It’s tough to be a parent these days. Striking the right balance between letting them have the independence and freedom to learn, make mistakes, and evolve, and protecting them from the real danger out there in the world can feel like an uphill battle. In addition to preventing physical danger, we also have to keep our kids out of emotional danger: loneliness, cyberbullying and the like. Creating a supportive environment is sometimes difficult, but essential to healthy, happy kinds.
Kids that don’t feel supported may resort to self-harm. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for young people 15-24, and the feelings that eventually lead to suicide can start very young. It’s also important to remember that most abuse is perpetrated by parents—91.6% of maltreated kids are victimized by a parent. While most of us can’t imagine ever mistreating our kids, it’s so important to realize that everything we do or say can have an impact. No pressure, right? It doesn’t have to be complicated, though. Simply striving every day to support, love, and listen to your child is the best way to start. By walking the talk and truly being parents, we enrich our children’s lives.
Living with Kindness and Mindfulness
It’s not always easy to be kind as a parent. The 15th time your child gets into something they’re not supposed to, keeping your cool can be tough. In those moments, you need to be especially mindful of the words that you use with your children. Saying things like “why can’t you ever” sends a negative message about your child’s character, which may seem innocuous when they’re young, but can easily be caught up in the subconscious that is taking everything in at a young age. When you’re at your wits’ end, taking a moment to be mindful—taking a walk, doing yoga, or practicing meditation together—can be a way to connect and create a more supportive environment.
The mindfulness craze has mostly been targeted at adults, but taking the time for mindful activities as a family can really bring parents and kids together. It allows everyone to take a breath and nurture emotional health, which is deeply interconnected with mental and physical health as well. Finding activities that promote a healthy lifestyle while staying connected as a family will help to instill lifelong habits.
If everyone in the household is always rushing around doing chores, trying to get homework done, and thinking about their responsibilities, we often default to leaving the fun out of life. Even when things are busy, get a little silly. Make some jokes. Go out for the occasional spontaneous outing. Run around together. Help kids stay positive and playful by being positive and playful yourself. Bonus: it’ll help you feel happier and more connected too!
Listen and Engage
When we’re caught up in the business of what to make for dinner, who has activities when, and whether or not the bills have been paid, it’s easy to gloss over what our kids say, especially when it feels mundane. However, sometimes we miss important details about our kids lives when we’re not really listening to them. Maybe something they did at school seems small, or you’re not as excited about their favorite video game as they are. That’s okay! Follow their cues, ask questions, listen, and engage. The more kids feel you value their interests and care about what they’re doing, the more they’ll trust you and open up.
Let Them Know They Matter
Relationships between parents and children change as children grow. It’s a different challenge to connect with an angsty teen than it is with a hyperactive toddler. Making the effort at every stage of life is absolutely crucial. Letting kids know they matter helps them to feel supported and helps them to build the empathy, confidence, and ability to be vulnerable that they need to create strong relationships and live healthy lives.
As parents, we’re not perfect—we will make mistakes along the way—but working every day to create a supportive environment can often mean that those mistakes won’t define a child’s life, the way trauma can. Keeping their happiness alive and letting them be joyful ensures their health stays good. Doing meaningful activities, staying active, and teaching kids how to maintain their attitude and wellbeing can ensure that they grow up feeling loved, supported, and ready to take on the challenges of adult life.