It is no secret that parents of our generation are reluctant to place their children in stressful situations. Compared with the last generation, parents today seem less likely to place their children in learning experiences that will make them uneasy.
Do we not agree that our children have lots of pressures on them already and there is no real reason to add to that burden?
As parents, it is our natural instinct to avoid situations that make us nervous. And many of us do this for our children as well. This teaches our children that avoidance of certain situations becomes the preferred approach.
For me, one of the hardest parts of being a mother is pushing my children into situations that will help them grow and mature, without having the absolute complete confidence that they are ready. As my daughters get older, and their problems become more complex, the line between boosting confidence and feeling like you’re throwing them to the wolves becomes a little less defined.
Do you send your worrying child into a situation where you know she will need to speak up despite it being difficult for her? Do you encourage your child to admit to a wrongdoing even if the situation is already in the past? In my opinion, absolutely.
As parents, it is our job to encourage our children, expose them to new situations, and help them grow to be confident in themselves and the decisions they make. We want our children to thrive on the gratification that accomplishing goals brings, and not merely for external gratification. For instance, we want them to want to be successful because it makes them proud of themselves, and not for the sole purpose of making us proud of them.
So, is it appropriate to encourage our children to jump into situations that could be difficult for them? How do we resist our urge to rescue them and avoid sending them to ‘that place’ all together?
I find that there is no clear-cut answer to this question. And I’m not here today to suggest strategies. The only thing that is seemingly obvious is that we know our own children best. And it is our role to guide them and help promote their growth and maturity by exposing them to as many of life’s opportunities as possible.
We know that not every opportunity is going to have a successful outcome. And this needs to be OK, for all of us. And our children need to see through our reactions that this is OK. Much of what they learn comes immediately from the modeling we do for them. Is it not better to try and fail than never to try at all?
How dull would life be if we let our fear of failure stop us from taking risks and never trying new things?
So scenarios with unsuccessful outcomes can be turned into learning opportunities. They must continue to push themselves even though there will be setbacks along the way. And if you find that they are struggling and feeling down on themselves and their accomplishments, remind them of the times they were successful and how they could otherwise manage the same situation in the future should it arise again.
We can never be completely sure if our children are ready for these life lessons, but they need the nudge. And it is our job, accompanied by a lot of praying, to give it to them.
It is amazing how family dynamics change when one less child is home. Our eldest is away for a month, and for the first time ever, we are seeing our second daughter step up a little. She has taken on the role of big sister, even though technically she has always been a big sister.
We are relying on her to do more chores around the house. Chores which would have been given to her older sister. We are letting her make ‘big girl decisions’. And we are trusting her more to follow though on her end of the bargain. For instance, if we tell her she can watch a TV show before bed but first she must shower, put away her laundry, and brush her teeth, we are giving her the benefit of the doubt that these chores are done, without deliberately going to check.
We are learning how to empower her. Although we have always given her these responsibilities, she has not always welcomed them. Perhaps it is time and maturity that has made her more open to these responsibilities. Or perhaps it is her ‘new, temporary role as oldest child’ in the family. Regardless, we are using this time to maximize our daughter’s potential, and set her up for success. Opportunities that we hope to continue far beyond the next 4 weeks.
Ways to Empower our Children:
Allow your child to be himself/herself - Nothing good ever comes from trying to change another person. It does not work. And it always sets up for disappointment when we expect others, especially our children, to act, react and behave the way we would in the same situation. We must love our kids unconditionally, flaws and all. And instead of trying to change them, learn how to work with them.
Don’t be afraid to push your children a little bit - Not in the literal sense, of course. But emotionally. If you feel your child is ready for the next step but is just afraid, give him or her a nudge. Be there to support your child, and offer help if your child stumbles.
Too often, we fear our children are not mature enough or capable of understanding outcomes. The fact remains that more often than not, it is the parents’ fear of failure or disappointment that hinders children. What we fear may be a struggle for our children, will often turn out to be a success.
Our children need encouragement and to see our confidence in them. If they see doubt instead, then they too will learn to be unsure of themselves.
Don’t worry, get moving - As parents, it is common for us to overthink…probably most things. When we hyper-analyze, we worry. Often about situations which we have fabricated in our minds as ‘what-if’ scenarios. We cannot predict the future. We can only learn to deal and teach our children to deal with situations as they arise. So instead of worrying, brainstorm. Help your children figure out ways to tackle problems instead of running from them.
Validate, Validate, Validate! - Continue, no matter what, to validate your children’s feelings. You need not agree with them. You need not necessarily understand them. But they are real, and they are your children’s. Continue to acknowledge their feelings. Hug them, praise them for getting through tough times, but never, ever, tell them ‘to get over it’. Allow your children to feel what they feel, so that they are able to learn to cope with these feelings in the moment but also later on in their lives. If our children are encouraged not to feel certain things, they will never learn to manage these feelings when they do. Often feeling heard and accepted for having their feelings is enough to help them move on.
Teach your children to own their behavior and take responsibility for their own decisions – As parents we must stop rescuing our children, or continue to make excuses for their unpleasant behaviors. It is our responsibility to help our children by pointing out the pros and cons to certain situations, but ultimately allow the decisions to be theirs. With that comes responsibility of outcomes both positive and negative. By being held accountable, children will learn to think more before they act. They will also be able to take full credit for their good decisions.
Use discipline to teach instead of punish - Children will regard any type of discipline as punishment, but we can teach them otherwise. We must verbalize to them that they are not in trouble but that as their parents, it is our job to teach them right from wrong.
We do not want our children to be afraid to make mistakes. If we teach instead of punish, they will learn that it is ok not to be perfect, and that we will love them no matter what. We want our children to want to behave well, not just to avoid being punished. We want them to develop healthy coping mechanisms and greater self-control.
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