The primary job of a parent is to rear healthy, self-sufficent adults. That’s it. I am sure many of you are surprised by that answer. Is it not to love them? Is it not to keep them safe? Those are components of rearing self-sufficient adults, but the primary goal is the same for all animals. It’s to get your children to adulthood so that they can care for themselves and live the lives of their choosing. It’s not:
- to make them look fashionable (clothes, hair, makeup, etc.) so that they fit in
- to put them in sports, the arts, or volunteer opportunities to improve their chances of getting into a good school
- to show them off to other people
- to make them into mini versions of yourself
- to make them into people the parents can feel proud of
- to give them the things and opportunities that you didn’t have
- to use them for your amusement
- to give them everything so that they can focus on having fun or doing big things
- protect them from the bad things
Those things actually may take them away from learning the things that will help them to be fully functioning adults. Here are some of the things that can help them learn the skills of a self-sufficent adult.
Give Them Their Own Money
Some kids always ask their parents to give them stuff. This teaches children that money and stuff is free and easy. When you give them their own money and allow them to buy what they want, they learn that money isn’t free and easy. They learn to save and prioritize needs. They learn how to live within their means. If you also give them opportunities to earn money, they will learn that work has value. If they want big ticket items, they will have to work more or do work that has a higher value. They will also learn that they can provide for their own needs. This is empowering. The primary emotional need for all humans is safety. When a person can provide for his own shelter, food, clothing and warmth, it removes dependence upon others.
Give Them Responsibilities
Fully functioning adults know how to cook, clean, do laundry, and maintain their surroundings. Wild animals can procure food, care for their bodies, and keep their living spaces free from garbage and vermin. Shouldn’t people? Be reasonable. These responsibilities should be age appropriate, but they should also stretch a child’s abilities. Having responsibility teaches kids how to care for themselves and helps them to believe that they are capable.
Model Healthy Lifestyle Habits
It’s amazing how many people don’t engage in healthy lifestyle habits. We all need to relax, eat fresh alive foods, exercise, sleep, and engage in spirituality daily to maintain our minds and bodies. If kids can stay up all night, eat what they want when they want, and play video games all day, they don’t learn how to value or do the things they need to do to stay mentally alert, emotionally connected, and physically well. You can’t just tell them what to do. You have to model it. If you see all the videos on youtube of kids doing inappropriate things, you know what I am saying. They learn that stuff from their parents! They will do as you do, not what you say.
Model Healthy Relationships
Many people don’t know how to relate to others in a healthy way. Research shows that healthy relationships impact health and happiness. When kids grow up with examples of healthy conflict resolution, affection, and bonds within the community, this becomes part of their behavior. They desire healthy connections and create them. If you come from generations of conflict, be the one who starts a new trend for your family and future generations. With enough love and determination, it can be done.
Give Them Opportunities to Contribute
When we have enough, it’s healthy to share with others. Not because it’s fair or right or because someone deserves it, but because it connects us with others and makes us feel good. Giving also helps us to see that those who have less aren’t less valuable. Stuff has nothing to do with what’s inside. Volunteering or sharing may put us in the path of those who are not like us, so it opens up our lives and our hearts. Giving needs to be a choice though, not an obligation. When we model that as parents, children come to adopt that value for themselves. Society benefits when we see others, value others, and share with others.
Give Them Warmth and Acceptance
Have you heard of Harry Harlow’s wire monkey experiment? Harlow took baby monkeys away from their mothers and gave them a wire monkey mother with a bottle and a cloth covered monkey with no bottle. The babies preferred to snuggle with the cloth monkey, and would only stay with the wire monkey long enough to eat. Those raised solely with wire monkeys were socially fearful and aggressive. So touch, warmth and caring matter. Giving kids opportunity and stuff is not enough. They need your time, attention, and positive regard too.
Give Them Structure
Look at all the creatures in nature. They all have structure. They don’t just do random things at random times. Most plants blossom in the springtime. Nocturnal animals are active at night. Food bearing plants ripen on a pretty regimented schedule. Humans can make choices. Unfortunately, these choices often go against a healthy lifestyle. There is surviving and then there is thriving. If you want your children to thrive, give them a healthy structure. This could look like a set waking time, set sleeping time, set studying time, set mealtimes, etc. It doesn’t have to be followed strictly, but it should feel fairly routine. The body needs routine to perform all its functions. The mind needs routine to feel stable.
Teach Them How To Think
Schools today teach to tests. Teachers give students the answers because it’s easier than teaching them to think for themselves. Spelling a word for a child does not give them the same opportunity as helping him to look it up in a dictionary. Telling a child what to believe doesn’t create the same confidence as asking useful questions so that the child figures it out for herself. A child who can think for himself thinks conceptually. This allows him to use the knowledge that he has to build a bridge to the knowledge that he wants. A child who does not have this skill is incredibly limited.
Instill a Love of Learning
We all get into place where we just don’t know what to do next. If a child has a love of learning, he will be more likely to develop a growth mindset. A fixed mindset limits confidence, performance, and opportunity. A growth mindset makes the world limitless. Never let a child feel stupid. Let him know that learning is a process that never ends as long as we are still trying.
Give Them Age Appropriate Freedom
When I was a freshman in college, I was astounded at how wild the kids in the freshmen dorm were. They were drunk, half naked, loud, and I thought they were just way too free with their language and their bodies. I wondered, “Is this what it’s like when Mommy and Daddy aren’t looking?” If you want your kids to be disciplined when they are not within sight, you have to give them age appropriate freedom as they are growing up. If they follow the rules because they have no choice, they will rebel sooner or later – or perhaps be so timid that they never dare to live. If they make healthy choices of their own volition, you can always rest assured that your kids are making responsible choices.
All of these things listed above are useless unless the child has the freedom to exercise them. Let them explore the world, do things, and meet people. If you make all their decisions and control their entire environment, they will never have the courage to boldly live. Kids today are so coddled that they don’t dare. Fear is the killer of life. Let your children live.
Expose Them To Truth
Kids need to figure out how to negotiate conflict. If they are shielded from every bad thing, they won’t learn how to do that. Life is full of unhappy things, things that we don’t like, things that hurt us. It will be that way until the day we die. Life isn’t fair. If a person is to have a chance at stability, he has to know how to deal with that without falling apart. Let your kids be disappointed. Let them fight their own battles. Let them feel loss. If they learn skills to survive the loss of a broken truck or the loss of puppy love, they will grow into the strength to deal with big things too. When you get through things and don’t break, you learn that problems don’t kill you. You learn that you are capable.
Keep Them Safe
Children need emotional and physical safety to flourish. If they don’t have safety, they will not learn how to create safety for themselves because they will never take advantage of any of the other things you can offer them. They need to feel safe to speak, safe to play, safe to love, and safe to be who they are. Validate them. Cuddle them. Appreciate them. Look out for them.
If you are reading this and think, “Wow, I didn’t have that when I was a kid,” maybe you need to spend some time rearing yourself. Anyone can survive childhood without actually growing into a self-sufficient adult. It happens too often for so many reasons, and it’s never too late to get there. When you acquire the skills of a self-sufficient adult, your life expands tremendously. If your parent couldn’t be a parent for you, don’t blame or judge. Break the cycle and do it for yourself and your children.