but because he has to learn that rules are rules and when he chooses the wrong behavior, he chooses the consequence with a high degree of certainty. This begins to give him some control. That, in time, translates into self-control and, if your appreciation of his self-control is sufficiently obvious, it becomes something he learns to feel good about.
Learning nonverbal cues – Nonverbal cues are important to learn. Take your child to a playground and sit off to the side and try to decide what other people are feeling based on how they are acting or their facial expressions. It doesn’t really matter if you are accurate or not. What is important is that you and your child are talking about the feelings of others and trying to figure out what might be causing them. Watching facial expressions and eye contact are important nonverbal cues that are often overlooked. Children can never learn too young the importance of eye contact in conveying trust, sincerity, friendliness, true remorse, interest, caring about others, and so many other messages.
* Consistent discipline
Don’t ask unanswerable questions – When you want to talk with your child about some behavior you are unhappy with, don’t ask him questions for which there is no answer. Questions like “Why can’t you be nicer to your sister?” or “What were you thinking?” or “Why do you fight so much?” will get you nowhere. He doesn’t know the answer.
* Effective communication
Don’t set your child up to lie – If you know he didn’t wash his hands after using the bathroom, don’t ask if he did. Simply tell him you want him to wash his hands before he goes out to play – ask him if he needs help. Always practice thoughtful, gentle discipline that won’t create the fear of punishment that leads to lying.
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Want to learn more?
* Woodstock resident and author Don Wilkin is available for discussion groups and presentations about sustainability. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* The Parenting Matters Foundation publishes an eight-page newsletter, “First Teacher,” which comes out 11 times a year and offers brief articles on parenting issues. The cost is $20 per year, or $35 for two years. To subscribe, visit www.firstteacher.org.