Top tips to help your child transform into a healthy adult
Wouldn’t it be great if kids could come with a user manual? We may wonder how our parents knew what they were doing with us and yet, they probably didn’t. They probably didn’t because we didn’t come with a manual either. There are certain key areas that are crucial to a child’s development and overall well-being. There are so many ways and different research pointing to the “best way” to parent but this article will focus on the “ingredients” needed to help a child transform into a healthy adult. While the basics still hold true: Food, clothing, shelter, there’s much more, that we as parents, can do to help a child succeed in their life from an emotional and mental perspective.
- Expectations. This one could have an entire book written about it but one of the biggest takeaways is that kids need to know what parents expect of them. What’s important to the parent? Perhaps it’s proper academics, chores, being kind to others, and being polite. The list here can be endless, and I often encourage parents to think of their values as a guiding compass, to help them consider what those expectations are for their kids. The next element is being clear about it with the child. Being direct with the child will help avoid confusion as to what the parent expects. The other element of expectations is for parents to have a basic understanding of childhood development. The majority of the time, we assume that a kid “should know” how to do something (or not to do something). For example, we may “expect” a two-year-old to “just stop” throwing a tantrum. Neurologically and developmentally, kids are not able to do this. Once a parent can understand this, it can really shift the relationship with the child when they are able to align the expectations with the kids’ capabilities.
- Confidence. There is probably no greater feeling in the world when a parent shows a child that they believe in their (the child’s) ability to accomplish something on their own. We often rush to help kids figure things out because we try to shelter them from sadness or frustration. Showing a kid we believe in their ability to do something will help them learn how to believe in themselves. If we rush to do things for kids all the time, it robs them of the opportunity to figure things out for themselves.
- Emotional development. We are not born with the knowledge of what to do with emotions; this is something we need to learn. It is therefore the parent’s responsibility to teach and educate children about emotions, as well as validate those emotions. I work with adults who really struggle with understanding the role of emotions, their purpose, and how to express themselves. Helping your child develop this critical key will help them their entire lives. It will help them learn how to regulate their emotions and not be afraid of their emotions. It will help them become mindful and in tune with their own needs. You can do this by helping them name their emotions as they’re experiencing them and you can show them the process of it (“oh man, I’m frustrated that I can’t open this jar. I’ll take a deep breath, and then try again”.) For younger kids, the use of books and helping them correlates facial expressions to emotions can be incredibly helpful. While reading books, a parent can then point to characters in a book to further elaborate on the emotions (or perceived emotions). A parent can take this a step further and if your kid makes a “sad face”, a parent can point out by saying “I’m seeing a sad face. Are you sad?”
- Setting rules. I can not overstress the importance of this one. Children must have rules. Rules are what make us all feel safe. Think of driving, the legal system, school, society- every place we are in, rules are what govern us and help make us feel safe. It helps drive our expectations of us, helping us create structure and order in our daily lives. The examples around rules are endless but can begin with our behaviors at home and outside, the way we speak to each other, social media use, and much more.
- Comfort, love, and attention. I group these all together because this provides parents the ability to tune in with their child’s needs. From the moment a child is born, they cry- when we provide touch, affection, and comfort, they feel loved and cared for and stop crying. Somewhere along the way, parents get concerned that they may be spoiling their kids or that they will turn into brats (kids being entitled, is what turns them into brats). Showing your child you care can be shown in many ways- listening to them, being there for them, and asking them questions about their day and their friends. Comfort and love are basic needs, not a reward. Comfort should not be given whether you believe that the reason your child is crying “makes sense or is justified”. Anyone who has dealt with toddler tantrums can recognize how much of it doesn’t make sense and yet a child needs to know and feel that their parent is there. Period. This ability wires the part of our “social brain” that when you seek connection, it’s there. It helps us develop the ability to not be loners and not turn inwards when we need comfort or love. Adults may generally turn to “numbing agents” (food, alcohol, TV, etc.) to try to comfort themselves if they don’t believe that others care or will be there when they turn to them. Without this part, children will get scared to reach out for help and it will be difficult for them to learn to trust others.
- Trust. Any adult can tell you how crucial this element is in their adult lives. So how do we develop this in children? Consider what trust looks like: consistency, reliability, and keeping your word. When we set rules, we need to be consistent about them. When we’re consistent about it, our child feels safe and in return, know they can trust us to keep them safe. As this key element develops over time, your child views you as a reliable, consistent adult in their life. When you say you’ll do something, they know you will. When you make a promise, they know you will keep it. In return, they learn they can trust themselves and will be able to translate this into social skills- knowing how to be there for others and recognizing the importance of consistency. Trust will also happen when you show your child you believe in their ability to do the right thing, rather than hovering over them. When your child will learn that you trust in them, it will help them develop their confidence.
- Your own mental health. If you struggle with anxiety, depression, or something else, you can recognize how hard it is to provide anything else more than the “minimum”. Learning how to manage your own mental health can transform the type of connection and relationship you have with your child.
- Your marital relationship. Your and your spouse’s relationship is the first and primary example of what a relationship could or should look like for your child. If there’s a lot of fighting, disagreements, and name-calling then the child internalizes that this is the “template” for a relationship as they grow older. Alternatively, if there’s love, affection, respect, and kindness- that’s the template they grow up with. Consider what your relationship looks like and what you’d like to look like because this can have a huge impact on your child’s ability to develop healthy relationships later on. In addition, not providing a stable emotional or mental environment will impact your child greatly and may potentially develop into anxiety, depression, or alcohol use as it creates a feeling of unsafety and instability (like the inconsistency of tone, mood swings, and general demeanor at home).
- Let kids be bored. Yes, you read that correctly. We generally fall into the assumption that kids need to be busy and occupied. All. The. Time. We, therefore, tend to (over) schedule them with extracurricular activities, overuse of TV, and media, and an overabundance of toys to keep them occupied. The gift of being bored lets kids a) develop their creativity to figure out what to do with their time, which is something that later on, develops into resiliency as they get older and b) teaches them how to be still and make it okay and acceptable to do nothing (!). When we feel we need to do something all the time and be productive constantly, it can lead us to feel anxious, and unproductive or that we’re “wasting our time” and are therefore not permitted to rest.
If any of these sound difficult, it’s because they are. We can’t teach what we don’t know; so, if we struggle with confidence or emotions, we won’t be able to teach our kids to manage that. Therapy or parenting coaching can help you develop these tools, and the confidence to apply these tools. Parenting coaching can help you become a more intentional and mindful parent so you can become the parent you want to be by helping you overcome and work through your anxiety, fears, and perhaps your own childhood issues that prevent you from being the parent you want to be.