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5 Ways Positive Parenting Creates a Lifelong Connection with Your Child

The steps you take now will impact your connection in the future.

The goal of positive parenting is to build a deep, lifelong connection with your child. It’s the idea that while our primary role as parents may end when our children move out, we’re still a guiding presence in their lives. I don’t want to parent my children once they’ve stepped out on their own, but I do want to be there as a source of wisdom, support, and guidance when needed. 

Being a positive parent is about nurturing, empowering, and guiding while being nonviolent. You may be asking yourself, “Am I a positive parent?” I know I want to be. 

There are several key components to positive parenting. A positive parent:

  • Guides, leads, and teaches.
  • Is caring, empowering, consistent, and sensitive to a child’s needs.
  • Provides regular open communication, emotional security, and affection.
  • Recognizes the positive.
  • Respects the child’s developmental stage.
  • Sets boundaries and rewards accomplishments.
  • Shows empathy for the child’s feelings and supports the child’s best interests.

According to author L.R. Knost, “respecting children teaches them that even the smallest, most powerless, most vulnerable person deserves respect, and that is a lesson our world desperately needs to learn.”

Here are some ways being a positive parent can create a lifelong connection with your child:

1. Teach them how to do age-appropriate tasks.

When I ask my kids to do something around the house, and they say, “I don’t know how,” I hear a teaching opportunity. It can be hard to slow down, but helping them learn how to do something new builds their confidence. When you teach them, they’re also learning how to make good choices. When we don’t teach, they become reliant on us or others to do things for them.

2. Give them autonomy (within reason, of course).

Let’s talk about parenting toddlers. If you aren’t there yet, just hang on and get ready for some exciting years. Between the ages of 2-5, both my kids pushed for independence and autonomy. They wanted to be the king or queen of their own world. Aren’t we the same? We don’t want other people running our lives. Look for opportunities to give your child autonomy. Put them in charge of a household chore, let them choose dinner one night, or let them choose their clothes. There’s nothing like going to Lowe’s when your daughter’s in her entire ladybug outfit…been there recently and have the pictures to remember it. Giving them independence promotes creativity, empowerment, and self-determination.

3. Reward positive effort, regardless of the outcome.

I’ve often heard it said, “What gets recognized, gets repeated.” My son just wrapped up a great baseball season and finished the third grade. However, he did have bad games and some weeks where he didn’t do well on assignments, but we didn’t punish him for those times, we rewarded him for his effort. We took him to a local baseball card store. He’s totally into baseball cards right now, so we let him choose a box of cards. We encouraged him to always do his best and understand that sometimes bad days and failures will happen. He knows his effort is what it takes to be rewarded, and he’ll work hard to do his best in every situation.

4. Be a positive role model.

Your children are listening and watching. Remember, more is caught than taught. They see how we treat others, our work ethic, and our kindness or the lack of it. If you want to raise adults who positively contribute to society and care about their neighbors, you’ve got to model that behavior now.

5. Make positive family experiences a priority.

Our kids don’t need extravagance; they need us to create memories with them. I can’t count the number of times my daughter brings up something seemingly small we’ve done as a family. To her, it was impactful. Take a neighborhood walk together, get ice cream after school, or do something for someone else. When we prioritize creating positive memories as a parent, we’re building a lifelong connection with them.

Parenting is challenging, but connecting with your child doesn’t have to be. Be caring, teach, lead, communicate, and provide. Take steps today to build a lifelong connection with your child as a positive parent. 

Other helpful blogs:

How Positive Parenting Impacts a Child’s Risk of Substance Abuse

100 Conversation Starters To Increase Your Family’s Connectedness

Five Simple Things You Can Do To Strengthen Your Relationship With Your Child

Being a parent comes with great responsibility. It’s our duty and privilege to shape the next generation to be healthy and thriving. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. And there are positive parenting things we can do for our little ones now that will help prepare them to make good decisions, feel confident, and avoid creating bad habits like substance abuse in the future.

A study by the University of Otago in New Zealand has found that positive parenting can have numerous positive benefits for children. A team led by Professor Joe Boden analyzed data from the Christchurch Health and Development Study, which has followed the lives of more than 1000 people born in Canterbury, New Zealand, in 1977.

