At the same time, we parents must accept and embrace the universal truth that all people (and yes that includes our children) need challenges in life to build the muscles needed for the full expression of our unique mind, heart and soul. We can’t place the stones in front of our children’s path for them to be successful. We actually rob them when we do this. We must teach them how to place their own stones, so they can extract all the blessings from each and every one.
That being said, a child in today’s society, and especially a tween or teen, experiences angst far beyond what we experienced growing up. According to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association called Stress in America, “teens are under pressure … they face a troubling outlook and report stress similar to adults, exceeding levels seen as healthy.” Children feel more pressure to succeed, more vulnerable to the sway of being “liked” on social media; and 77% of kids are bullied in some way, most of which they conceal from parents.
With school about to start, what can we do as parents to help SUPPORT and EMPOWER our children with tools they will need to make the best of their young lives. Here are 4 core parenting guidelines (with *suggestions), for this school year and ultimately long term:
1. REINFORCE THEIR INHERENT SELF WORTH
Praising our children for a job well done can raise their self esteem, and yes, offering appropriate praise is good. However, self worth is a mindset, and we must use great caution to ensure we do not bind a child’s sense of worth to his or her external achievements. We want their inherent value to be the baseline, a springboard. We want them to come from a mindset of “I AM ENOUGH, and I appreciate every opportunity that comes my way to add whatever it is I can.”
*Suggestion: Before school starts and all through the year, make a special effort (at bedtime, morning time, or spontaneously in the the day) to tell your kids how much you appreciate them, how grateful you are that they are your kids and in this world. Express your unconditional love and value for their very being in this universe.
2. EMPOWER, DON’T ENABLE
Our job is to teach our kids cause and effect, grow their taste for earnership, and to support them in laying their own stones on their path. We are not here to make them happy or their lives especially easy. Remember when your child faces a challenge at school, unless it’s a matter that requires adult intervention, we are not here to fix it. Of course, we want to show love and support, offer guidance and be involved. However, we disable our kids when we don’t teach them that they can handle and learn from their difficulties and mistakes. We empower them when we make it clear they are capable of making decisions and that we expect them to put skin in the game — as a family member, and what they desire.
*Suggestion: Before school begins, learn a little more about the difference between enabling and empowering (Start here with Proactive Parenting). Identify an area where you are enabling your child and make a simple change to empower them instead. For example, if you tend to feel guilty and want to fix a problem your daughter is facing, try resisting the urge to step in. Show her you believe in her, ask her what she thinks she should do. Remind her that she has the power to learn from this difficulty in a way that will become a great gift for her future.
3. TEACH THEM HOW TO SHIFT EMOTIONAL OVERWHELM INTO EMOTIONAL EMPOWERMENT
We are the models and guides for our kids to learn how to manage their emotions in a way that empowers rather than weakens their internal strength.
*Suggestions to help guide them:
- Look for signs of emotional pain. When our children become short-tempered or oversensitive, teasing or fighting, or maybe shut down, these can be signs they are emotionally overwhelmed in some way (e.g., fear, frustration, stress, sad, hurt, etc).
- Don’t be reactive to their misbehavior. Rather than reacting when our kids behave reactively, pause first. Calm your own annoyance or hurt from the HOW of their behavior. More importantly, open yourself to the WHY of their behavior. Likely, there’s an underlying emotion that your child doesn’t know how to process.
- Normalize and help kids express their feelings. Maybe wait till it’s a calmer time and approach your child lovingly. You can ask, “How are you doing; How was your day today; Is there anything going on that’s bothering you?” You can say something like, “I know when something is bothering me inside, I tend to get short-tempered, or nit-picky or I pull away. And you don’t seem to be your self right now. Is something worrying or bothering you that you’d like to talk about?”
- Help them address the issue proactively. Once kids can identify what is bothering them, and if they are ready and open to talking, then you can discuss ways to proactively address whatever they are feeling or struggling with. Let them come up with some ideas. Often, it’s some kind of fear, shame or helplessness. You can help them listen to their truth inside, teach them self compassion, and weigh options for how they can respond proactively in the situation.
4. SEPARATE YOUR OWN FEARS AND INSECURITIES
We all have our own insecurities and over-compensations which can easily bleed into our parenting. For example, we might feel an inner pressure for our kids to do really well because we associate their success with us being a good parent. Remember this well: Parenting is about the process not the outcome. So is life! It's important to remember that we are all part of a common humanity, unified by our trials and triumphs, as parents and people. Do your best to be gentle with yourself. Your kids will feel your calm and peace, and want to drink from the same well.
*Suggestion: Journal to identify what your feelings are as your child(ren) prepare for school. Explore where you might have fears for them, where you might be trying to make up for something you didn't have, and particularly, where you might feel concerned about your own value or worth as a parent or person. Remind yourself of your own inherent value and worth, and make time to feed the light within your own body and soul. The more we can be aware of our own feelings as a parent, the greater our power is to make it about them, not us, and to listen to our inner truth about what is best for them.