Parenting is amazing, life-changing, challenging and scary. There often seem to be so many things we can do to mess our kids up! Being a parent of a 10-year-old boy (Jasper), a six-year-old girl (Scarlett), and a counsellor for more than a decade, I have certainly compiled a huge list of what not to do.
But this is a disheartening way to approach parenting, especially when there are so many things that parents are getting right. So instead of focusing solely on what to avoid, it’s a good idea to think about all the great things you can teach and impart to your kids.
- 25 things I’ve learned in 25 years
- Nurturing your child’s success with a Growth Mindset
- Mastering the art of apologising
One of these is wisdom. If we can raise wise kids who can problem-solve, think through their decisions and relate to others with kindness and humility, than we’re setting them up for true success. Wisdom has nothing to do with IQ or academic achievement, and everything to do with great mental health, resilience and character – and the ability to handle the mistakes we make along the way. Here are my top 10 tips for raising wise kids
At a parenting course my husband (Matt) and I ran, we taught all sorts of concepts focused on equipping parents to spot developing issues in their children and intervene early. At the end of the day, many of the parents said, “The main thing I’ve realised is that I’m struggling with a lot of these things myself, and if I don’t sort them out, I can’t help my kids.” We parent out of what we’ve got and who we are. If we want to raise wise, healthy children, we need to be wise and healthy ourselves.
This may require receiving some counselling, finding mentors and supporters, accessing resources, or revisiting the past and working out how it has shaped us. It may mean grieving some things we’ve tried to ignore for a long time. It can be terrifying to start a season of self-exploration, but be brave! You’re doing it so your kids have a secure, wise, healed parent.
2. Get to know your kids
The more we understand how our children are wired, the more we can empower them to become who and what they were created to be. As parents, we often give our kids what we ourselves need, what an older sibling might need or what our parents gave us. But this can miss the mark for a uniquely wired child.
How do we work our children out? A good place to start is observation – what do they like? Who are they drawn to? We can also ask them great questions – being curious about the amazing little people in our homes enables us to get to know them as individuals. Another way to find out what our kids need is to talk to their teachers and other important adults in their life. Tools like Strengths Finder, Myers-Briggs, the Four Temperaments (Melancholy, Phlegmatic, Sanguine, Choleric) and Love Languages can be an excellent place to start too.
3. Be humble
This can be a tough one – especially if we aren’t used to it – but as parents, we need to be okay with being wrong and apologising. When we hurt our kids (as we do, being imperfect humans and parents), we need to put things right. This means being able to say sorry and, “What can I do to fix this?”
If we want our kids to grow up to be teachable and willing to apologise and change when required, then we need to model these important life skills ourselves. If we don’t put things right with our kids, they may start to distance themselves from us when they’re upset with us. As parents, we need to be a safe place for our kids so they don’t go looking for someone or something else to meet their emotional needs. So apologise and be willing to see and work on your own blind spots.
4. Be real
Let your kids see what it is to be a human with good and bad traits and days. At a parenting seminar once, a man commented, “My wife and I never let our kids see us disagree or argue.” To which a young woman replied, “Nor did my parents, and now I have no idea how to resolve conflict at all.” Let your children see you disagree, talk things out, negotiate, apologise to each other and resolve problems. As parents we can role model healthy conflict resolution – helping our kids to learn to do this themselves.
5. Take emotional responsibility
Which leads to number five – don’t let your kids take responsibility for your emotions, needs or struggles.When we argue, it’s important to let our children know it’s not their problem and mum and dad will sort it out. Our children need to know that we are the adults and we are capable, so they can stick to being kids and not have to worry about us. This is particularly important when it comes to separation or divorce.
6. Normalise every emotion
This is a big one. No emotion should be off-limits for our kids. Far too many adults have certain emotions they are so terrified of they will do anything to avoid them. New Zealand counsellor, David Riddell, calls them ‘unbearable feelings’ because our brains have decided those particular feelings must be avoided at all costs.
The most common reason for reaching this conclusion is because we have been overwhelmed by that emotion at some point, usually in childhood. As parents then, we have a powerful opportunity to coach our children through every emotion they experience so they learn to handle all of them.
How? First, we need to get used to them ourselves. If we have emotions that are off-limits, we need to find out what caused us to fear them, get help working through particular experiences they may linked to, and then start coaching ourselves through safe experiences with that emotion. For example, if it’s humiliation you fear, (so you never speak up in public), don’t do a speech to 10,000 people, but do speak up more often in safe groups of friends. Reassure yourself that you can handle it. It may be uncomfortable, but not unbearable now you’re an adult.
If your child has already developed an unbearable feeling, start coaching them through it. Let them know everyone in the entire world (including yourself) feels that way sometimes. No one likes it but you will help them learn to get through it. A great way to start some conversations about emotions is by watching and discussing the Pixar movie Inside Out together.
7. Accept grief
On the topic of emotions, make sure grief is normal and acceptable in your home. Grief is how we heal from disappointment and loss – and if our kids don’t grieve the loss of friends, being bullied or missing out on things, the pain can build up and sometimes it can cause issues.
Particularly normalise grief for your sons. Some research suggests that by the age of eight most boys have learned that the only emotion they are allowed to express is anger. But what about disappointment? Inadequacy? Hurt? Rejection? Loneliness? True bravery is facing those things even though they hurt – not pretending we don’t feel them. So model and teach grief – through tears, talking honestly about feelings, and discussing the mental and emotional pain and challenges raised by whatever is happening.
8. Love life
Here’s a fun one – help your children fall in love with life! Take them camping, teach them to swim, dance and climb trees. Encourage their artistic and musical interests, and get them to try out a bunch of sports. Help them appreciate the wonder and beauty of the world and people. Some of these things may take you out of your comfort zone, so enlist friends and family to help you help your children come to appreciate being alive.
9. Be reasonable
If your child asks for two minutes to finish a game before going to bed, consider saying yes because that’s reasonable. If you can negotiate with your child, it teaches them they have the power to make a difference in the world. A child who isn’t given a voice to make suggestions becomes very frustrated and disempowered.
Of course there are times when negotiation is not appropriate (“No, you can’t set the cat on fire.”). But if you do have to say no to your child, help them understand why. This teaches them that there is logic behind rules and boundaries and helps them gain ownership of those rules and boundaries for themselves.
10. Love unconditionally
Finally, help your children understand that your love for them is not dependent on their performance. Whether they’re well-behaved or naughty, whether they get an A or a D, your love is unconditional. Of course, you can let them know you are disappointed in inappropriate behaviour, but your love is not consequently withdrawn. They are loved because they are your children and nothing changes that, ever. One way to reinforce this is to praise effort more than achievement. Reinforce the importance of character over performance, and encourage them to have fun while trying their best.
This is, of course, not a definitive list. We haven’t even touched on boundaries, discipline, consequences, your children’s sexuality or friendships. But the beauty of modern technology is that we have access to incredible wisdom from multiple sources throughout the world. And remember, the more you look after yourself and your well-being, the better equipped you will be to raise wise children.
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