Maybe you were like me and had a vision/dream/plan for how your life would go. During my college years, I created a five and 10-year plan for my life. It included graduating, getting a job, getting married (I was dating my future husband), buying a house, and traveling. None of my dreams had an unplanned pregnancy, which can rock your world.

Some of the things I planned did occur. I graduated from college, worked as a teacher, and got married. Eventually, other items made my list, like attending graduate school. Still, getting pregnant was down the line – way down the line.  

But picture this: I was in the last semester of graduate school. I had found my dream career. I was feeling unwell but attributed it to eating bad mall food or the stress of school. But something inside said, “Go get a pregnancy test,” and I did. I still remember what I felt when those two pink lines were evident on that strip: OMG, I’m pregnant, and it’s unplanned. 

If you’re in a similar situation, you may be wondering how to process all you’re feeling inside.

Here are some ways to help you process the emotions of an unplanned pregnancy:

1. Acknowledge the emotional overload.

Take time to process everything that you are feeling. It doesn’t have to happen overnight. 

When I saw those two pink lines, I immediately went into denial. This can’t be happening. This wasn’t in the plan right now. Then I was bombarded with emotions like being overwhelmed, scared, nervous, excited, and a little shame and guilt because I was faced with an unplanned pregnancy. Then came gratefulness because my doctor had told me it would be challenging to have a baby, and several of my friends were having trouble getting pregnant. Dealing with your emotions can take a while, no matter what they are.

2. Feel what you feel.

It’s essential to allow all that you feel to surface, even if it’s ANGER. Your natural reaction may be to push down negative thoughts or emotions. It’s better to put all your feelings on the table to deal with them. If you are angry at yourself, your partner, or even your child, it’s OK to feel what you feel. You just can’t stay there, because it’s not helpful.

3. Be prepared for your feelings to change.

You are experiencing many things right now, but that doesn’t mean you will always feel this way. If you feel angry or overwhelmed, it definitely doesn’t mean you aren’t cut out to be a parent. An unplanned pregnancy doesn’t mean your child won’t be loved or adored upon arrival. Be gentle with yourself and your spouse/partner as you both process. 

4. Talk to your circle of support.

Yes, you may be on emotional overload. You have too many questions and not enough answers. Guess what? Your partner is probably dealing with the same things: shock, denial, feeling overwhelmed, or even scared. In the same way you need space and time to process, give your spouse/partner the same consideration. A healthy relationship should be the primary safe space for you to share concerns and fears about the change in your lives.

Talking to friends and family will help you recognize that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. In fact, more than 45% percent of women in the U.S. have experienced an unplanned pregnancy. Sharing all that you feel in an open and safe environment allows you to process your feelings. 

Emotions do not have to be destructive, and what you do with all you’re feeling can make a world of difference. So allow yourself to feel and process through what you feel. Shoving down your emotions and ignoring them aren’t beneficial to you or your situation. As you read this, you may still be in some form of shock or denial, and that’s OK. Keep moving forward and processing your emotions to get to the other side. 

Remember, some of the best surprises are unplanned.

Other blogs:

4 Things to Know About Emotional Safety

Tips for Controlling Your Emotions

Unplanned Pregnancy in Marriage

Sources: 

Preventing unplanned pregnancy: Lessons from the states

20 Questions to Ask Your Family This Fall

Celebrate together as the season changes.

The cool, crisp mornings. The crackle of a bonfire. The gooeyness of s’mores. The vibrant colors popping in the trees. Fall is upon us, and it’s oh so magical.

The dawn of any new season brings opportunities to intentionally connect with your kids. It’s a great time to talk about what makes fall unique and learn more about your traditions and traditions around the world. 

Here are some questions to kick off fall conversations with your family.

As with any good questions, take the opportunity to dig a little deeper into your kids’ responses. Ask them why they answer a certain way. Have fun! You might find some new fall family traditions in your conversations.

1. What fall scent smells the best?

Pumpkin spice, apple cinnamon, apple cider, pecan pie, bonfire, just to name a few.

