Brave, strong and smart. Heart, body and mind. What do you want for your children in the new year? Everything! What do you want for yourself? To be enough! Each year ends with reflections – how did I do, how’s my family? Each new year starts with promises – to be better, to do more, to take better care of yourself and others.
The secret to the A.A. Milne quote isn’t strength, courage or intelligence. It’s holding on to the unwavering belief that you already have all the super powers that you need and that your child is and will be capable and successful. This year’s parenting promise is: believe! Everything changes if you believe.
Young children need to believe in themselves and they need to believe in you.
• Believe that you are smarter than your child. Not always – not when you are reacting to the latest tantrum or button pushing. You are smarter if and when you take time to understand your child’s behavior and slowly, patiently, help your child grow and learn. Meet your child exactly where she is – in this stage, with this personality. Lead your child to become the kind of person you respect. How long does that take? You might want to ask your parents. The good news is: there’s time.
• Believe that your child wants to learn and be successful. Potty training, for example, fails not because children hate pottying on toilets. It’s delayed (never fails) because children create self sabotaging behaviors when emotions or understanding derail them. They are counting on the grown-ups to not give up. Every parenting challenge – bedtime, meal time, transitions, fears, learning to read, learning empathy and kindness requires unwavering faith in your child’s long term potential.
First, feel the pressure melt away. You are brave, strong and smart enough to handle any situation in your child’s life. Why? Because you ARE the parent! Fallible yes but that’s okay. Because you are the grown-up – the one who gets to be in charge in your family, the one who gets to make the decisions and learn and grow. You get to do this and whatever you don’t know, trust me, you will learn through experience.
Keep it simple. Let yourself give love freely, all that you have when you have it. Then, don’t feel bad when you’re tired, spent or cranky. Take a break or schedule time to recharge. Get the kids in bed at a time when you still have some energy left over to be kind to you. No guilt – pushing an exhausted parent to give more will not raise happier, more loving children.
Mistakes are good – really
How can you give your children the same unwavering belief in their own resourcefulness? By celebrating the process! Look at all the things your child can do today that she couldn’t do 6 months ago. Remember all the behaviors that seemed like they’d last forever. Children get stuck where they are (in no-win tantrums, in irrational thinking, in a limiting developmental stage). Children are counting on parents to hold the bigger picture for them. In the words of the hotel manager at the Best, Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it is not yet the end.”
Teach optimism and resilience
The leaders of tomorrow will be the children who learn not to give up, who keep learning. To be braver, stronger and smarter than you think is to dig deep within to find the grit to keep trying – even when it’s hard, when it takes time and when you feel foolish. Parents can’t give that to children all wrapped up with a pretty bow. Learning is messy and frustrating. Parents can however, teach optimism and resilience. Every age and stage in children’s development has age-appropriate problems that children learn to solve with age-appropriate strategies. Be your child’s #1 cheerleader.
• Help identify what your child can do when he gets “stuck” on a problem or with emotions. E.G.: he change something that’s not working, ask for help, or get calm so you can help.
• Fill your child’s bank with success stories. E.G.: “You are so brave when you hold your teddy bear while waiting for the doctor.” “You are so strong when you push the chair out of your way (instead of screaming in frustration).” Or, “you are so smart when you count the steps from the car to the grocery store”.
• Express confidence while still respecting your child’s individual pace and learning curve. Two year olds who bite do not become aggressive teens. Three year olds with pacifiers do not take them to high school with them. Four year olds who can’t sit still may become dancers or comics but they still become fully functional grown-ups.
Problem solving kids are resilient and resourceful. They are absolutely, unequivocally braver, stronger and smarter than they knew. Teach children to believe they will know more tomorrow and you raise children who will always believe in themselves.