Wow! As I write this post our country is reeling from the aftershock of another school shooting. So many people are asking, Why? Unfortunately there are no simple answers. But rather than letting our shock slowly turn into apathy, I feel like there are some real things we can do, Right now. Right in our own homes.
We must take on the responsibility to raise strong, mentally competent children, who can become strong, independent adults..
Because, that is our job as parents, right?
Many parents feel that if they can steer their kids safely through childhood and the teen years, then they have done a good job. The problem with that - what I call the bubble wrap approach - is that kids enter adulthood without any skills to navigate life.
Jessica Lahey puts it this way in her book, The Gift of Failure: "Today's overprotective, failure-avoidant parenting style has undermined the comptence, independence and academic potential of an entire generation."
By giving children opportunities to build resilience, social skills, self-awareness, and self-competency, in the context of nurturing adult relationships, children can move towards healthy independence.
So how do we do this? Here are some simple and practical things you can do as a parent, caregiver or educator to help the children in your life thrive:
Give them room to fail. Children, as young as toddlers, can be given space to explore and try things on their own. They may fall, they may get messy, but it is these hands-on experiences where they learn cause and effect and natural consequences. Also, when a child experiences setbacks and see that they can come out the other side and learn some things - that leads to resiliency. It is sometimes hard to step back but the rewards for you child will be worth it.
Help your child discover things that are calming. As they connect how they feel with the action, it will become a tool they can use when they are frustrated. Going outside is typically calming for anyone. If you have a baby, you can see right away how being outside is calming. For some children, a certain scent or having a fidget can be calming. Maybe it is petting the family dog or being by themselves for a period of time.
Prioritize unscheduled space in children's lives. Anxiety levels are higher than ever among children today. Very young children are being put on anxiety medicine. Children today are experiencing more pressure than ever to perform academically and on the sports field. Children need downtime to recover from the stress of their daily lives. And not only that, studies show that children with more unstructured time in their lives become better decision makers down the road.
Build self-competence by helping your child find something they enjoy doing. Again, step back and let them take the lead. If you are doing an art project with them, don't do if for them. Even if it doesn't meet your expectations, give them the opportunity to own it and feel pride in doing it on their own.
Help them build healthy thought patterns. What kids believe about themselves has a tremendous impact on how they function in the future. I came across this visual by @sylviaduckworth illustrating a growth mindset. It is a helpful guide in training your child (and us for that matter) on self-talk. This is geared toward school but the principles apply to anything they do.
Limit technology use. I can't say enough about this one. It is essential that families work together to limit time on technology. I often hear people say that technology is everywhere, so why fight it. Creating boundaries and limitations will give your children a) practice experiencing boundaries and limits, b) mental space without excessive visual stimulation c) more time to build real, honest-to-goodness relationships d) time to come up with other healthier options for entertainment. You would be amazed what kids can come up with when they get bored!
These are just a few ways that you can set the scene for your child to develop some important skills. Life for kids today is sort of like a pressure cooker - if we don't give them the ability to blow off a little steam, the results can be disastrous,