So many words that come out of a parent’s mouth are words of worry and reminders to be safe, or words that limit or stifle action. I’d like to put in a word for words that encourage! Keep in mind the end goal is to raise independent children who are successful and productive adults. What good comes from hovering, limiting and instilling your fears on your child?
Encourage new skills. Don’t baby your children, unless of course they are babies! Let the kids figure things out, expose your children to new environments and see what inspires. Curiosity is one of the greatest strengths of children (we know that it is not tidiness!). If your little one reaches into the river to move a rock, don’t tell him to “watch out for crawfish!” If your school age child wants to help maintain the campfire, don’t yell to “watch out for the flames!” If your high school age child needs to stay up all night to finish a project, hold off on the lecture. Let him connect the dots and figure out how to make up for a lost night of sleep, and manage his time better in the future. In each case, the child is experiencing something new, building life experience and learning.
Encourage challenging tasks. Sometimes I have the feeling that parents have a need for the stream of non-stop talk in order to feel useful and engaged. I suggest just sitting quietly and letting your children handle, or figure things out on their own. They know you’re there, just in case! For example, when a child is young and struggling to get onto the jungle gym, let him work it out. Resist the urge to comment, give advice, boost him up, etc. Their success and self-confidence will be so much more valuable if it comes from themselves, in their own time. They are developing important life skills: independence, self confidence and physical awareness.
Encourage stepping out of the comfort zone. It’s easier for parents and children to fall back on “safe” activities which include staying indoors and playing video games. The parent knows where the child is and feels that no harm can come to him (oh yes, it can!). The latch-key child is encouraged to do indoor activities. I can assure you that there is much more danger with an unsupervised child at home on the computer than there is with a child out on the driveway shooting hoops or riding a bike over to a friend’s house down the street to play football. Our perception of danger is often skewed. Have an agreed upon plan for your child when he comes home from school if you are not there to meet him.
Let your children handle their own risk management (based on their life experiences, not yours!). We are raising four boys. We are not an “indoor” family. We choose adventures and activities that are inherently risky and there have been many harrowing moments along the way! However, I know that keeping my worries to myself, although sometimes very difficult to do, has been the right thing to do. We parents are there to handle the serious safety issues, but we do not need to micromanage every bluff they choose to scramble, every river they choose to cross, or every construction project they take on. Over the years, they have built such a cache of personal experiences that they are self-confident, yet know their limits. They manage their own risk. We are frequently awed by what they can do and manage themselves, with ease now.
Enjoy watching your children grow. Growth occurs when kids go beyond their normal routine. A confident parent doesn’t need to control their child’s every move and decision, but you do need to expose them to new experiences and activities. If you have worries and hang-ups, don’t burden your children with them right from the start. Stay nearby, encourage, be quiet and let your children figure out how to climb the tree. Keep your “I told you that was too difficult” comments to yourself if they don’t succeed. They will hopefully learn the value of perseverance and working hard. They will grow, and they will amaze you. There is nothing better than watching your kids navigate their world. Remember, that is your goal as a parent!