Before we go too deep here, let’s answer the question, “What is positive parenting?”

Positive parenting focuses on encouragement and support rather than punishment to teach appropriate behavior. Psychology Today links positive parenting to “higher school grades, fewer behavior problems, less substance abuse, better mental health, greater social competence, and more positive self-concepts.”

Professor Boden’s team found that adolescents living in a more positive environment:

  • Had lower alcohol and substance abuse rates.
  • Experienced fewer mental health issues and less general stress.
  • Were less likely to experience unemployment. 

The Christchurch Study provided extensive information about the participants’ lives, including: 

  • Their exposure to violence and substance issues. 
  • How they perceived their parents’ parenting style. 
  • Alcohol use and abuse scores at specific ages. 
  • The impact of parenting style on alcoholism.

The team was especially interested in the correlation between positive parenting and a lesser risk of alcoholism. The study shows that parenting style could be far more impactful in people’s tendency toward alcohol or other substances than having access to it. 

Several studies have shown that positive parenting has even more far-reaching effects. 

Here are some ways that you can be a positive parent:

Build strong bonds.

Strong emotional bonds help create a safe base for kids to learn, explore, and relate to others. Experts call this “secure attachment.” Securely attached kids are more likely to handle challenges positively and learn how to manage their feelings and behaviors, and develop self-confidence. Through positive engagement with parents, kids learn to follow the rules and regulate their emotions.

Be available.

Life is full of distractions from numerous priorities, extra work, and technology. When we’re emotionally and physically available to our kids, this helps them bond, develop language skills, and learn to interact socially. We need to communicate that our kids are valuable and important with our time. When we are stretched for time, we must take a moment and explain to our kids why we can’t spend the time with them that we’d like — and express that we don’t value them any less and will be more available to them soon.

Establish mutual respect.

Mutual respect is a cornerstone of positive parenting. Parents help kids understand why rules are made. When children understand the why for rules, they’re more willing to follow them. It can also help parents understand any misbehavior. Because of a stronger bond, parents are more likely to notice stressors impacting their children. Through this, parents and kids can learn  to be more empathetic and better understand others.

Be a positive role model.

One huge rule of parenting is, “More is caught than taught.” We’ve all heard that phrase, but it’s the essence of parenting. If we respond to our kids in frustration and negativity, they’ll do the same to others and to us. How we respond to our kids’ challenging behaviors really does teach them how to react to others. Research shows that parental modeling impacts behaviors associated with alcohol and substance abuse. 

Build higher self-esteem.

Positive parenting says there are no bad children, just good and bad behaviors. The focus is on learning for the future. Instead of yelling when a child misbehaves, a positive parent responds calmly, explaining why the behavior isn’t acceptable and what the consequences are. This process helps a child learn to make better choices down the road. Mistakes are learning opportunities for all of us.

By being positive parents, we can equip our children with the skills they need for future success. We can teach them to make wise decisions. And, we can help them avoid pitfalls along the way. If you don’t see yourself as a positive parent, it’s never too late to start.

Other helpful blogs:

How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent

How To Encourage Your Child’s Strengths

Why Do Secure Relationships Matter for Children?

How Do I Make My Child Feel Secure?

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6 Things You Can Do to Help a Child Who Is Grieving the Death of a Parent

Adults in the child's life are essential to help them grieve in a healthy way.

Death is often a difficult topic to discuss. It’s even more challenging to consider how you can help a child through the death of a parent. No matter what age, the death of a parent shifts your foundation. Therefore, it’s even more critical to find ways to support and help a child grieving the death of a parent. 

Parents provide safety and security for their children. After a parent dies, the child’s needs may vary according to their age, maturity, and personality. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to grief. These children have unique needs that should be met. 

Here are 6 things you can do to help a child who is grieving the death of a parent:

1. Be aware of your own grief and emotions.

It’s not easy to help a child through grief if you don’t acknowledge and work through your own. Grief is the process through which you deal with a loss. In this case, a friend or loved one died and left a child or children behind. Recognizing this allows you to process your grief so you don’t unintentionally make this loss only about you. 

2. Be careful how you communicate with the child.

Because people tend to be uncomfortable talking about death, they often use well-intentioned phrases that do more harm than good. Sayings like:

 “They are in a better place.”

