Trying to figure out how to raise kids that thrive can leave parents overwhelmed. In a perfect world, we’d memorize a small government issued handbook on parenting and just follow the rules. But we all know life isn’t like that. Raising kids is tough. It’s taxing, raw and fluid. Our kids get emotional. Then we get emotional. Sometimes we feel like things are spiralling out of control.
Through my experience as a parent, counsellor, and teacher, I’ve come to understand raising kids really boils down to one thing: relationship. It’s through the relationship we form with our children that they are able to grow into mature, healthy adults.
But that’s not what we’re told. Our culture tells us that as children grow up, they will prefer to spend time with their friends rather than their family.
We expect this.
“Wait till they’re teenagers!” we say with the understanding that you’ll one day be pushed away.
Yes, the process of individuation and forming peer relationships is healthy and normal. And yes, there are definitely times when you throw your hands up in the air and say, “I give up!” or “You obviously don’t need me for [insert need] anymore.”
Youth helping youth navigate the trials of adolescence into adulthood is like the blind leading the blind. While their brains are still developing, young people need mature adults in their lives to help them grow up.
They need you.
To be that guiding hand, parents need to form a bond with their children that will carry through their adolescence. While this may seem daunting in a culture that is geared towards peer-bonding among youth, it is entirely possible. In fact, it is the natural way of things. And that means everything you need to know is already inside you.
The trick is to be aware of your child’s needs. They need your presence, your eyes and your ears. Here are some of the needs your child has and ways you can meet them:
Respect– One of the best ways to teach young people to respect others is to model it in the way we treat them. While their brains are still developing and they often don’t have control over their emotions, they need our respect. Their experiences are very real and they sometimes need our help to process what’s going on so they can integrate the rational and emotional parts of their brains. They will love you for this.
Empathy – Adolescents often express feelings of loneliness and isolation. A parent who listens deeply to their child’s problems can empower them to find their own solutions. Avoid the impulse to swoop in and ‘save the day’ by offering advice, or even worse, getting involved in your child’s problem by taking over for them. This is also great modeling and builds trust into your relationship.
Curiosity – Show curiosity about your child’s life. Take a genuine interest in the skills they’d like to master, their dreams and goals, who their friends are… the list is endless! Your curiosity gives them positive attention and a feeling of importance. They will feel their individuality is special to you. The bond that forms from this will allow you to influence your child when they need your help.
Space – while we need to be there for our kids, we also need to give them the space to walk through life in their own way. Their mistakes may seem so clear to us and we instinctively want to help them manoeuvre around pain and heartbreak. Try to pause before intervening. Perhaps your child is able to figure this one out. A lot of the anxiety we see in kids today is because they don’t believe they can handle a situation on their own, sometimes because they’ve never been given the opportunity!
Affirmation – You can never say, “I love you” too many times. Tell your child you love them just out of the blue and do it often. Compliment them regularly on their efforts, rather than on their natural gifts or strengths. “You’ve been practicing a lot and that piece is really coming along.” Or “I’m so proud of your perseverance in Math class.” “I’m really impressed by the way you handled that tough situation with your friend.” Add affirmations to your conversations around the dinner table and let them know how proud you are of them as you tuck them in at night. Even if they don’t show it, your words mean A LOT to them. A large bank of affirmations from you will be a source of strength when they go through difficult times.
Parents, you matter.
The fact that you’re taking steps towards bringing your child to counselling shows you care. Sometimes your child will face difficulties and you may not be sure how to deal with them. Family counselling offers a safe space to explore the situation that has disrupted the harmony at home. Our goal as counsellors is to strengthen your relationship with your child so you can watch in wonder as they grow into thriving adults.