Thursday, March 8, 2012

Raising Confident, Capable Children

I got a call this week from a PTA rep at an elementary school near my office who asked me to come and speak in a couple weeks about 'Raising Capable, Confident Children' at a morning meeting for parents at the school. I happily accepted, and have been perusing my file on presentations I have given on the past on this topic. I am reflecting from my twenty years counseling parents, children, and teens about how important it is to help raise children who are responsible, kind, hard-working, honest, and self-motivated.

As a parent myself, with children in late high school, college, and launching out to adult life on their own after college, I see the importance more than ever of parenting with our long-term purpose in mind. My goal has been to launch 3 capable young adults into the world, who have determination and resiliency, set goals and work towards them, and live with integrity and kindness. I want them to have healthy relationships, with give and take, and develop their own voice both in relationships and in the world. I want them each to find their purpose in the world of work, so that they can contribute and have the high self-esteem that comes with being able to support yourself.

As parents, how do we help to create this?

Our parenting style matters. Are we dictators, who threaten, punish, yell, and threaten? Are we doormat parents, who don't have any clear rules and are afraid to say no, needing to be our child's buddy? Or are we active parents, who are loving, but also have clear family rules and responsibilities, set limits, and give consequences that are consistently and calmly enforced? These parenting styles result in differential outcomes.I see it happen with the families I work with. I see it in my own family.

How do we teach our children to be responsible? This character trait is best taught in little lessons all along the parenting journey. Even small children can be taught to feed a pet, set the table, or keep their room picked up. We can role model doing Saturday chores together as a family. As children grow up, we can be mindful to watch for all of the little lessons and skills we can teach them along the path to growing up. We can increase a teen's confidence by helping them learn to do their own laundry, cook a few meals, become a safe driver, and learn how to do household tasks that they will be glad they know later. We cannot overprotect or make them weaker. We can teach them how to manage a small amount of money, and later how to get a part-time job and learn about being on time, the value of money earned, and dealing with the public.

How can we teach our children healthy relationship skills? We can model using them, by not being a hot reactor, talking through conflicts, and communicating effectively with them. I taught Active Parenting classes for parents for many years, and so admire parents who weren't sure how to be an effective parent, not wanting to repeat their own parents' mistakes, and dedicated the 12 hours it took to take the Active Parenting series with me. We can listen to our children. We can ask them how they see things. We can hold family meetings, where everyone gets the information on what's happening in our family, learns to express themselves and have a say, and solve problems or make fun plans together. We can learn to be an approachable parent, and not block communication between us and our child. We can demonstrate the importance of mutual respect in the family by our own behavior. We give them our respect, and we require it from them, as well.

As a parent, we don't have to be perfect, and our children don't expect that. We should, however, be able to apologize if we are wrong, and role model how to make repairs in a relationship. We need to spend positive time together with our child, teaching them things, doing activities together, and helping and encouraging their effort and growth in their schoolwork, sports, activities, courage, self-initiative, and leadership. I've seen too many parents over the years that were just critical, and didn't see the tremendous positive influence they could have on their child by encouraging the best in them.

Each child is different, and comes with their own strengths, challenges, and temperament.
Our challenge, if we choose to face it, is to figure out who you've been sent, what their natural strengths are, and help them by teaching them and equipping them for adult life in every way that you can. The more socially skilled, responsible, resilient, and motivated your child can become, the brighter their future can be. You'll leave this planet better because of the child you are leaving behind, and working yourself out of a job. That's success for a parent, and it feels wonderful.

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