2. What’s your favorite fall activity?

Hayrides, trick or treating, pumpkin carving, the list goes on and on.

3. Where’s your favorite place to go in the fall?

Do you have a specific place you like to visit to see the leaves change? Is there an apple orchard or pumpkin patch that your family loves?

4. What’s your fondest fall memory from your childhood?

This could be a specific holiday, a fun trip, or just something that brings joy.

5. What fall holiday do you enjoy most?

6. What fall holiday from another culture would you like to learn more about?

To learn about more holidays around the world, check out 10 Autumn Traditions Around the World – Aberdeen.

7. What’s your favorite fall food?

Plan to make these as a family over the next week.

8. What are you thankful for?

And since gratefulness isn’t just limited to Thanksgiving, get our free download: 25 Family Activities to Increase Thankfulness and Joy

9. What’s your favorite thing to watch in the fall?

(Halloween classics, Thanksgiving specials, football, the World Series, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, or are you prepping for Christmas already?)

Would you rather:

10. Enjoy a pumpkin spice drink or apple cider?

11. Get lost in a corn maze or spooked in a haunted house?

12. Eat caramel apples or candy corn?

13. Watch football or baseball? (It’s the playoffs!)

14. Jump in a pile of leaves or go on a hayride?

15. Have a cool, crisp, fall day or go back to the summer heat?

Trivia (Who doesn’t love good trivia?):

16. What makes leaves change their color? 

(Answer: Sugar is trapped in the leaves, causing red and purple colors.)

17. What country did Halloween originate from? 

(Answer: Ireland. Halloween originates from a Celtic festival celebrating the new year on November 1. Traditions were to light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts.)

18. What is the most popular Autumn tradition in the world? 

(Answer: Halloween. It’s traditionally celebrated as All Hallows’ Eve in many countries (the day before All Saints’ Day). 

Bonus: Thanksgiving comes in second, followed by Dia de Los Muertos. If you want to explore another culture’s celebrations, I strongly recommend learning more about Dia de Los Muertos. Sounds like a “Coco” movie night!

Finish this statement:

19. My favorite Halloween treat is:

20. My favorite thing to eat on Thanksgiving is:

Use these conversation starters at the dinner table or in the car.

Fall is a great time to connect as a family. Take the time to slow down before the bustle of the holiday season. The weather is perfect for getting outdoors and exploring with your family.

Other resources:

DIY Date Night: Let’s Fall In Love!

25 Fall Activities For The Whole Family To Enjoy

30 Romantic Fall Date Ideas For Couples

Grandparents usually mean well. Like you, they want your child to become a great adult, but their way of showing this can cause problems. Sometimes they may seem controlling, undermining, manipulative, overbearing, or critical. They can make you feel insecure, incompetent, or small. (Imagine my thumb and pointer finger getting closer and closer to each other.) You both have desires and expectations. Sometimes, they clash and the grandparents overstep boundaries they may not even know they’ve crossed.

It can be anything: food choices, entertainment, clothing, the holidays, discipline, etc. Things they don’t think are a big deal may be huge for you. You want a good relationship with your parents and in-laws. You also want your kids to have good relationships with their grandparents. In your mind, the boundaries are designed to protect that relationship. 

So what do you do when the grandparents overstep boundaries?

1. Start by resolving in your mind the reason for the boundary.

This helps you clarify why it’s important to you. How does the boundary help the child and/or family? 

2. Is there a bigger issue?

Are they overstepping because of fear? Do they fear their grandchildren won’t like them as much if they don’t give them more sweets or grander holiday gifts? Maybe they’re afraid their grandkids won’t know them well if they don’t see them “enough.” They may just think the boundary is unnecessary. It’s also possible they’re trying to make up for lost time.

You don’t have to know all the answers, but talking through them with your spouse and the grandparents with an open mind can help you address bigger issues.