“They just went to sleep.”

“One day, you will get over this.”

While you may mean well, think carefully about saying something just to say something. You may even need to listen more than you talk.

3. Be prepared for the child to express a variety of behaviors.

Children can display so many emotions after their parent dies, including fear, sadness, or anger. They may experience separation anxiety when away from the surviving parent or caregivers. Additionally, they may experience the following regressive behaviors, including using baby talk, bedwetting, or waking in the middle of the night. Stomachaches may become common complaints. Eating habits may change also. It’s essential to be aware of the frequency and intensity of any behavioral changes. 

4. Be age-appropriately honest with them.

Children often have questions after the death of a parent. How did it happen? Is it gonna happen to you? Is it gonna happen to them? First, talk with their surviving parent to find out what they shared with the child. That can prepare you to answer questions within the framework they’ve established. Honesty is vital. Your honest answers help rebuild trust and security. In your desire to help, consistency and reliability are essential, too. You want to under-promise and over-deliver rather than over-promise and underdeliver. Do everything you can to follow through with what you say you will do.

5. Be award that grief is an ongoing process.

Many people come around in the immediate aftermath. However, the kids will need you for the long haul. The hard truth is that a child never gets over the death of a parent or stops grieving their loss, though the experience of grief may morph over time. Kids may seem to bounce back from the loss. As a result, we want to believe that children are resilient and won’t be affected long-term. As comforting as this might sound, unfortunately, it’s not true. The intensity may lessen over time, but the parent they lost won’t be there for life milestones (i.e., Birthdays, Holidays, Proms, Graduations, Weddings).  

6. Be proactive in helping the child find ways to remember their parent.

Some people think that remembering a parent who died causes children pain. Attempting to minimize the pain, people often decide to remove photos or rarely mention or discuss the parent. On the contrary, remembering helps with the grieving process. Memories give a child a picture of who their parent was, what they liked, and how they lived. 

Losing a parent can be one of the most challenging things a child (or even an adult) can experience. The adults in the child’s life are essential to help them grieve in a healthy way. As you journey with them, be a listening ear, a safe place to land, and a consistent presence in their lives.

Other helpful resources:

How to Deal with the Terrible Twos

You can use this magical time to grow together.

From the moment you announce your pregnancy, it seems like everyone offers you parenting advice. You’re inundated with opinions about everything from sleeping and the right kinds of diapers to preparing you for the terrible twos. (By the way, that actually lasts from 18 months until about 3. You’re welcome.)

Actually, I believe there’s no such thing as the terrible twos. I call this age a “magical time” when many developmental leaps take place. It’s a time of significant growth and development for you and your child. 

The time between 2 and 4 is foundational as kids change physically, emotionally, and intellectually. They’re also learning and becoming their own person. It’s a time to look forward to and anticipate because the skill developments in this timeframe benefit you AND your child.  

Here are a few things to remember as you deal with this “magical time.” 

This is a necessary stage of growth and development.

I had a friend who shared that when their child was in this stage, they believed they did something to “break” their child. Gone was the calm, sweet infant they brought home. It seemed to happen overnight. 

I could bore you with all the human growth and development theories, but I won’t. Suffice it to say, this stage of development is necessary and expected. Yes, they have tantrums and cry. But it’s usually because they don’t have the words to effectively communicate what they want or how they feel. Plus, they don’t have the skills to control their emotions. This is when the magic happens. 

As a parent, you get the privilege of teaching your child how to recognize emotions and effectively communicate them to you. 

Choose your battles wisely.

It’s critical to decide what’s truly important versus what you can let go of during this time. Part of the magic is setting appropriate boundaries. Everything doesn’t have to be a fight or power struggle. Remember, you are the authority, so no need to struggle. 

For example, safety is paramount. Things like holding hands while walking in a parking lot are NON-NEGOTIABLE. Other things, you may choose not to fight. Mismatched socks or wearing a Christmas sweater in May shouldn’t ruffle your feathers. 

Try to prevent bombarding yourself with thoughts about how something makes you look to others. This is about you and your child growing and learning together. You may need to create a saying to remind you that this phase is necessary for growth and becoming the person they were made to be.

