Times may change but some childrearing strategies never go out of style. Just ask Abuela. Because while you may be tempted to shrug off her advice as outdated, she still has more than a few tricks up her sleeve that can help you navigate the demands of parenthood. Here, grandmas across the country offer modern mamís eight of their best tried-and-true tips for raising respectful, confident kids.
"Nowadays, so many children interrupt adult conversations, and no one puts them in their place," says Puerto Rican grandmother Ofelia Perez, of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. "Parents have to teach them to say, 'Excuse me,' or 'Con permiso,'" Perez says. And if they still don't wait their turn, "you have to tell that child, 'Mommy is having a conversation. Is this urgent? Do you need to use the bathroom? Are you hungry? No? Then let mommy speak.' Otherwise, children get used to interrupting and grow up to be adults that don't know how to listen."
Puerto Rican grandmother of five, Maria Isabel San Miguel, of Burlington, Vermont, taught her own kids table manners with a simple Spanish-language rhyme: "En la mesa no se canta ni se ponen los coditos, ni se tira la comida, ni tampoco se dan gritos." The simple words remind kids not to sing, throw food, or shout at the dinner table nor prop their elbows atop its surface. "By teaching children table manners, you make them aware that we live in a community and we have to be considerate of others," San Miguel says.
Rather than running to a child's rescue the moment he gets a dirty look at the playground, Carmen "Cuchi" Morales advises parents to take a step back. "Children need to learn how to assert themselves and demand respect from their peers," says the Tampa, Florida abuela, who has five grandchildren. "You might need to interfere if your child is being bullied, but if it's a minor disagreement, it's better to let children resolve the issue on their own." By doing so, Morales believes children will not only learn to be independent, but they will develop more effective conflict management skills at an early age.
Parents may think that giving their children lots of choices boosts self-confidence, but Maribel Latimer disagrees. "Young kids aren't mature enough for the responsibility of making so many decisions," says the Orlando, Florida grandmother of three. "Telling them, 'Pick something to wear to school,' won't work because they'll feel confused by all the options," Latimer says. Instead, she recommends narrowing down the choices to two outfits. "That way, they'll still have a vote, but you as a parent maintain a degree of control over the situation."
Teresa Meraz, of East Los Angeles, taught her five children about the value of hard work early on. "From the time they were five-years-old, they had chores to do every Saturday, whether it was taking out the trash, cleaning the bathroom, sweeping, mopping, or dusting. When the kids wanted something, they had to earn it," recalls the Mexican-American abuela of nine. For Meraz, it's disheartening to see modern parents over-indulging their kids. "If children ask for something and you give it to them immediately, they'll grow up to expect everything for free, without putting in any work or effort," she says.
Just because children are naturally inquisitive, doesn't mean you need to answer every single question they pose, says Mirta Mendez of Miami Florida. "Parents give their kids way too many explanations nowadays," adds the Cubana, who has four granddaughters. But you should take into account a child's age and maturity level before explaining an issue that could very well be beyond his comprehension level. "Sometimes, you just have to tell him, 'This is an adult issue. When you get older you will understand, but right now there is no explanation for you," Mendez says.
From ballet lessons to swimming classes, kids' schedules are jam-packed nowadays. "With so many activities, children are exhausted and overly stimulated; they can't even learn how to relax," says Colombian abuela Elsa Mendez, of Melrose, Massachusetts, who touts the importance of unstructured playtime. "Children need time to play alone. It enables them to get to know themselves," Mendez says. "If you overhear the conversations kids have with their imaginary friends, you'll notice that a lot of the values they have internalized are manifested in those interactions. That playtime helps kids develop self-confidence and communicate feelings and concerns."
While Ana Medina of Yonkers New York applauds modern mothers for supervising their kids' sugar intake to protect them from diabetes and obesity, the Cuban abuela warns moms not to go overboard. "Once in a while, you have to let children indulge," she says. "If you're taking your child to a birthday party, let him have a slice of cake and some ice cream. You won't be putting his health at risk by letting him have a treat every now and again." In the end, it's all about balance.