As we embark on a new year and new decade, we often think about those resolutions that are common to better our life, our health and our families. We all could aim to be healthier and have less stress. We could eat healthier, exercise regularly, and get more sleep. Some of us even have the ambition to improve our life and career by getting more education or training for growth and advancement. All of these are great goals for everyone to pursue in this next year.
However, what about some objectives for our children and teenagers? Parents and caregivers are the ones who set the tone and environment for growth for our kids. As I think of focusing on the kids who are in our sphere of influence there are several important and basic objectives to help them be healthier and develop optimally. Here are a few of these many attributes.
Safety. When we say the word safety we may think of physical safety. Certainly, if our children are in physical danger from violence or any other threat, we need to take drastic steps to keep them physically safe. However, we also need to consider how to keep them emotionally and relationally safe. As we hear stories of bullying, cyber-bullying, emotional abuse and other relational abuse, we need to investigate, intervene and make sure they are able to feel emotionally and relationally safe in their home, school and community. The most basic way to do that is to ensure that we are listening to their verbal and nonverbal cues and that we are available to discuss these types of issues with them.
Affirmation. We spend a great deal of time instructing, teaching and correcting our kids. This is certainly a part of parenting. However, we also should be very intentional to spend at least equal time affirming our kids for who they are, what their strengths are, good progress they are making and other achievements that are important to them. It is not only encouraging to them but also is good for their brain development.
Personal Power. Our kids are growing toward eventual independence. That process is a bit different for each of our kids at different ages and stages. However, we know that when our kids have choices and are allowed to face the consequences of those choices it gives them a strong sense of self-worth and responsibility and it is good brain development. Parenting is not only about controlling behavior but also helping our kids mature by encouraging them to make good choices. We learn how to make those choices by experiencing the process even if things don’t work out the way we thought. That creates a healthy sense of independent learning.
Consequences. Even though this can sometimes be difficult, I really like it when we reinforce principles in the lives of our kids through natural consequences wherever possible. When we experience the norms of life, we not only learn proper boundaries but also a sense of adult life that delivers consequences for our actions. This is a learned responsibility that we often think is not very common in our kids. However, consequences are great teachers and we need to allow them to experience them while keeping them safe.
Regulation. Our kids have a lot of stress in their lives. They also have some intense emotions that may be unpredictable. It is important for us to understand those experiences that regulate us. They are usually about some aspect of our five senses being influenced to experience calm. School issues, friend issues and family issues can be confusing to our kids and sometimes they just need to experience some quiet and calming moments. That may be different for each child, but good observation and communication can help them discover what does calm them. In such a busy and stressful world petting a dog, exercising, playing with a fidget, listening to music or just chilling with their family can all be effective stress reducers.
Observational parenting. I think it is such a great skill to be good observers of our kids. Parents tend to personalize some of the more unpredictable behavior of their children. Instead, parents would do better to observe what is happening to their children and how their children respond. Often, we assume that anger means disrespect when it can actually be intense frustration at something that is beyond their control. We really need to know each of our kids in their idiosyncrasies and provide objective support. With good observation and listening without judgement we have the opportunity for clarity about what they are experiencing. Our kids need to be heard, understood and supported through the safe and reliable relationships that nurture them even when they are not as stable as we would like them to be.
I could go on, but these are some basic commitments that are great to consider in this new year for parents and caregivers. It could make a huge difference in the lives of our children and families if we were to focus on these basic issues. They may not be easy but they are extremely valuable and can lead to a better family life. It can make a significant difference if we are sensitive to each other during some of the stressors of normal growth and even just life in general. What a better way to partner with our kids through their growing years!
Happy New Year to you all! It is my hope and mission that all of our children and teenagers will grow and develop in safe, healthy and nurturing environments!