1. Get on one page with your spouse.

Understand 1) the boundary, 2) how it was crossed, and 3) the reason for the boundary. It’s common for the boundary to be “more important” to one spouse than the other. But sticking to the boundaries (whether you agree on the level of importance or not) is essential.

2. Talk to the grandparent.

It’s generally better for the biological child to talk to their own parent privately, away from the kids or others, though both spouses being present is a good thing. You may start the conversation with, “I was bothered when you __________,” or “I was disappointed when I heard _______________,” or “I felt disrespected as their parent when you __________.” Notice the use of “’I” statements. You’re not calling them a bad grandparent or accusing them of being something negative. You’re addressing how you felt when a particular event happened.

3. Ask why?

Tone matters. Body language matters even more than words. This part of the conversation may help you understand if there are bigger issues.

4. Stay on-topic.

Focus on the main issue, not about whether you’re a good parent or how they felt at the last holiday dinner. 

5. If grandparents keep overstepping, then adjust.

However, be specific about the reasons why. Perhaps you skip a few holidays or don’t let the kids stay the night with their grandparents for a while. Be clear. This isn’t about the grandparent feeling the same way about your boundaries or trying to be someone they aren’t. It’s about raising your family and creating the family culture how you see fit.

6. Search for areas of compromise.

(I don’t mean compromising the expectation to respect boundaries.) As parents and kids grow, boundaries may change. What kids can watch on TV may change. For instance, if what grandparents feed your children is an issue, a compromise may be that the child and grandparent can prepare food to eat together once a month. 

7. Separate the act from the character.

The grandparent may be manipulative, controlling, or judgmental. Pointing out their actions and crossed boundaries is more concrete and tangible than calling them manipulative. Instead of saying, “You’re manipulative. You give them gifts you know we don’t approve of,” you could say, “When you gave them that gift for Christmas that we didn’t approve of, I felt like you were manipulating to get them to like you.” Remember, the goal is to help the grandparent have good relationships with your family. 

8. Forgive.

If the grandparent expresses an understanding and a realization that they overstepped a boundary, then forgive them. Don’t hold the grudge forever. If it becomes a pattern, you can still forgive as you adjust. (See number 6.)

Your child’s grandparents may have strong opinions about boundaries, and it’s tough for some to respect their child as a parent. If you’re willing to stand with your spouse and have some tough conversations, you can help everyone transition to this new phase in everyone’s relationship. 

Other blogs:

So, You Need to Talk to Your In-Laws About Boundaries

What To Do When Grandparents Undermine Your Parenting

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5 Tips for Distancing From Your In-Laws

Getting along may take time, effort, and patience.

As a newlywed, establishing and navigating relationships with in-laws can be filled with tension and pitfalls. I recall the first significant conversation with my in-laws when I felt disrespected and disconnected. The conversation went something like this: “Hey, you never call. You never come by. Do you not like us?” I remember trying to gather my thoughts. My first reaction was, “OMG! I want nothing to do with them!” From there, I had to stop and consider what they were asking for, not what I was hearing. They wanted to be part of our lives but were pushing too hard to make that happen.

You may be saying, “There is nothing to consider! They said something I don’t like, and there is nothing to think about and nothing we need to talk about, ever.” I get it. I really do. 

And please hear me say this: If your in-laws are verbally or physically abusive*, this blog is not for you!

Nevertheless, for me, there were things to consider, like:

  1. Relationship with my sisters-in-law (They had nothing to do with that conversation.)
  2. My husband loves his parents and wants to continue to have interactions with them.
  3. How will our future children be impacted by this distant relationship?
  4. What about other family gatherings? 

So before I chose to destroy (sever) the relationship, I sought to find healthy boundaries* and create appropriate distance between my in-laws and me. 

Here are some things to keep in mind if you need some distance from your in-laws, too. 

1. Understand that their family dynamics or interactions are different from yours.

I struggled with needing distance because my in-laws expected the same thing from me that they expected from their children. They expected me to call every morning and have dinner with them on Sundays. It took me a while to recognize that they didn’t have unrealistic expectations; their expectations were just different from the ones my parents had. Once I set a boundary of once a week calls and dinners once per month, things calmed down.

