Universal Truths About Raising Kids That None of us Can Escape
You may have already heard this, but the idea of ‘parenting’ is a relatively new concept. Not just the term, but the actual activity. It feels like something that must have existed forever, because there have always been children and thus parents. But the modern approach to parenting is something entirely different from what even our grandparents practiced.
Another quite new phenomenon that has piggy backed on the rise in parenting is parent shaming. This is what parents experience when they feel themselves being judged by others parent or family members. It can also arise when we interact with school officials or hear something on the television or radio that goes contrary to our own parenting style.
This whole parenting thing can be an exhausting roller coaster of emotions and fatigue. Of course we’re going to be experience stress and worry along the way. After all, parents often feel a huge burden to ensure the success of these tiny people over whom we have direct responsibility.
When it comes to choosing the right path or methodology, there are enough parenting guidebooks, blogs, and podcasts to last a lifetime. So who is right and who is wrong? This question is one of the reasons that we, as parents, have so much anxiety. How do we know if we’re doing it right?
As with many things in life, we may be over thinking this parenting thing a bit too much. I think that deep down, we all know the answer to the parenting question and its pretty simple. The person who knows how to best raise a child is likely the loving parents who brought that child into this world.
Below are a few things to keep in mind as you go about raising children. These are not rules to follow, just truths to remember. Hopefully they can ease some of the shame you may be experiencing, and help you rethink your role as a parent.
Kids are People Too
Sometimes as adults we don’t recognize the individuals developing right before our eyes. And unfortunately, kids often don’t receive the kind of treatment they deserve; such as recognition for their ideas or freedom to make mistakes as they learn.
One time my wife expressed the frustration she was feeling because of the way our daughter was often treated by adults. While she was only three years old, she was already very talkative. Sometimes when she would stand in front of adults and share something with them, the adults would react with laughter and tell my daughter how cute she was.
My daughter would become visibly agitated, as she did not find the story she was telling very funny at all. It frustrated my wife, because she is very concerned with the emotional well-being of our children. And what is a child supposed to think if people laugh at her stories when they aren’t supposed to laugh? What is she supposed to think about her intellect and social skills when adults always respond by telling her how cute she is?
It’s easy to be frustrated in a situation like this, especially because you can see the frustration your child is experiencing. I don’t believe the adults in my story were being intentionally hurtful. In fact, they were probably trying to make her feel good about herself. The problem is that kids are not things to be admired, petted, or cooed over.
All people need the freedom to learn, to experience, to make decisions (even bad ones), and to learn from those decisions. All people have things they like, things they love, and things they fear. Kids are no different. Kids are people too. They have feelings. They have intelligent thoughts. They want to be independent.
Just like adults, kids will find emotional stability as they experience autonomy and get to use their creativity. The real reason kids are apt to throw a temper tantrum is that they feel a loss of control. Screaming is how they gain back their control. Kids want to feel empowered and sometimes the best way we can do that is to listen to what they are actually saying. And sometimes we just need to get out of their way.
Kids Experience Stress Just Like Adults
Despite what we may think, we adults are not great at managing our emotions. We play it cool in front of others but the first chance we get we chow down on something delicious, binge watch a show on Netflix, or shop compulsively online. And these are the less destructive coping mechanisms we employ. We have other ways of dealing with our emotions as well; such as pornography, drugs, and alcohol.
If adults have such a hard time managing their emotions, then why do we so often expect our kids to be good at it? Kids are just learning to manage their emotions, many of which they are feeling for the first time.
There have been far too many times, when I’ve been frustrated with my son in the moment, because he throws a fit and makes life crazy for ten minutes. I always end up asking my wife how he can go from having a perfectly mature conversation one minute to kicking and screaming on the floor the next? What makes me feel really bad about these situations, is much later when I look at photos, and its only then that I realize how young he actually was. Why did I ever expect so much from him?
Stress and anxiety are not going away for children either. Peter Gray recently wrote a great piece titled The Decline of Play and Rise in Children’s Mental Health Disorders. In his article Gray explains how the decline in children’s unstructured free time is adding to the amount of stress and depression children are experiencing. Kids spend more time in school, extracurricular activities, and adult led events then ever before.
Gray also wrote, “Free play and exploration are, historically, the means by which children learn to solve their own problems, control their own lives, develop their own interests, and become competent in pursuit of their own interests.”
Maybe what our kids need is more time to process the things they experience. They need time to act out, through their imagination, the real world experiences they have. This is how they make sense of the things they experience. Maybe they need mom and dad to get off their backs and let them run wild a little bit more. Or maybe they just need us adults to recognize that, while they are small and inexperienced, they are feeling the same emotions we are and need some help in dealing with them.
The Most Important Things Kids Need From Parents is Quality Time
The truth is that you can tell your child that you love them one hundred times a day, but what they really need is for you to listen to them, play with them, hold them, or read them a book. They want you to spend time with them.
As parents in today’s world, all of us are probably guilty of putting our kids in front of a movie or television show just so we can have time to breathe. One thing I’ve noticed with my kids is that when they spend time staring at a screen they become zombies. They are tired, lethargic, and grumpy. They cry for no apparent reason.
However, when I spend time with them – playing Guess Who or building Lego’s – they become happy energetic little people. Their emotional state is reflected in their physical actions. They throw fewer temper tantrums. Not zero temper tantrums, but fewer temper tantrums.
The quality of the time you spend with your kids makes a difference as well. Research has shown that kids who can’t even talk can discern between negative and positive facial expressions. It’s no surprise then that our kids can tell when we’re not engaged with them. When we’re just going through the motions. When we stop to check our phone every 5 minutes.
We’re all extremely busy and have all sorts of things fighting for a share of our thoughts. So, if you find it hard to be engaged when you’re on the floor playing make-believe with your kids, here is something I’ve found helpful – make them do what you want to do.
I’m not saying that you should make them do adult things that they will find boring and annoying. Just think of the kid things you would find enjoyable and suggest to them that you do those things together. One activity that I’ve really enjoyed is telling my kids about things I did when I was young, and then doing it with them.
For example: when I was a kid, I made up a Halloween board game on a big piece of poster board. It had monsters, witches, and ghosts. It had secret compartments and hidden treasures. Over the weekend, my kids and I worked to recreate the game from my child hood. It was fun for me to redo something I had done as a kid, and it was fun for my kids to see the board come to life.
Whatever you do, find something that is enjoyable for both you and your child and do it together. You won’t regret it, and that is a promise. You’re kids will recognize your engagement with them. Then when you tell them how much you love them, they’ll feel the truth of your words and their smiles will beam from ear to ear.
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Pacific Swells is a collection of short stories and helpful articles about finding happiness through intentional living.
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