Just like us, our children crave happiness and well being. There are many fruitful ways to guide our future generation and even share the highlights of the journey. With care and communication, love and forgiveness, we can help our children blossom into radiant and resilient adults.
There are many essentials for caretakers to consider but here are my top ten:
1. Say what you mean and mean what you say!
I share loads of positive affirmations and at least one, “I love you” to each of my four kids every day! I mean it when I say it and I love it when they say it to me. I also mean it when I tell them to treat each other kindly and I’m perfectly comfortable saying I’m disappointed when they don’t. Children need us to be direct and clear communicators. This builds transparency and trust.
2. Actions speak louder than words.
Although what we choose to say is of value, what we actually do is an even stronger message. If we want our children to self-regulate their time on computers and iPhones, then we must model this behavior for them. Also, invite your kids to witness how you make choices for your wellbeing (i.e. choosing a protein bar over a snickers) and happiness (beading a necklace instead of entering the T.V. zone). Happiness is a choice and children need to learn this by watching us consistently make choices that promote happiness.
3. We all need rhythm and routine.
More so than adults, kids need a basic routine at home to follow most days. They need a schedule for bathing, completing homework, bedtime/lights out. At our house, we also have the routine of unstructured time after school where the kids are unplugged from media and are free to draw, bake, play in the woods, read, ride a bike. Having a household routine helps children develop an internal clock which lends stability when life throws a curve ball.
4. Start teaching kitchen confidence and healthy cooking early on.
Feeding ourselves is a primal instinct. Of course, small children can’t cook but even they can roll cookie dough into balls (with boundless joy!). As they get older, caretakers can invite children to make their own meals and learn about the kitchen, the pots/pans, how to properly clean up. Practicing kitchen skills gives kids confidence. Tasting, creating, sharing and looking over healthy cookbooks together lays the foundation for a lifetime of good health and is also a great way to be close to our children (teens included!).
5. Say NO!
Children need to hear NO! “No more cookies!" "No, it's past your bed time." "No, you have to do your chores first!” I would not suggest saying no to a two-year-old (that’s his job) but once your child is out of diapers and for the long haul … Hearing "no" builds strength and resilience. Our children will encounter quite a bit of structure as they start school and the adults around them will not treat them as carefully as we do. It's best they get used to hearing "no" in a loving way first, so it’s easier for them out in the world!
6. But say yes to chores!
Even at an early age, children can feel like a useful and contributing member of the family. I don't like to make a daily list of chores for our four kids but a weekly household job is great, such as doing laundry or cleaning a bathroom. Daily chores are expected but are more personal such as tidy your room, clear your dishes. Contributing to the weekly flow of a basically organized home fosters a child’s awareness of her value in sailing the ship successfully. This is a good start for building confidence and understanding responsibility as an adult.
7. Kids need cuddle time!
Every single day a gentle touch, holding hands, big hugs, cuddling by the fire for a story … is blissful and healing for everyone! There are also times when a child may need extra care and can easily be rebalanced by a gentle caress on the back or when a caretaker brings them a hot water bottle (especially for bellyaches) and sits beside them.
8. Teach compassion and forgiveness.
Kids develop compassion and forgiveness in a home where they are treated with these vital qualities. In our home we have a motto, “whatever you have done, you will always be instantly forgiven if you tell the truth.” This seems to have encouraged not only telling the truth and saying sorry but also helps us practice compassion and forgiveness. We all accept that mistakes are made and release the attachment to them when we forgive. This is a great process to experience together as a family and is a useful adult skill.
9. Create family rituals.
Rituals can originate creatively among family members or can be followed according to religious tradition. Either way, reciting a brief mealtime prayer is a wonderful way to reconnect after a busy day. In our home after years of saying a prayer before dinner, we found a fun and way to reconnect each evening by holding hands and sending around a squeeze! Kids feel truly joyous when their favorite family rituals replay each week or during holidays and special events. Like the seasons, rituals become a familiar outlet for our joy to be expressed.
10. Support them as they create healthy relationships.
Good relationships begin at home. Caretakers need to encourage an ongoing dialogue with their children about the qualities of a good friend and how to navigate uncomfortable situations. They also should know their child's closest friends. Most important is an open positive exchange with your child and keeping “up to date” with what's going on … this can be fun and is so important!
We, just like our kids, are a work in progress and should be patient with ourselves as we experience parenting as a catalyst for growth. The commitments we make as parents will contribute to our kids’ happiness and resilience…YAY! Happy parenting!