2. Be willing to create a relationship with the in-laws.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re just getting to know them or if you had a long-term relationship before your marriage. Now that you’re married, you are establishing a new and different relationship. As such, you’re still getting to know each other. Be open to a fresh start. 

3. Their behavior probably comes from a place of care.

Usually, in-laws desire to feel close and connected. To you, it may feel like they’re smothering you and your relationship. Try to see the good in their actions. 

4. Living away from them can provide natural boundaries.

I remember watching “Everybody Loves Raymond.” The main characters, Deborah and Ray, lived directly across the street from Ray’s parents, Marie and Frank. Deborah and Marie had issues. One of the main ones was proximity. Marie and Frank constantly barged into Deborah and Ray’s house without advance notice or invitation. I would tell my husband, “Couldn’t be me.” Gratefully, it wasn’t. Within six months of our marriage, my husband and I moved 12 hours away from our families. Truthfully, it was easier to deal with or even ignore behaviors because I would only be around them for short periods.

5. You and your spouse are a FAMILY.

It may be hard for one or both of you to set boundaries with family. Remember this, though: Once you’re married, your spouse becomes your primary family member. In my case, I do respect my mother-in-law as his mother. Yet, I know my PLACE as his WIFE. I am confident and don’t feel the need to compete with my mother-in-law. Your primary allegiance is to the family you created with your spouse. Standing up for them with your family or supporting them as they stand up to their family for you is crucial. 

When you and your spouse said, “I do,” you united your families as well. Learning the rules of engagement for each family requires time, effort, and patience. You may have heard the old saying: “Good fences make good neighbors.” That saying also applies to families. When you have healthy boundaries, it can prevent in-laws from being outlaws.

*If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.*

Other blogs:

What to Do When You Don’t Really Like Your In-Laws

So, You Need to Talk to Your In-Laws About Boundaries

What to Do When You Aren’t Crazy About Your Future In-Laws

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5 Tips for Getting Along With Your Spouse’s Siblings

Fostering good relationships with your in-laws is a win for your marriage.

Marriage is usually a package deal… I mean, yes, your greatest priority is your commitment and love for your spouse. But sometimes a spouse comes with extras… like their family. At times, those relationships bring added joy and challenges, especially when it comes to your spouse’s siblings. 

So how do you foster a good relationship and get along with your spouse’s siblings? 

Of course, a lot depends on the context. How well does your spouse get along with their siblings? What’s their stage of life and personality? How does your spouse’s family function overall? These factors often affect what getting along with your spouse’s siblings looks like. 

But if you keep the following tips in mind, you’re more likely to have good sibling-in-law relationships. 

1. Have Realistic Expectations

You probably know how you want the relationship with your spouse’s siblings to go. Maybe you’re ready to adopt them as “brothers and sisters of your own.” And who knows? They may feel the same about you. 

But your spouse’s siblings might feel differently, and those who are less eager to get close always set the relationship’s pace. If that’s the case, try to avoid taking offense. Remember, if you’re new to the family, there’s history that you’re not a part of. Rather than looking for that automatic connection, simply be gracious and open to their acceptance. 

2. Look for Opportunities to Support

Whatever their level of connection is, adding value to your sibling-in-laws’ lives opens the door wider. Find ways to use your time, energy, strengths, and skills to support what’s important to them. 

Support their business. Help with homework. Offer to help with yard work, pick the nieces up from school, or connect them with a colleague for a possible internship. Offer support without expecting thanks. Even if they turn down your help, continue to look for those small opportunities. 

3. Invite Them to Be a Part of Your World With Your Spouse

Invite them over or out for dinner. Ask them to watch the game with you. If the context seems right, create traditions in your home that include their siblings, like the annual college rivalry game or the summer camping trip. Including them in your world builds connection and a sense of bonding. 