This “magical time” lays the foundation for your future.

It may be hard to believe that your child will one day be a teenager or adult. You may be wondering, “Why are you talking about the future when I’m struggling in the present?” Believe it or not, your present struggle is preparing you for the future by developing your character, strength, and skills as a parent. 

MAGICAL TIME teaches you skills like:

  • Patience
  • Staying calm in a crisis or the middle of the toy aisle when your child is pitching a fit 
  • What works best for your particular child
  • How to guide rather than dictate or control (because can you really control anyone?)

MAGICAL TIME teaches your child skills like:

  • How to identify and regulate emotions
  • How to make decisions (age-appropriate)
  • Independence and autonomy
  • How to speak for themselves

As you’re learning and growing, your child may still cry, yell and throw tantrums. 

YOU ARE NOT ALONE. 

You aren’t the only parent who has gone through this. 

More importantly, you aren’t the worst parent in the world. In reality, you are learning new skills. So, give yourself a break!

Through these words of encouragement, I’m not trying to blow smoke or try to make it seem like magical time is without challenges or some tears from both of you. 

Yes, it can be challenging, frustrating, and feel never-ending. But no matter what, it will be worth it. You’ll learn about yourself and how to be the parent your child needs. You get to choose how to see this time. Will you see it as magical or terrible?

Other helpful blogs:

How to Prevent Depression from Affecting Your Child

Equip your child to handle their feelings with these tips.

I was a depressed child. 

It’s sort of a long story. But that part of my life prompted me to better understand mental health and how to prevent issues with depression, especially when it came to my own kids. 

Because let’s face it—when our children hurt, we hurt. 

And there’s a certain balance we have to strike as parents: we have to understand there is always the possibility for depression to rear its ugly head in our kids, while at the same time remembering there are practical ways to decrease the likelihood that it will. 

I want to give you three skills you can teach your children.  

Skill #1: Know Thyself. 

As parents, it’s good to understand some of the risk factors involved with depression in children:  

  • There is a history of depression or other emotional struggles in the immediate family.
  • The child experienced any earlier traumas or chronic illness.
  • There is substance or alcohol abuse in the family.

These factors increase the chances that a child could experience struggles with depression. 

No need to freak out here. Nor is there reason to try and diagnose anything. We simply need to be aware of the possibility and let that motivate our diligence to maintain good mental health in both our kids and us. 

It’s good for younger kids to begin to understand their feelings. Help your child put a name to their emotions. Feelings are still a new thing for kids. I don’t know how many times I’ve sat with my own children, talking out just what it was they were feeling inside: I’m not mad, maybe a little sad, kind of embarrassed, but I’m not sure. 

When your child can name feelings, they can begin to manage them. 

Skill #2: Care for yourself. 

The Big-3 of self-care practices are sleep, exercise, and diet

Be sure your kids are getting plenty of rest at night. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 9-11 hours of sleep each night for 6 to 13-year-olds. 

Kids also need plenty of physical activity and outside time. This is important for physical and brain development that directly affects emotional regulation. Sunshine boosts serotonin in the brain, which counteracts depressive states. 

Avoiding processed sugars and having a cleaner diet also helps kids regulate their moods while improving sleep quality and activity levels.

Skill #3: Connect with those who love you. 

The CDC says connection is a key to protecting the mental health of kids. Do what you can to keep your relationship strong. (Here are some conversation starters to help you connect!)

Be sure you are spending plenty of quality and quantity time with your child. Engage with them in meaningful conversation. Include them in your world. Remind them every day how much you love them and that you’ll be there for them, no matter what. Encourage them to come to you when they need you. When they know you are on their side, your child will be much more empowered to manage strong emotions like depression. 

One last thing: your kids need your example. You want your child to have confidence that they can work through emotional struggle. This is difficult for a kid to come by if you don’t regulate your own emotions, care for yourself, and seek help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help for yourself or any family member who can’t seem to shake depression; we all need help like this at times. 

You know what it’s like to struggle with your emotions. We know our kids will wrestle with theirs at some point. It’s part of life. Let’s be sure our kids are equipped to handle their feelings, so their feelings don’t handle them. Begin some skill-building this week and keep it going. And don’t forget to stay connected! 

