We’re counting down to Christmas and no doubt some of us are still shopping for the “perfect gift” to complete our lists for our loved ones. When it comes to our children, while toys and clothes are appreciated, let’s consider investing in their emotional well-being as well.
Twenty years ago, John Mayer’s song, “Daughters,” made its debut. It’s words still ring true today:
Fathers be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers be good to your daughters too
As parents, how we love and respond to our kids’ emotional needs will influence their relationships to themselves and others for generations to come. Here are 6 gifts we can give them that will leave a positive impact:
1. Listen to them
This one is simple but can be hard to do in our fast-paced world. We are distracted by work and household duties, carpooling, and a myriad of activities. Still, our kids need and desire our full attention. Make eye contact. Carve out time in your day to ask how they are doing or pause what you are doing when they initiate conversation. Make it organic; car rides to school or sports practice, meal times, or bedtime all present opportunities for connection.
Don’t know what to ask? Use conversation starters you can find free online to jumpstart a fun discussion. Most of the time, the problem is not coming up with something to say, but “missing the moment” when our kids try to engage with us. I get it. We’re tired, distracted by our endless to-do list, and have our own stressors. We tend to zone out when our kids describe their latest Minecraft round, for example, or launch into detailed descriptions of events at school or other hobbies. Yet being present, actively listening, asking good questions, communicates to our children that they matter, that what matters to them matters to us. This not only boosts their sense of self-worth but paves the way for good communication with them as they get older. If we want our kids to share with us, we need to make sure they know that we’re available and we care.
2. Validate their emotions
As we’re listening to our kids, it’s important that we validate their emotions. Are they nervous about an upcoming test? Anxious about making new friends? Sad about the loss of a friendship? Frustrated by their coach’s critique? Sometimes as adults, we inadvertently dismiss their experience, attempting to comfort them. We say things like, “it will be ok,” “that’s not so bad,” “you’ll get through it.” Just because we know what they’re dealing with is temporary doesn’t mean it is not big to them in the moment. When we respond with empathy, such as, “wow, that must have felt scary, tell me more,“ or “help me understand how that made you feel,” we are not only communicating that we care and that their feelings matter, but we are increasing their emotional intelligence by helping them explore what’s going on in their minds and bodies. In doing so, they can connect with what they need (i.e. rest, water/food, exercise, community).
3. Resist the urge to “rescue”
Our kids identifying what they need is important, but we do not have to put pressure on ourselves to meet every need or prevent them from having needs altogether. That’s impossible! Kids will experience disappointment, discomfort, and failure at times. Attempting to shield them from pain is not only a losing battle, but also will not help them build resilience as they mature. It may be hard to watch them struggle or make mistakes, but they are learning and growing through the challenges they face. Even when there are negative consequences to the choices they make, it’s not our job to fix the situation. We can offer support and be a “soft place” to land, but kids who learn to take responsibility for their actions will ultimately fare better as adults.
4. Model healthy relationships
The home is the first place our kids will witness interpersonal relationships. For better or worse, they will learn how to communicate and resolve conflict through watching us interact with other family members, friends, and members of the community. Let’s be intentional about modeling healthy patterns of relating, including traits such as empathy and kindness. Let’s model apologizing when we have wronged someone (including our kids!). We can instruct our children to share, be good listeners, or consider others’ needs, but showing them through our own behavior is more powerful.
Let’s also consider that having our own emotional support matters when raising emotionally healthy children. Just as we encourage our kids to be a good friend and find places of belonging, we need community as well. Our kids need to see us connected to peers and mentors. We have more to offer our children when our own needs are being met.
5. Enjoy them!
We spend so much time as parents instructing our kids in what to do and what not to do that sometimes we forget to simply enjoy them! Training and discipline are only part of parenting. Do you ever stop and marvel at the gift your children are to you? Do you tell them how special they are? Take time to have fun and do activities that your children like to do. Whether it’s reading books together, playing board games, or going on a walk – it’s beneficial for both our kids and ourselves to unwind from work, school, and daily tasks. It is in moments of laughter and memory-making that deeper bonds are formed. These moments become the stories that get passed down to the next generation.
6. Ask for help
Perfect parents do not exist. We all need help sometimes. Rather than pretend to have it all together, it’s better that we model for our kids how to find the resources we need in any given situation. When we’re sick, we go to a doctor. When we have car trouble, we seek a mechanic. When life is overwhelming, it’s good to seek support from friends, family, and professionals.
Get online counseling in Pennsylvania and North Carolina
If you or your children need support for anxiety, grief, or trauma, please contact Lime Tree Counseling for a free 15-minute phone consultation or to set up an initial session. You will be matched with a therapist who specializes in the area for which you need care. We offer online counseling, anxiety counseling and grief counseling. A personalized plan will be created so that you can experience greater peace. You do not have to do life alone, and our caring team looks forward to working with you.