4. Avoid Turning Down Invitations to Be in Their World

If they invite you to shoot some hoops, grab a cup of coffee, or go shopping, take the opportunity if you can. If you can’t, ask for a rain check and set a date. Your willingness to accept invitations speaks volumes about your desire to foster that relationship. 

5. Keep Your Marriage First

Here’s the thing: You want to foster a positive bond with your spouse’s siblings. But in their eyes, trust is based on the fact that you married their brother or sister. They’re looking at your commitment to their sibling. And when they see you keeping your spouse (their sibling) first and foremost and holding your marital commitment as a high priority, that goes a long way. Do all you can to strengthen your marriage and devotion to your spouse. 

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Getting along with your spouse’s siblings involves an understanding that every family is different. Chances are, your family is different from your spouse’s family. It’d be easy to spot the differences and count them as deficiencies. However, to do so would be a barrier to creating a connection with your siblings-in-law. 

Seek to understand them. Appreciate and understand your in-laws’ unique history. Let them get to know you. Respect the pace at which they allow you to know them. Relationships with your spouse’s siblings may take time; these tips and a little patience can hopefully add joy to the package deal of marriage. 

Other blogs:

What to Do When You Aren’t Crazy About Your Future In-Laws

How to Stay Motivated During Marriage Challenges

4 Ways to Feel More Connected to Your Spouse

How to Be An Emotionally Safe Spouse

7 Expert Tips to Handle Difficult School Drop-offs

You can help your kids feel safe and secure about school.

Day one of school came, and we were ready to rock. Excited to see friends, make new friends, and launch into a new adventure. But then we got to the front door, and our kindergartner lost it. She didn’t want to go, and the tears flowed. We made it through days one, two and three, and then we were a week in. As we figured out routines for a successful school morning drop-off, each day was better than the one before.

Then, quarantines hit, and school closed for a time. We had to start the process all over again. School drop-offs can be difficult for many kids (my 5-year-old despises it). It becomes more challenging when you have to alter routines due to things out of your control, like a pandemic. 

It’s important to recognize and validate your children’s feelings. They may be anxious about a new place, new people, or the ever-changing schedule.

These tips from experts can help you  navigate school drop-offs like a pro:

1. Talk about what’s going to happen.

Know your school’s drop-off policy and where your child will go. Create a morning routine that works for your family. Also, let your child know when you’ll be back to pick them up. The more comfortable they are with the daily routine, the more likely they’ll be able to accept and even look forward to the morning drop-off.

2. Make sure everyone is rested.

Good sleep goes a long way in preparing for the day. When you’re crafting the morning routine, give yourself plenty of time to get ready too. We’ve found that we need to get up at least 30 minutes before our kindergartner to make the morning less stressful. 

3. Create a goodbye ritual.

When my son started school, we came up with a secret handshake. He looked forward to it every day, and it helped him mentally transition. My daughter has crafted her own goodbye ritual. Work with your child and come up with a goodbye ritual that makes them feel more comfortable. Maybe it’s a secret handshake or a hug at a specific spot on the way to school. 

4. Offer a comfort object.

A source of comfort can be helpful if your little one is anxious about going to school. Check with their teacher to see what they can and can’t have. Maybe it’s a small stuffed animal in their backpack they know they can’t take out during the day. Perhaps a keychain clipped onto their bag or a family picture can remind them of home.

5. Arrive early.

School mornings are stressful, and that stress level can go through the roof when you’re running late. Plan to arrive early. Schedule in a buffer time so your child isn’t feeling rushed. Whether that’s getting to the car line early, arriving at school in plenty of time to walk them to the door, or getting to the bus stop in time to talk for a few minutes. Arriving early can lower everyone’s stress levels.

6. Make it quick.

I had a friend tell me recently that when she dropped her son off for his first day of daycare, the teacher said the best thing you can do is say bye and leave. This is so true; painful, but true. The longer you linger, the harder it is on them. Often, when a child enters school, they are mentally transitioning to the day ahead. My daughter’s emotional drop-off on the first day of school only lasted a couple of minutes, and then she got busy with her day.