Is Your Child Depressed?

You have what it takes to support your child.

As a parent, you’re constantly looking for things that can harm your child. Remember the “baby-proofing” you did? If you’re anything like me, you actually got on the floor to scope out things that could potentially harm your little one. Well, as they grow, so does your intuition. Maybe you’ve got a “gut feeling” that something is going on, which can be more challenging to handle. You start to see new behaviors or don’t see actions you’re used to seeing. You may wonder, “Is my child depressed?”

Facts on Childhood Depression

It’s common for kids to feel all kinds of emotions due to family situations. For example, a loved one’s death or moving away from friends and family may cause sadness and grief. But because there’s a range of severity in depression, it’s essential to know the difference between simply being sad and being clinically depressed. 

According to the CDC, 3.2% of children ages 3-17 have been diagnosed with depression. Your child’s pediatrician can be an excellent resource for you.

How You Can Help

First, strengthen your relationship with your child by communicating. Instead of doing most of the talking, ask questions and listen to what’s happening in their lives. Be curious about their friends, school, and social media. If your child has been through any significant changes, give them space to process. Still, continue to monitor what they watch on television or streaming services and what they search for online. Pay attention to their sleeping and eating habits. (Read How to Prevent Depression From Affecting Your Child.)

Signs to Look For (from CDC website)

Depressed children show several behaviors that are pretty consistent and persistent over time. According to the CDC, the actions include:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or irritable a lot of the time
  • Not wanting to do or enjoy doing fun things
  • Showing changes in eating patterns – eating a lot more or a lot less than usual
  • Showing changes in sleep patterns – sleeping a lot more or a lot less than normal
  • Having a hard time paying attention
  • Showing changes in energy – being tired and sluggish or tense and restless a lot of the time
  • Feeling worthless, useless, or guilty
  • Showing self-injury and self-destructive behavior

(Please note: This list is ONLY for your awareness, Some of these symptoms may be part of normal development. Think growth spurt, hormones, etc.) This list is not for you to diagnose to confirm or deny what your “gut” feeling told you.  

How to Get Help

Perhaps you’ve monitored your child and kept an eye on their screen activity/social media. And now, you recognize that they have shown behaviors from that CDC list over time. What do you do?

First, call your child’s primary care provider. Your child’s doctor can help rule out any physical causes like low Vitamin D, anemia, or something else. Your pediatrician may do a behavioral screening. 

If nothing physical is going on, seeking out a mental health professional who specializes in children might be your next step. Your pediatrician can recommend what to do and where to go from there. 

Parenting is the most challenging job on the planet. You feel totally responsible for another person. You feel the need to protect your child from anything that can hurt or harm them. But when you can’t do that, you may feel guilty, like it’s your fault that this thing happened or that you’re a terrible parent. 

I’ve been there, too. But here’s the deal: we can’t control or prevent anything from happening in our child’s life, no matter how hard we try. If there’s a problem, the best thing we can do is get them the help they need. 

As you begin this journey, your child needs you to be their touchstone. Surrounding yourself with loving, supportive friends and family can build up your strength, but if it comes down to it, seek your own professional help. Continue to care for your own body by making sure you’re exercising, getting enough sleep, and eating right. You have what it takes to support your child.

The goal of parenting is to raise competent and self-reliant adults. You may be shocked because parents often think about raising “their” children. In reality, you’re raising someone’s future spouse, someone’s prospective employee, and someone’s future parent. For your future adult to be successful, things like communication, conflict management, and interpersonal skills are necessary. Additionally, being self-aware and confident is vital. 

For your child to have confidence, it’s important for them to appreciate or value their own ability to complete a task. They build confidence by doing something or even attempting to do something they have never done before, not by just your words complimenting their ability. 

So how do I help develop a confident child? What are the ways to help my child be more confident?

Here are 5 ways to help your child be more confident.

1. Teach them to learn new skills.

To build confidence, your child has to learn new skills. We have to actually teach them the skills. You can’t make the assumption they can or will learn by you telling them. I remember several times being frustrated with my son when I asked him to clean his room. Of course, we differed on what “clean” meant. At the point of frustration, I thought about how I wanted him to learn how to clean his room, so we used this process. 

