Involved parents can find it hard to stand by and watch. We’re always tempted to go beyond guiding, some to the point of taking away the chance for our kids to develop and learn on their own. It’s hard to watch them fall, disappoint themselves and be defeated. Yet it’s in these experiences where they learn to toughen up and move forward. Being a mom of three I’ve gotten some insight on to how to love your children and accept and support who they are.

I know the time will come (hopefully a long time from now) that I will no longer be here. That’s why it has been my aim to have my kids learn how to be independent, responsible decision makers.

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How exactly do you do that? Not without a lot of grief, mistakes and tears. I’m still a ways off but here are some suggestions I have from my own personal experience having two teens and a pre-schooler.

Give options

Early on I read a book on child rearing giving some unusual tips and advice. I can’t quite recall the title of the book but a couple of ideas did stick. One of which is giving your child options to teach them how to be content and make their own decisions. A good example is when your child wants to buy an expensive toy. Instead of saying no straightaway present two different options and have them choose. It’s either one of those toys or none at all. They learn to compromise and when they’re older they can make better choices because they’re able to decide what’s best for them.

Ex. I’ve never had a problem with my kids having tantrums in public places maybe largely due to this strategy. We were in a toy store and Bastian wanted an expensive toy. I told him I couldn’t buy it for him because it was too expensive. He watched as another child had a tantrum wanting the same toy. Bastian didn’t ask for another toy and I didn’t give the option at the time. When we got home he was quiet. A couple of hours later he approached me and showed me something he made. It was the toy he had seen made from cardboard, colored and pieced together pretty well. He had a proud smile on his face. This was the moment I realized that I was on the right track. Bastian couldn’t buy the toy so he made his own.

Lesson: Kids need space to realize that they may not have everything they want but if they truly want something they can explore options to create what they want.

Help them explore interests

It’s almost natural to try to pass off our own interests to our kids. We want to see them excel at what we weren’t able to or to continue what we have successfully done. Yet, if we want individuality we have to be able to control ourselves and let them discover what they like. As parents we can influence them with our interests and see where it takes them.

Ex. I love dancing and I’m a frustrated dancer. I can passably dance but nothing exceptional. When Kianna was around 6 years old I saw her dancing and thought “Hey, she might be good at it.” I played music a lot, especially catchy dance songs. We would dance and I’d teach her a few steps. The breakthrough came when she watched High School Music. Because there was a love of music and dance at home she wasn’t shy to dance around us. One day I came home and she had practiced the end dance to perfection. I saw that she now loved dance not because I did but because she had a genuine interest. Kianna is part of her dance club and often wins competitions in school.

Lesson: Though I introduced it to her I let her take it where it lead her creating an opportunity for her to truly enjoy it.

Be open to their ideas

Our age and “acquired wisdom” leads us to believe that we know more than our kids. However, this isn’t completely true. People learn how to do things based on what was taught to them or what they learned on their own by analyzing problems. We parent’s DON’T know everything. Kids have the ability to retain so much information and the creativity to solve puzzles and problems in ways we might not have thought of.

Ex. Jael and I were studying Math. I have never been good at it but I can cope and try to learn it. In my mind, Jael didn’t know how to solve a math problem so I was trying to break it down for him and teach it the way I do it. He asked for the pencil and filled out the problem his own way coming up with the correct solution something he learned in school. To say, I was surprised was an understatement. I learned that Jael had such a knack for it and his own understanding and technique.

Lesson: Don’t assume they don’t know. Ask them what they do know and take it from there.

Learn to stand on the sidelines

Have you ever found yourself taking over something your child has started or been so actively involved that you steal the spotlight away from your kids? As kids get older they acquire their own pacing and techniques. When they’re toddlers up to elementary you’re usually welcome to help them. When they hit middle school they ask for your help less and less. This is the time for you to stand on the sidelines and watch for your cue. It’s subtle but it’s there. Even teens ask for help but unless you’ve given them space they tend to carry everything onto themselves.

Ex. Bastian had a paper to write. He told me about it and was both excited but dreading to do it. I eagerly shared my ideas but quickly stopped when he said “I know what to do mom.” I laid off and waited for my cue. It came a few days later when he asked me the meaning of a word. After answering him I didn’t press to learn what it was for and because of that he asked me to listen to what he had written.

Lesson: Give space! They will come to you when they need you.

Council at the appropriate time

This can be tricky because we can’t really know the right time to council. The best way though is to do it away from siblings. An opportunity usually comes when you take your kids on separate dates. It can be as simple as a run to the grocery and then a visit to a coffee shop. This way it won’t seem like you purposely sought to have alone time with them. Keep it casual and let the silence lead to them opening up and telling you how they are and what they’ve been up to. From there your conversation will grow and this can be your opportunity to council.

Lay off the blame game

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve blamed my children for things. My temper can lead to me blaming them for a spilled drink, a missed opportunity or a bad result. In some cases it might be true but what I’ve learned is that though there is someone at fault there’s no use dwelling on it. A problem gets solved not by blaming the person but finding a solution. When I realized this I tried very hard to concentrate on what to do instead of who to blame. My children were then more open to accepting responsibility. They tried to be more conscious of their decisions and its effect.

Tell them they are loved

We can’t ever assume that children know they are loved. We have to be vocal and show them that they are no matter what. What I did was to tell them as early as they could understand that even if I was angry I loved them. My anger was not a sign for them to think that they were any less loved. I might have not liked their action but this did not affect how much I loved them. The lines between the two often blur especially for children. Since this is something I ingrain at a very young age they carry the knowledge that I will always love them no matter what. They make mistakes but take comfort in the fact that I will be there. This doesn’t mean however that you will ever condone any wrong doing. That’s why I also believe in corresponding punishments for when they’ve done things that have repercussions. At the height of my anger Jael said to me between tears “I know you’re angry with me but you still love me.” I said that I did love him but didn’t like what he did. Children can understand concepts better than you think.

I was inspired to write about this after seeing this McDonalds video:

Our children are our legacy. They carry our family line forward but they also create their own legacies. Give them the ability to do so and they just might carry forward some of the things you’ve taught them even applying it to their own kids. Parenting is not about getting it right but getting it done. We all have our own techniques and methods but we all share the same end result, a happy well adjusted, and responsible individual.

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