7. Stay positive.

Another thing you can do to help your child have a successful drop-off is to stay positive. Our stress and anxiety can quickly transfer to them. If you’re confident and optimistic, they are more likely to do the same. 

This school year looks to be full of unknowns. Each week, we don’t know how many days we’ll be in school or how our routine will be thrown off. We may experience that first-day drop-off anxiety numerous times, and we can help by being upbeat and positive. It may not be easy, but our kids don’t need easy; they need safety and security, and we can help them feel safe about school.

Sources:

How to handle difficult school drop-offs, according to a maternal wellness expert

Crying at Drop-Off – Perfecting the Preschool Separation

Other blogs:

How to Help My Child Handle Anxiety

8 Back to School Parenting Tips

Back to School Tips

How to Start School Routines

4 Ways Having a Routine Contributes to a Happy, Healthy Family

How to Talk With Your Child About Tough Topics

Your conversations with them are teachable moments.

Half of parenting is staying a step ahead of our kids. (The other half is stepping out of the way.) Where do you step when the tough topics come up with your kids? Sex, drugs, rock and roll? 

If only it was that easy! Try sexual politics, depression, and race relations. And don’t forget those frequent Big Cultural Moments when half of our country is screaming and the other half is rage-tweeting. 

You can take that next step confidently.

Stay A Step Ahead…

1. Remember the Goal.

The goal is to have ongoing conversations with your children that teach them how to be critical thinkers and allow them to process their own thoughts and feelings. It’s not about having all the right answers; it’s about validating their curiosity and their ability to ask questions.

2. Remove Conversational Obstacles.

Sometimes these crucial conversations don’t materialize because we don’t make room for them. We’re too busy or too distracted. Be where your kids are. Be conversationally available. Some talks you’ll have to initiate. Some talks spontaneously generate. (Here are some conversation starters you’ll love!)

3. Relationship Capital Rules.

Invest the time. Build up the relationship capital you’ll want to draw on for those tough topics. This means you spend time together not angling for The Big Important Talk. Just enjoy spending time together. Don’t sleep on silliness. You might be goofing around, talking about nothing, when it suddenly turns into something. 

4. Remain A Reliable Source.

Our kids have a sixth sense for insincerity. Can they count on you when it comes to the little things? Like it or not, our kids are always sizing us up. They’re watching us and wondering if we can handle their hopes and fears. They won’t come out and say they don’t trust you; they just won’t say anything at all. 

… And Know When To Step Out Of The Way. 

1. Listen. Don’t lecture.

Sometimes your child needs a good, firm “listening to”. Hold back and let them have it.

2. Respond. Don’t react.

Keep your cool when you hear something you disagree with. If you are dismissive or defensive, your child will shut the conversation down. Admit when you don’t know the answer and find a way to find it together. If the conversation is getting a little heated or the volume is getting turned up, be the adult; be the parent.

3. Investigate. Don’t interrogate.

Sometimes your child’s real question is masked by the question they actually ask. Learn to listen between the lines. Often, our kids need to work their way around to sharing what’s really on their minds or what they really want to ask. Be patient and leave some room for their thoughts to unspool and take shape. Ask clarifying questions. Ask questions that expand the conversation and invite your child to lean in closer, not pull back and withdraw.

Parents, By All Means, Teach Your Children.

You are the best resource for your child. Share your values and beliefs. Many parents underestimate the influence they have on their children. Research consistently shows that young people want their parents to talk with them about tough topics. Let them know what you believe and why concerning these issues. This will help them learn the process of determining what they believe.

There’s no shortage of voices willing to speak into your child’s life. Media. Social media. The kids on the bus. The classroom curriculum. The entertainment industry. Consumer culture. All of them are ready to step up and shape your child’s thinking on all the tough topics. What’s your next step?