  • I do. You watch. Modeling.    
  • We do it together. Collaboration.    
  • You do. I watch. Oversight. 
  • You do it and make it your own. Confidence!   

The goal of this process is for your child to develop their skills over time. This is not an overnight or one-day process. You have to be fine that it takes as long as it takes. You have to “get over” the fact they don’t do it exactly as you would. You’ve provided your child with a process to acquire new skills that will benefit their future. It’s about their self-confidence. Get over that it doesn’t have to look exactly like yours.

2. Help them find their interests.

Give your child opportunities to try a variety of activities (not all are at the same time of course). Encourage your child to participate in academic, athletic, and artistic activities to find what they enjoy most. Once they find their passion, embrace and encourage their strengths.

3. Effort matters, so don’t quit.

As your child builds confidence, it’s not about perfection. The effort really does matter. Not effort for a participation trophy, but giving the effort to try something new and out of their comfort zone. Discourage quitting as an option because it takes time to learn something new. Your child is developing a growth mindset as well as building their confidence amid struggle.

4. Let them fail.

It’s natural for parents to want their children to succeed at everything they try. Failing doesn’t make your child a failure. You learn more from failure than from success. Encourage them to do hard things and let them fail.

I believe Thomas Edison said it best: “I haven’t failed. I just learned 10,000 ways that didn’t work.” Or I think Albert Einstein said it well: “Failure is success in progress.”

5. Model confidence for them.

You have to remember your child is always watching you. As you embrace new tasks and challenges, you’re providing a model for your child. First, learning never ends. Also, you get to show your child how you learn and continue to build your own confidence. 

7 Crippling Parenting Behaviors That Keep Children From Growing Into Leaders. 

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How To Raise A Resilient Child

Raising a confident child is raising a future adult who will be the best version of themselves. They recognize that confidence is not just something they can have in the activities they attempt, but it is who they are as a person. Confidence leads to more confidence—even confidence even in things your child is unfamiliar with. Confidence leads to competence.

She’s never going to want to run ever again. I told myself this watching my then-10-year-old daughter run in her first elementary school track meet, lagging behind the faster runners, red-faced, and breathing heavily. She wasn’t last, but she certainly wasn’t first. My heart sank for her. As she (finally) crossed the finish line and I went to meet her, nothing could have made me guess what would happen next. 

The girl loved it. She went on and on about the strategy her coach told her to use, the fact that she had passed another runner (albeit the one that came in last place), and how she felt herself “kick it in” on the last leg. Well, I’ll be darned. 

Fast forward three years later. (Warning: total dad-brag about to happen…) Today I watched my daughter run in the second cross country meet of her 8th-grade year… as a member of the varsity high school team. She came in 8th place overall. And afterward, she went on and on about her strategy, passing the girl in front of her (actually, several girls), and “kicking it in” over the last hill. She’s found something she loves. 

It’s so amazing to see your kid discover and develop their strengths. And although I can’t take much of the credit (because let’s face it—I’m not about to run three miles in the hot August sun in the middle of a field), I’d like to think that my wife and I did something right to help her develop her love of running. 

Have you seen that spark in your child’s eyes when they’ve found something they’re strong in?

Whether it’s an external activity like running or painting, or an internal quality such as compassion for others, you can use some definite strategies to encourage your child’s strengths. 

Encourage experimentation.

Kids in that 8 to 12-year-old range are in a stage where they are naturally “trying on” pieces of themselves. They aren’t quite sure if they’re into competitive sports, artistic activities, problem-solving tasks, specific topics of study, or a combination of these! In our house, we’ve always had a philosophy of if it piques your interest, let’s just try it.” There were definitely activities that were off the table; neither of my daughters had any kind of an interest in softball or basketball, so we didn’t push it. But if there was any hint of I wonder what that would be like, we did what we could to find short-term opportunities to try it on for size. (We prompted our runner-daughter to attend a week-long cross country camp the summer after her 5th-grade year, where she fell in love with the sport, and the rest is *current* history!) 

Here’s another approach: a friend of mine has a rule with his family where each of his children is to be involved in one artistic activity and one physical activity. This is a brilliant idea to encourage your children to discover and build on those strengths. 

