By Dianne Smith
As parents, our job is to raise children who are prepared for the adult world. We all do the best we can to give them what they need to navigate the bumps in the road of life and to deal with adversity and difficult situations. As parents there are things we can do to make sure that children are better equipped to handle the hurdles that come their way. Learned consequences from experience and life lessons at a young age helps reduce mistakes with larger consequences at an older age and helps develop confident adults.
Compliments and Praise
Think about your compliments and when and how you hand them out. All children need plenty of encouragement, whether they’re learning to walk, ride a bike or deal with conflict. If your child gets so used to hearing “Good job!” they may have a hard time realizing when accomplishments are really worth celebrating. Don’t praise your child if they’re doing something expected. When they brush their teeth or put their toys away, for example, a simple “thank you” is enough. They don’t need praise for every expected behavior that is part of being in your family. Acknowledgement with thank you is about the relationship and doing what is expected.
Don’t Rescue Your Child
It’s natural as parents who love their children to want to prevent them from getting hurt, feeling discouraged, or making mistakes. As parents we don’t like to see our child struggle or feel badly. When you intervene or rescue them from the consequences of failure you are not doing them any favors. Children need to know that it’s OK to fail, and that it’s normal to feel sad, anxious or angry and they learn to succeed by overcoming obstacles, not by having you remove them. That is what is required to be successful in the adult world. They need to learn to handle bumps in the road of life and it is our job to teach them.
Let Them Make Decisions
When your child gets the chance to make choices from a young age, they will gain confidence in their own good judgment and learn from their mistakes. Allow them to make choices in areas where the consequences are smaller so that when they have to make decisions that have large consequences they have learned some life lessons. If they choose not to take a jacket on a cold day they learn from that. Hopefully they are a quick learner and will make a better choice next time. If they wear shorts when you think pants would be a better choice that can be a decision-making, teaching moment. If nothing bad will happen let your child have the choice to learn from their own experience.
Focus on the Glass Half Full
If your child tends to feel defeated by disappointments, help them be more optimistic. Instead of offering reassurances to look on the bright side or trying to make it all better, help them find specific ways to improve a situation and bring them closer to their goals. Help them understand that improving skills comes from practice and that everyone has strengths in some areas but not everyone is good at everything. If they are upset because they didn’t get chosen for the spelling bee, say, “I can see how disappointed you are. Let’s come up with a plan for how you can increase your chances next time.” This also teaches them to work hard for something they want and to learn that the more you practice something the better you get.
Nurture Special Interests and Skills
Try to expose your child to a wide variety of activities, and encourage them when they find something they really love, even though it may be something you’re not at all interested in. Children who have a passion, whether it’s dinosaurs, art or sports, feel proud of their expertise and are more likely to be successful in other areas of their life. Quirky hobbies may be helpful for children who have a harder time fitting in and you can help your child take advantage of their interest to connect with other children. The public library offers wonderful low cost opportunities to explore interests and to meet others who share common interests.
Teach and Promote Problem Solving
Children are more confident and secure when they’re able to negotiate getting what they want and solve problems on their own. We as parents often want to step in and solve the problem for them, sometimes because it is easier for us. In the end we deprive them of an opportunity to learn how to solve the problem on their own and experience success. Talk about their ideas and solutions to the problem and experiment with it so that you can have discussions about what works and what doesn’t work. If they can’t come up with a solution encourage them to research it on the internet or to ask other people whose opinions they trust. A trip to the library and a library card gives everyone internet access.
Look for Ways to
When children feel like they’re making a difference, whether it’s passing out cups at preschool, working with the family around an event or taking cookies to a nursing home, they feel more confident. Sometimes clubs such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts provides opportunities to help others. It’s good for children to have their own household responsibilities. It may be even more empowering for a young child to assist you with a project (“I could really use your help!”). It helps them feel like they are part of something bigger and they also learn the value of a job well done by role modeling what you do. Doing family community service activities and giving back to the community helps children learn that giving back is what we do as a family. As your children get older pick a more involved activity and role model for them being connect with other people and doing for others.
Values, Family Expectations and Relationships
Talk with your children about your expectation related to life. If you expect them to be nice to others, find opportunities to have teaching moment discussions. There are so many opportunities to build positive memories and discussions into everyday events. Find ways to ask open ended questions, respect their opinion even though you believe yours is the “right one” Help children connect with other adults because the more healthy adult role models and relationships the better people do in the adult world.
Our job as a parent is to work our way out of a job and help our children become successful adults. The more active we are now in our job the easier the transition is for children into the adult world and the more resilient they are when it comes to handling the bumps in the road of life.
Dianne Smith, LMFT is a licensed counselor who works with both children and adults. She has offices in Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint and can be reached at 951-440-0982.