Parenting Gifts For Strong and Resilient Kids
The gift of giving
One of the greatest joys of parenting is seeing the light in our child's eyes when they open up that perfect gift.
The one we spent months planning, weeks searching for, or found at just the right time. The one we were almost as excited to give them, as they were to receive it.
As much as I enjoy watching my children open their gifts on holidays, it seems that many of them did not survive the year. Teddy bears became worn and ragged, electronics ceased to work, movies stopped playing.
My children were happy for a time when they received the gift they dreamed of, but those gifts all to often end up on their way to the dump. The doll my oldest couldn't live without lies naked and broken at the bottom of her sisters toy box.
Our children are ever growing, ever changing, today they are learning to walk, tomorrow they are walking out the door. When they are young it seems we have forever to enjoy each step of the way, but now as I watch my children blossom into their teen years I realize how short the time I have with them really is.
When I became a parent my only goal was to have a baby, once accomplished it became clear that they would not be babies long. Soon I had a toddler, then I had a child, and soon I will have adults.
They will always be my babies, but I was never raising babies in the first place was I?
I am raising adults, and I only have 18 years to do it.
The gifts that will last a lifetime are not the dolls, or the video games, or the latest CD. The gifts that will stand the test of time are the tools we give them to survive the next 20, 40, 60 years or more as adults.
Being a parent is one of the most rewarding and the most difficult jobs you will ever choose.
As I pondered this lens, I thought about the gifts we give our children to carry them through their adult lives. As we struggle to give them roots and at the same time give them wings, we want to hold on knowing we must let go.
These are all gifts that must be given over and over, from birth, well into adulthood. Remind them daily that they do indeed possess these gifts, and reassure them that they have the capability of using them, encourage them to use them as often as possible, and enjoy watching them grow.
It goes far faster than you might think...
The ability to think for themselves.
As our children near their teen years we must accept that they will be faced with decisions about sex, drugs, alcohol, and many other things that could very well impact the rest of their lives. We will not be there when the time to make most of these decisions comes.
We can talk to our kids about these things, but in the end we need to be able to trust them to make the right decisions on their own. That means allowing them room to practice when they are safe at home with us.
Nobody dreams of being a drug addict or an alcoholic when they grow up. This is something I tell my kids often, the time to make the right decision has passed by that point. Making it right the first time and every time is the only way to prevent a live spiraling out of control.
Teaching your children to think for themselves is one of the greatest gifts you can offer them. Teach them to collect the information and make decisions based on what is best for them and their future. Teach them to research topics and always be alert for possible illustrations.
Ask them what they think and how they came to their conclusion about safe topics when they are younger, and allow that to grow with them. If you are watching a movie with them, or even just walking down the street, point things out to them when you can.
When they ask you questions encourage them to seek the answers for themselves whenever possible. Give them confidence in their decision making abilities and they will make better decisions when it comes to things that could affect their future.
Children Who Think For Themselves
The ability to be responsible for the consequences of their own actions
One of the first lessons I learned about the difficulty of parenting came when my children were learning to walk. My first instinct was to protect them, to always be there to catch them when they fell. Then I discovered that children who never fell didn't learn how to walk.
Now that my children are older I can appreciate the lessons my children learn from failure. For every action in the adult world there is a consequence. If you don't do your job you get fired, if you don't pay your bills you get things taken away, if you steal you go to jail.
These consequences are obviously too harsh for a young child, but the closer they get to adulthood they more responsibility they are expected to handle. As a parent our job is to help them understand the link between actions and consequences, and there is no better way to do that than to let them live with those consequences.
When I first began learning about reality discipline (or what I refer to as real world discipline) I loved the idea. Finding ways to put it into practice took a little bit of creativity, but it is a fun and reliable parenting method which I have found great success in using.
When children violate rules, they must have solid consequences. Stealing as an adult usually ends up in jail time, fines, and community service. Slightly modified to a point where a child understands that means grounding, restitution to the person the item was stolen from, and community service often means pulling weeds in the back yard, scrubbing windows, or similar work.
We see many examples of adults in this world who still do not understand the connection between actions and consequences. They want someone else to fix problems they create, feel that the world owes them something, and take from others with no thought of giving in return.
Nobody dreams of raising a selfish adult, this method will ensure that your children do not number among the selfish and spoiled. It encourages responsibility, admitting to mistakes, and acceptance of consequences. Creating responsible adults is a difficult job, but it can be done.
This book has influenced my parenting style more than any other book I have read. It allowed me to see the connection between actions and consequences and gave me step by step instructions on how to deal with everything from picky eaters to stealing. I highly recommend it no matter what age your child is.
The ability to respect themselves and others
When I was a child there was a strong school of parenting that said a good child is a child who always did what they were told, never argued or back talked, always respected their elders, and never questioned authority.
When I became a parent myself, I realized that these are also the traits pedophiles and bullies look for. When focused on raising the perfect child, we don't always realize we are also raising the perfect victim. So in this area, as many areas of life and parenting a balance is required.