Throw them in the deep end of the pool.

After falling in love with cross country at summer camp, it was a no-brainer for my daughter to want to run on the middle school team the following year. My response to her: Okay, but if you’re going to commit, you’re going to commit. What are you going to do to prepare yourself for the upcoming season? The result: several days a week over the summer, she ran as far as she could while I biked beside her (Did I mention I don’t run??). 

When your child has found that thing they are interested in, encourage them to dive in headfirst and soak up every ounce of experience they can with it. Coach them and encourage them in experiencing both the joy as well as the gritty work that comes with their strengths. (Running is fun when the conditions are right, but you have to be willing to run in the rain and the cold if you want to get better.) Obviously, approach this with a strong dose of grace. But help them see the value in improving upon what they are passionate about. 

Ask lots of questions.

A surefire way to encourage your child in their strengths and interests is to show interest yourself. Assume the role of the complete novice and allow them to be the expert. There have been so many conversations about running simply sparked by my asking a “dumb” question. (So, when you’re in a race, are you allowed to elbow people? And off we go on a great discussion on cross country rules…) 

Don’t forget to ask questions like, “Are you sure you still enjoy this?” Just because a your child is good at something doesn’t mean they enjoy it or can’t get “burned out” on it. Sometimes parents try to live out their dreams through their children. Just because you were a great swimmer, and maybe your child is too, it doesn’t mean they share your passion for it. They might hate it. Ask questions to make sure your child isn’t participating in something because they know it makes YOU happy.

Help them find other sources of inspiration for their strengths, especially things to read.

Kids will naturally eat up any kind of extra bits of media and information on the strengths they are passionate about. Art, books, hiking magazines, cooking tutorial videos, photography blogs… all these are great resources to “pass along” to your child who wants to go waist-deep into their strengths. For her birthday a couple of years ago, I bought my daughter a subscription to a women’s running magazine. And now, I am receiving a constant education on the value of spiked running shoes, how to train for marathons, and what you should eat before a race (evidently chocolate cake doesn’t make the list)

Help them find a community that will encourage them in their strengths.

It’s one thing to encourage your kids from the home front to pursue and strengthen their interest. But your encouragement receives an extra boost when you help them find other kids—just like them—who are passionate about the same thing. And let’s face it: not every interest has a ready-made team waiting for them (like, say, cross country). But nowadays, if you look hard enough (like internet searches of what’s in your community), you can usually find a common interest group with just about any activity. And if you can’t, talk with your child about starting a group yourselves. There may be a huge number of kids ready to come out of the woodwork to share their passion for bead art, geocaching, or videocasting with others… just like them

Help them and encourage them to match their strengths to goals, projects, and experiences.

In his (excellent) book, Artificial Maturity, Tim Elmore says that directing kids’ strengths toward real-life ventures helps them form a clear sense of identity and prepares them for life as an adult. You can’t go wrong with that. And besides, giving your child a sense of mission with their strengths puts meaning behind their interests. 

For example (warning: another dad-brag is coming your way…), my younger daughter discovered an interest in videocasting. She formed her own YouTube channel, recorded herself hosting topics from craft projects to how to clean your room to fun family activities. Then she edits and puts the videos out there for family members and close friends to view. (I have had the distinct honor of guest-starring in a number of her productions.) 

Again, I can’t take all the credit, but we’ve tried to encourage her as best we can and help her think how she can use this interest to help other people.

As a new 6th-grader in middle school, she has built upon those strengths and has now transitioned to hosting her own podcast, using her school’s recording equipment to interview teachers in her school about their experiences as young people and making it available to the students. (Seriously, I’m totally humbled by my kids. At their age, I was content just reaching the next level of Pac-Man.)

One last thing about encouraging your child’s strengths…

At times I have done the above very well with my kids, and other times… not-so-well. But I have found that encouraging my kid’s strengths has actually afforded me opportunities to connect with them and have a deeper relationship with them. The conversations that have resulted have been invaluable. And I wouldn’t trade the experience of riding my bike (what felt like) hundreds of miles beside my oldest daughter running or hamming it up on video with my younger daughter for anything. And I’m pretty confident they won’t forget those times either. Value those times and soak it up. It’s amazing to see your kids grow.

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