Every parent agrees. We have important goals for our kids – to be happy, to be honest and ethical, to be productive, and to be independent adults. We want to be able to say to ourselves “job well done” when they finally leave the nest, strike out on their own, and achieve goals that they have set for themselves.
Getting there is the issue, for we do not have maps for this journey. And every child is different, as parents of more than one well know. Amidst all of that diversity, however, there are some general guidelines that might help you to raise your kids as well-nurtured adults. Here are five of them.
1. Start Early
You’ve heard it before. You are your child’s first teacher. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that you focus only on teaching them to hold a cup or to use the potty (although these are skills they have to develop). It means that you model the behaviors, the ethics, and the attitudes that you want them to incorporate into their own lives.
Research proves that the style of early attachment relationships predicts later emotional development of children. The child who witnesses a parent being angry, out of emotional control, treating others badly, “cheating” in various ways, etc., is a child who grows up doing the same. By the same token, a child who witnesses a parent being patient, kind, honest, and joyful will be that as well.
Watch what you do and say around your child.
2. Nurture Independence Early
We have such a need as parents to always “do” for our kids. And in doing that, we lower our expectations for them. This is often a failing when moms work. They want life to go smoothly. They try to stay organized and in those attempts, they fail to allow their kids to become more independent from an early age.
It’s important to take a healthy step back and let them assume challenges on their own. This develops self-reliance and a belief that they can meet challenges, fail, and then be successful. Things can get messy.
Infants feeding themselves with food all over faces, in hair, and on the floor is the beginning. Four-year-old’s not making their beds will result in a crumpled mess. Toys may not be put back in the right place and squabbles with playmates will happen. If you let them assume these challenges and even fail sometimes, they will come to understand that achievements are a process of practice and steadfastness, not something that mom and dad can do for them.
The other great result? Kids develop self-confidence and the ability to praise themselves for what they have accomplished. It’s called pride.
Set reasonable expectations for your kids and let them “have-at-it.” And don’t interfere unless necessary, to keep them safe or to teach them something valuable about the experience.
3. Do Encourage Mastery of Practical Skills
Computers/gadgets are a part of every child’s life today. Our kids will use them in virtually every aspect of their lives. We use parental controls. We depend upon teachers to do the rest. We cannot always count on our schools, however.
From being able to use technology to conduct research to playing typing games that will give them skills to make their lives easier later on, we can intervene and ensure that they are proficient. The conversation we need to have then, and have it often, as they mature is the reliability of and safety of Internet use.
Other practical skills include personal finance and budgeting. Schools may teach the theoretical basis for personal finance, but the practical application can only come with real world experience. And that real experience must come by them being given opportunities to manage their own finances. Whether that is from allowances given to children or the income from part-time jobs as teens, kids will not become financially responsible adults without practice in making spending choices, saving, etc.
And if they do not become financially responsible adults, parents will be subsidizing them. There is also value in allowing teens to see the expenses that running a household entails. Protecting them from this means they go into adulthood “unarmed.”
4. Do Not Rescue
Kids make choices. And you have to allow them to do so, even if those would not be the choices you would make. This is not to say that you let your kids deliberately go into unsafe or threatening situations. You have to find the balance between letting them discover mistakes on their own and living with the consequences and keeping them safe. If you begin early with little things, your kids will learn that there are consequences to their choices/actions and that they have to live with them.
A seven-year-old may get an allowance for small chores around the house. If that allowance is all spent in a single day, and then there is no money left to buy that candy bar at the drugstore, don’t you dare buy it for them.
The tendency to jump in and rescue is hard to break for parents who just want their kids’ lives to progress smoothly and without pain.
You do them no favors by confronting their teachers or coaches every time they may be disciplined in some way. You do them no favors by intervening into their social lives, unless they are making dangerous choices.
We are all familiar with the teenage boy who drove drunk and killed some other teens. His lawyer, well-paid by his wealthy parents, argued “affluenza,” stating that he was not to blame because his parents had used their wealth and their position to rescue him throughout his childhood. He grew up believing that he was privileged and that his parent would rescue him from any bad choice he made. He was given leniency that was appalling to most of us. In the end, however, he violated his parole and was going to face serious jail time. His mother again came to his rescue, taking him out of the country to avoid the consequences. Now, he and his mother are both in jail.
Let your child make choices and live with the consequences whenever possible. What he will learn is to think things through and consider consequences before making decisions.
5. Dependency – It’s Has to End Sometime
This closely relates to the previous point. The other consequence of always making decisions and choices for our children keeps them dependent upon us when they should be learning independence. If our kids come to rely on us to make all of their decisions, we will have children still dependent upon us when they reach adulthood. Setting up situations in which your child is away from you in a variety of situations is important.
It may begin with day-care at a young age. It may occur through sending them to summer camp. Whatever the experiences you give them, place yourself out of the situation.
In the end, our kids do two things – they model our behavior and they live up to the expectations that we set for them. When our own behavior is not appropriate and when we set expectations too low, they do not become fully nurtured adults. When our behavior is too rigid and our expectations too high, they grow into adulthood feeling inadequate. Finding that balance is the real challenge. These 5 tips may help you find it.