While we do have a responsibility to respect others, when it crosses over into disrespect for ourselves a line must be drawn. Teaching our children how to balance these two forms of respect is a monumental task. We want them to be polite, but we do not want them to be victims.
Teaching them to respect their own bodies and personal space, while still respecting others. Teaching them to be respectful towards authority figures while still maintain personal boundaries. Teaching them to do what they are told but still stand up for what they believe is right.
When my children suffered bullying at school I found too many adults telling me that bullying is just a part of life. As adults we do not have to deal with bullies, there is a legal system set up to prevent that very thing. So it made no sense to me that I was supposed to tell my children that being a victim was just part of being human.
Bully-proofing your child is a lifelong gift, it will help them in friendships, romances, education and jobs. It will prevent or minimize much of the childhood trauma that produces dysfunctional adults, and in some cases break generational patterns run in families.
10 Days to a Bully-Proof Child: The Proven Program
The ability to find support whenever needed
Talk to your children, but more importantly, listen to them. They have a lot to say.
Younger children go through phases where it seems they do nothing but ask questions. Some of those questions seem totally pointless, and after awhile they can really get on your nerves. Just remember, they are asking you because they trust you.
Just because we are parents does not mean we have all of the answers, but there is no shame in saying "I don't know." Our kids just want to know we value them, and we can show them that we value them just by taking the time to listen.
It becomes even more important as our children approach their teen years. They are going to be faced with a lot of tough decisions, and our reaction to those tougher conversations will determine how willing they are to come to us in the future.
If we dismiss them or their feelings, react with anger or make them feel guilty they will be less likely to come to us the next time they need to talk. They will turn to someone else who will listen, and often that means friends who are less educated and more likely to steer them the wrong way.
We don't have to understand where are kids are coming from, but we owe it to them to try. Kids who do not have a safe place to turn in their own home often turn to their own peer groups. If they cannot find a peer group where they feel accepted they turn inward and hide from the world.
When your child approaches you with a difficult topic it is important to remember not to overreact. They need you to speak to them openly and honestly and they need you listen to them. Help them work their feelings out, guide them to their own conclusions.
Always do your best to place yourself in your child's position. Remember how horrible it felt when you were young and felt all of those confusing emotions at the same time. When a child comes to us and says they are in love, our first reaction is often to tell them it isn't real love.
We know better, this is true, but when we were kids, we did not know what real love was and neither do they. To them this IS real love. What purpose do we serve by taking that away from them? Are we helping them or are we reacting from our own experience.
They will discover it on their own in time, and we need to allow that. For now, they do have emotions and telling them that their emotions are false only confuses them further. In time they will learn, just like we did, and it might hurt a little. Just remember their feelings are as real to them as ours are to us. Allow them to have them in a safe environment.
Our children are going to get hurt, they are going to make bad decisions, and they are going to make some mistakes that could potentially affect them for the rest of their lives. We can't make those decisions for them, we just need to convince them that they are capable of making the right decision when the time comes.
We can try to protect them from these things, but every child will make mistakes. They will need a safe place to come and talk about those mistakes, and hopefully learn from them. This is a scary world for adults, how much more for our children?
Be that safe place for them.
For more tips on talking to your children please check out
How to Talk to Your Kids About Really Important Things
The ability to be themselves
There is no one definition of "normal," what is normal for one may be abnormal for another. Yet at no time are our differences more obvious than during adolescence. Too fat, too thin, too tall, too short. The only one in the class without a boyfriend or girlfriend, the only one in class with breasts or facial hair, the only one without a car.
During adolescence we all become painfully aware of every single thing that sets us apart from our peers. It is hard to appreciate your differences in a world that prizes conformity. Even the teachers seem to favor the children who work hard to fit in.
Images on this page courtesy of KarensWhimsy.com
I was 29 years old before I finally began to appreciate my unique talents and abilities. One of my greatest hopes for my children was that they would accept themselves far sooner than I did. I knew what pressures they would face, and I did my best to counteract those influences ahead of time.
I discovered that the first step in any parenting goal is to model the behavior effectively yourself. Which means keeping on eye on how you talk and think about yourself and others in your child's presence. If you focus on your negative aspects, your child will learn to do so as well.
Your children are always watching you, always learning from you. The gift of self-acceptance must come from a parent who accepts themselves, both strengths and weaknesses. It is perfectly okay to have weaknesses, but it is not okay to dwell on them excessively. Focus on your strengths and teach your children to focus on theirs.
Being yourself means making mistakes. If you project the image of being perfect, your children will also expect themselves to be perfect, and they will fail. Allow them to see you make mistakes, but allow them to see you learning from them. When your child makes a mistake, try to help them figure out what they can do differently the next time.
Helping them feel comfortable being themselves at home goes a long way towards helping them be themselves in public. If they have an obvious talent, encourage it as much as possible. If they don't have one, help them find it.
If you constantly strive to help them define themselves outside of their peer group, they will have a much easier time defining themselves within it. Helping them create a strong self-image takes a little bit of work, but it pays off with a lifetime of rewards.