When I became a parent, I was not prepared for the “surge” of protectiveness that took over my body. I felt like it was my job to protect my child from all sorts of hurts, disappointments, fears, and sadness. I may have unknowingly included their father and other family members, too. Did they wash their hands before holding my child? Are they following my parental instructions to the letter of my law? Why is he playing so rough with them? Learning how to moderate my “Grizzly Bear Mom” tendencies helped me become a more supportive parent.
Research has shown that being a supportive parent has far-reaching benefits for your child. Being a supportive parent helps your child be better equipped to handle stressful situations, be able to handle their own emotions, be capable of regulating their behavior, and get along with others.
Here are a few steps you can take on your journey of being a supportive parent for your child:
1. Be as empathetic as possible.
Being able to empathize with your child means you can place yourself in their shoes. And consider: How tight are the shoes? Do they have holes in the toes? Be aware of a situation they experience that mirrors one from your childhood. If your childhood experience or trauma becomes the focus, your child will feel unheard and marginalized. Now is not the time to help them learn to build tough skin. When you empathize, you become a soft place for your child to land when experiencing difficulties.
2. Enjoy being a student of your child.
Becoming a student of your child means you enter their world. You learn about the topics they’re interested in even if it holds no interest to you. Your child may be interested in: Sports (baseball, soccer, lacrosse, football, tennis), Music (instruments, singing, producing videos), Art (drawing, painting, photography) Animé, Video Gaming, Crafting, Animals, or a myriad of other topics. Dig deeper and say things like: Tell me what you like about… The key here is to remember that your child is a separate person from you. Children feel seen and valued when parents ask about what they like.
3. Be open and askable.
For many parents, showing support means doing something (also known as having the “fixer syndrome”). Here’s the BEST thing your child needs you to do for them: Listen, Listen, Listen. Listen to understand, listen for more information, and listen to identify emotions. You can also give your child space to process what they’re feeling. As you become more open and askable, you’ll have to guard your reactions, especially when your child shares difficult situations with you such as being bullied, picked on, or teased by others. Believe it or not, your child is very aware of your feelings and will shut down if they feel like you’re upset. Probing statements like “tell me more” allow your child to share on their terms without feeling like they’re being interrogated.
4. Make time to connect.
Create intentional time where you both engage in an activity they really enjoy. Making time in your schedule to play them, watch something with them or even allow them to teach you something new will demonstrate your support to them. Children feel supported when they know they are cared for, encouraged to grow, and feel a sense of belonging in your family.
As you work through these key steps to becoming a supportive parent, remember it’s all about process, not perfection. There will be days you’ll miss a step or two. Becoming a supportive parent is about seeking to understand your child’s world, including their feelings, fears, and frustrations without making the situation about you. When you create this connection with your child, you’re actually creating an environment of support and helping them feel like they belong. Ultimately, you’re preparing your child for LIFE.
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