4 Ways to Help Your Child Deal With Anger

How to Help My Child Handle Anxiety

How to Have the Porn Talk With Your Kids

7 Ways to Deepen Your Connection With Your Teen

5 Ways Self-Determination Theory Can Help You Raise Independent Kids

You can find the balance between control and independence.

Over the last 9 years, I’ve been constantly reminded that parenting is all about the balance between control and independence.

During the early years (3-8), your child is figuring out who they are while you’re learning how to parent them. It’s tough. And it gets more challenging when kids are trying to assert their independence. 

Most parents probably want to raise independent, strong children who grow up, leave home, and are successful. We want them to start a family if they’d like to, and we want to be there for it all. Helping them find independence in those early years is where it all starts. 

But giving freedom and autonomy means giving up some control. How in the world do we do that?

This is where self-determination theory can be helpful. 

Psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan introduced self-determination theory (SDT) in the 1980s. Self-determination theory suggests that people perform at their best when three needs are fulfilled: 

  1. Competence: People desire mastery of skills. When they are equipped with the skills needed for success, they’re more likely to take action to achieve their goals.
  2. Connection: People need people. We need a sense of belonging and attachment.
  3. Autonomy: People need to feel in control of their behavior and goals.

Highly self-determined people tend to:

Believe they have control over their own lives.

They are motivated, and when presented with challenges, they will work hard to overcome them.

Have high self-motivation.

They don’t depend on external motivators to achieve their goals. They will set goals and work toward them.

Base their actions on their own goals and behaviors.

They will take steps to bring them closer to their goals.

Take responsibility for their actions.

They will accept the praise or the blame for their choices and actions.

Those are all traits I desire for my family. We can help our kids grow in this by improving self-awareness, decision-making skills, and goal setting. Now, we understand what SDT is and how it can help our kids become self-determined. So how do we help them develop self-determination?

Here are a few scenarios where you can practically apply SDT to help your kids become more independent:

1. Dressing themselves

One of the easiest ways to help your kids gain independence is through dressing themselves. Let them choose what they want to wear, and don’t complain when they do. Sometimes we just gotta accept that they may not match. Yes, we have run errands with a 5-year-old wearing ladybug wings and antennas. No big deal! 

Pro-tip: If you need their clothes to match for a special occasion, give them some options. There is still independence within boundaries.

2. Household chores

Ask yourself, what can they do? 

Here are some ideas:

  • Unloading the dishwasher. My kids started helping when they were 3 or 4. (Don’t worry, we keep the knives out of reach). 
  • Setting the table. Sometimes that means you might eat off the kids’ dishes, and that’s okay. 
  • Helping with laundry. My daughter loves to fold laundry. Does she do it well? No. But she does it, and we are thankful she does. 

3. Daily tasks

Some tasks need to be done in the morning or afternoon. Ask your child to help you make a list of what needs to be done each day. Where possible, tell them what needs to happen and by when but give them the freedom to get it done on their terms. They know what needs to happen, but they have the independence to determine how they do it.

4. Non-structured, free play

Do you ever feel like your child wants you just for entertainment? I do. But that wasn’t my childhood. Sure, times have changed, but we can still encourage our kids to imagine and create. If they don’t know where to start, give them some ideas and turn them loose. It’s amazing what my kids will come up with when left to their own imaginations.

5. Weekly schedule

Life’s busy. My kids are busy with school events and sports. That means we try to plan out our week. We like to have a family game night and a movie night, and we often let the kids decide what those nights look like. We have also scheduled free Saturdays. They can pick where we go and what we do within reason (because the 5-year-old would have us headed to Disney). We set the boundaries, and they get to pick what happens. 

Helping our children develop self-determination early will help them become independent as they grow. The process isn’t always easy. As they gain independence, you have to give up some control. Be patient, and remember that encouragement and positive feedback go a long way in raising independent kids. 

Sources:

1. Self-Determination Theory

2. Self-Determination Theory Application

3. Self-Determination Theory: How it Explains Motivation