Everyone has their own parenting style and that’s a good thing! But one underlying “why” thread that runs through almost all parents: the desire for our kids to be self-reliant, capable, and persistent people when they grow up.
Every parent want his/her kids to have life skills that will set them up for better lives and success in what ever they choose to do.
I’m guessing you’ve all heard things and ideas about how to do this, but given that it’s a New Year, I have made a commitment to truly focus on fostering resilience and empowering my two girls so I’ve been diving into some books and reading articles.
Here’s are 8 simple ways to empower kids:
- Choice. Give your kids choices between 2 (or maybe 3) things that you can both live with. Limit options for best results but giving them a voice in what directly affects their lives is a key foundation in strong-willed kids.
- Listen. This can be tough for us all as our lives get busy and complicated more often than not, yet truly engaging with kids even if only for a short time makes a huge impact. 5-10 minutes of paying attention to how they feel and what’s going on in their lives teaches them to process their feelings positively, manage stress, and a myriad of other crucial life skills. Remember to just listen and not fix what’s going on—they need to be able to fix things. We do this during dinner especially since it’s time that we always spend together and our kids now rely on this time of genuine connection. My friend starts this conversation during the drive home from school and once home sits and makes eye contact and/or snuggles for less than 5 minutes.
- Values. Key values such as honesty, integrity, perseverance, and resilience will set them up to be able to cope when life gets tough. You must also walk the talk here folks and model these values through everyday actions and communication. Consider crafting a family values system. Depending on the age of your kids you can include them in this or just raise them knowing which values you hold most dear.
- Risk. Kids need to learn to make good decisions and that decisions have natural consequences. If you let kids explore and take risks while you’re around they will end up with bumps and bruises (physically and sometimes emotionally) yet in the end they’ll be able to know their limits when you’re not around. Risk on purpose builds self-confidence which is a crucial piece of the empowerment puzzle.
- Systems. Create systems that facilitate kids doing things for themselves as much as possible. Even toddlers can do things for themselves: clear a lower section of a cabinet or drawer out and put things like cups, plates, napkins, snacks you’re OK with them getting by themselves. The more they can do for themselves, the more confidence and life skills they will have. This also helps you! If kids can put their clothes right side out into the correct laundry basket they learn and you save time and energy! And kids rise to the challenge. We stopped using plastic plates and cups around 3 and now my 5 year old rarely spills drinks and has never broken a single dish.
- Failure. This is admittedly a hard one to practice but teaching that it’s ok to fail, but it’s not ok to learn from failure is incredibly important. Every parent’s heart breaks when they see their child crushed and sad over not making it on a team they want or a project that didn’t work out, but fixing things for them won’t teach them how to avoid the mistakes in the future. The natural consequence of not preparing is often failure so if we teach our kids at a young age that’s it’s more important to learn and grow than always ‘win,’ they be set up for success later when the stakes are higher.
- Trust and Respect. Everyone needs this to be their best—even small children. Remember that boss that micromanaged you and didn’t respect your abilities? Nuff’ said.
- Focused Encouragement. Highlight capabilities and talents over appearance, think through ways to say things that connect actions to values. And fine tune your praise and words used about capabilities and talents so that you’re going beyond natural aptitudes and again reinforcing the actions and values behind things like natural athleticism and intelligence. This is not an easy shift so I’d suggest doing some of your own research on this or if you feel like you really need to improve consider working with a parenting coach. Sometimes a class or a couple of hours with a pro can make a huge difference.
- Word Choice. This directly relates to Focused Encouragement: avoid ‘that’s a pretty picture’ and shift to ‘I love how much effort and creativity went in to that picture.’ Similarly, especially with girls, skip ‘you look so cute’ and opt for things like ‘wow! What a great job getting ready for school! You chose a great color to wear today!’ or ‘nice matching work with this outfit.’ For older kids, be careful about what you praise especially around school and grades! Focusing on the effort they put into their school work instead of getting an A is crucial. Just praising how smart they are and the A’s they get, doesn’t connect back to the values you’re wishing for like determination and hard work.
When you know that your child understands and practices the values that are crucial to being empowered and self-reliant, you can rest knowing that they’ve earned your trust and will make great decisions almost all the time. In closing, it’s not easy to parent yet if you can make small shifts in your habits, you’ll set your child up for a great life based on skills you foster and teach them through modeling.
Photo by Nicole Vaughn