It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.
~Vince Lombardi (1913-1970)
Kids don’t come with a manual! I don’t think what is meant by this exasperated comment is: if we could just do some programming here and there, we’d be good to go until the batteries break, but rather, we’d like some guidance on how to get started to make sure our child is healthy, strong, and happy and, be able to troubleshoot when a button is pushed and we’re not sure how to fix it. As far as I know, comprehensive parenting manuals with all the answers are not being distributed in maternity units within 24 hours of delivery! We build resilience through daily experiences and receiving good coaching. Regular physical activity is more difficult than being sedentary, but without movement, our bodies become weak. Too much exercise and we risk injury, pain, and inconvenience. Parents are head coaches. Playing your kids smartly means avoiding unnecessary chances, while showing how to execute tough plays with forethought, practice, and tenacity.
Here are a few ideas to get practice started:
- Consider your expectations for performance and community involvement (e.g., academics, athletics, the arts, etc.). Now, ask your kids about their expectations, hopes, and dreams. It’s important to have high standards, but if they are not aligned with personal interests and passions, children will become discouraged, bored, disengaged, and apathetic. Listen, share your views, and find common ground.
- Acknowledge emotions. Encourage kids to verbalize their perspective and feelings. Listen with an open mind. Ask questions. Reflect back what you hear being said (this is an especially great technique when the conversation gets heated). Be careful that you do not judge their experience with comments such as: I can’t believe you feel that way, I never would have…, or I just don’t get it! Some helpful phrases to have on hand include: I’d like to know how you felt, tell me more about what that was like for you, you look confused and worried, or you might not have the solution now, but I’m sure you will figure it out and I’d like to support you.
- Show your child how you take responsibility for your actions and cope with challenges. You solve problems and encounter stressful situations every day! Kids need to hear how you do this, especially when working through mistakes, frustration, disappointment, anger, or ethical dilemmas. Talk about the helpful ways you cope with uncomfortable feelings. Yesterday, I heard a mom talking to her daughter about a decision the pre-teen was trying to make. The mom talked about her own experiences weighing pros and cons, never being 100% sure of any decision, making the best decision possible with the information she has and being ok with it, and taking responsibility for the decision—–all within about 5 minutes. Way to go!
- Model empathy. This means that you talk about how you can personally relate to how someone thinks, feels, or acts. Empathy connects us to others and reminds us of our humanity. Empathy is at the heart of the Golden Rule. It encourages us to consider other’s experiences before or after acting. One of the most successful interventions for bullying behavior is for kids observing bullying (the “bystanders”) to tell the bully to stop and consider other’s perspectives. You can easily use examples when you’re on the playground, in a restaurant, watching TV or a video, or dealing with sibling rivalry.
- Communicate that you love your child unconditionally. Sure, his behavior can be annoying, infuriating, exasperating, but it’s the behavior, not the essence of a child that’s bothering you. Consider this phrase: It’s your behavior I don’t like, but I love you and will support you in making a better choice.
Think about ways you are using these strategies now and how you would like to grow. Head coaches need support too. Besides connecting with other parents, a school counselor, a medical provider, or a religious advisor, here are some materials that might be helpful: