The role of a parent is to rear healthy, self-sufficient children to adulthood. Somehow that role got distorted so that many think that as parents they have to be liked, keep their kids from feeling discomfort, give their kids lots of opportunities, and get their kids in the best schools. This can actually interfere with growing into adulthood because kids don’t get the experience of living. They don’t experience struggle. So here are some things kids need to learn while they are still kids.
Learning How to Learn
When kids struggle, they learn how to figure things out. Crawling is a struggle. If you moved their limbs for them, they’d never develop the strength or coordination to learn how to do it for themselves. The same is true for homework, working out that broken heart, or dealing with that teasing.
Of course there are times when they need a bail out or a hug. I am not saying go all Spartan and leave them to the wolves when their seven years old. You want to be attentive. Witness the struggle. Offer encouragement, and step in only when it is clear that help is needed and would be beneficial. To jump in too soon sends the message, “You’re helpless. You can’t do this.” You want them to come away with, “You’ve got this!”
Developing Healthy Boundaries
Parents have to be consistent. This is how children feel safe and learn boundaries. If you change your mind all the time, they never know what to expect. They have to push against you to see what is real. If you’re having a lot of conflict, it’s a sign that your boundaries are not firm.
To create firm boundaries, say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t threaten to take away the Xbox when the chores aren’t done and then give it back because it’s easier to give your kid something to do than to have a restless kid in the house. If you teach kids that your word means nothing, they will learn to hound you until you give in.
All things have a middle road. You don’t want to be rigid either. An 8:00 p.m. bedtime is probably right on track for a five year old, but not a twelve year old. Maybe one set of rules works for summer while another works for the school year. As long as the rules are fair and predictable, you’re probably doing alright.
Modeling Healthy Relationships
Kids learn how to relate from their parents. Are the parents emotionally out of control, manipulative, or controlling? Or are they happy, good givers and receivers, and respectful? The reason why they say we marry our parents is because we learn how to be one of them! It’s no wonder we attract the other. It’s our pattern.
Your relationship with your child is a reflection of how you relate to people. Be respectful. When you’re respectful, you show them how to treat others and what to expect from others.
Include them. If you grow up as a people pleaser, you learn how to put others first. When you grow up being included in decisions, you learn that the team is important. This doesn’t mean that you cater to them. It just means that they are considered. A family is not a dictatorship, but a team.
Healthy kids learn responsibility. A child whose life is playing sports and doing homework doesn’t learn how to take care of himself. I’ve seen a lot of college age people who don’t know how to do laundry, pay a bill, clean a room, or behave on a date. This is because they didn’t get to live. Work was done for them. They were too busy playing and grinding to get in a good school that they didn’t get to learn how to take care of anything- least of all themselves.
This is a crisis situation. There are thousands of grown folks in our society who can’t adult. What kind of parents are they going to make? If this is you, it’s time to learn. If your kids are still little, there is still time to turn things around. Yes, it’s hard watching a little kid mess up the kitchen as they figure out how to scramble an egg. And it gets easier. Everything starts with a struggle and a learning curve. That’s what makes it so rewarding when we figure things out.
Learning How to Love
Life is challenging. It can be unbearable without love. Kids are natural lovers. When we protect that innocence and allow them to grow up with the knowledge that they are good enough, worthy, and lovable, they grow into healthy people who can give and receive love. Making mistakes doesn’t result in withdrawing love. Actions are separate from self worth. So forgiveness becomes easy. To teach that, you have to know that.
All creatures are of equal value. They are not of equal power or authority. Lots of little ones talk to their parents or teachers like the kids are in charge. This is usually because healthy boundaries are not in place somewhere. In a healthy society, parents are role models for children. Elders are role models for younger adults. This works because you’re never walking alone. Until you reach a place of wisdom, you always have someone holding your hand. Now I know that the adults in the current day in age are not all Elders, but this isn’t a reason to abandon a respect for authority. When adults do the job of being adults, kids can go back to being kids. Society will be more in flow.
Parenting isn’t easy. Often we take on that role far before we are really equipped to handle it because we’re still growing ourselves. Fortunately kids are resilient and forgiving. And it’s never too late to become a better parent. You can start now.