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The crack of the bat. The cheers. The applause. My son just hit the ball over the head of the second baseman to collect his first hit of the game. This isn’t the proudest moment of the game for me, though. My proudest moment came an inning earlier when he struck out for the second time of the night. As I watched him walk back to the dugout with his head held high, no pouting. He put his bat and helmet up and cheered for the next player up to bat.

When we think about the strengths of our children, we often think about what they’re good at, like math, reading, sports, spelling, writing… the list goes on. These strengths are good and deserve recognition, but what about the strengths of character? As parents, we can help our children recognize character strengths just like we do physical or mental strengths.

Lea Waters, Ph.D. says, “Strengths are things we do well, often, and with energy.” 

Here are some clues you can use to identify your child’s strengths:

  • There’s a Drive or Yearning. Your child will have a desire to use their strengths. They will look for ways to express it.
  • Your Child Naturally Displays It. Observe what they naturally do or say. My son loves to read and write. He loves history and he will find videos to learn about a specific subject and then write his own book about what he learned. This is a natural curiosity; he’s always asking questions. He’s used this strength to help his classmates who may be struggling with schoolwork. My daughter (age 4) loves to draw. It’s how she shows her creativity. There are pictures taped all over our house of her drawings. She uses this to draw pictures for her friends and family. This is a way she shows love and care for others. Often, it’s a form of encouragement to others.
  • Your Child Loses Track of Time When Engaged in It. It’s hard for children to focus on one task too long. So when they do, pay attention to what it is. When they lose track of time engaging in an activity, they are doing something that energizes them and brings joy and fulfillment.
  • It Can Be Put to Positive Use. As we help our child discover their strengths, let’s look for ways for them to positively impact others. You can hear more about these clues from Lea Waters here.

You don’t have to respond to each strength you discover, but you can take steps to encourage them to develop some further.

Remember, just because your child is good at something doesn’t mean they enjoy it. As we help them develop these strengths, we can help them understand the character traits that accompany them. 

You have the opportunity to help your son or daughter discover what makes them unique and how they can utilize who they are to make a positive impact on the people around them. You get to walk this path with them, encourage them, and strengthen your relationship through this process of self-discovery. I, as a parent, am the most influential teacher my child will have. I have the privilege of pouring into and encouraging their development. You do too!! Use this strength development journey as a way to grow your relationship with your child.

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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I woke up late because I forgot to set my alarm, so I hurried to the shower and got dressed. Then I rushed to my son’s room to get him up and ready for the day. On my way to the room, I’m  greeted by a BIG smile and my son saying, “MOMMY, look! I helped you. I got dressed and ‘made’ my breakfast.” He was dressed like a bag of skittles. He had on a purple shirt, lime green shorts, red socks and his blue shoes. Breakfast consisted of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of milk. Actually, only half of the peanut butter and jelly made it to the bread. The other was spread on the table, and none of the milk made the glass. It was in a puddle in the middle of the kitchen. 

I was experiencing a variety of emotions including feeling stressed, bothered, frustrated and angry.

My son watched what was going on on my face and waited for my response. What could I say or do? I could yell out of frustration and anger. Or say, “YOU made such a MESS! I don’t have time to clean this up. We are GONNA be late! What are you WEARING?” Or,  I could laugh, open my arms, and say, “OMG! Thank you for helping Mommy this morning. I was running behind. I appreciate you dressing yourself and eating your breakfast.”

No matter the response I chose, one thing is for sure: my response will have an impact on my child.

Here’s 3 ways your emotions can affect your child:

1. The way you behave when you experience an emotion teaches your child about that emotion and how to respond to it.

Emotions are not good or bad; it’s what you do with the emotion that will be either positive or negative. Your child needs to see you express a variety of emotions from anger, sadness, stress, anxiety, joy, elation, frustration, disappointment, pride, boredom, tired, scared, and nervous.  

2. Your child is watching to see what you do or how you react to a given situation.

There may be times when you struggle with a work assignment, and you feel frustrated and annoyed. Saying to your child, “Mommy had a HARD DAY at work and I need you to complete your homework or chores the first time that I ask you.” You are modeling for your child that having a bad part of the day doesn’t have to ruin the whole day. 

3. Children recognize fake and faux emotions.

If you’re actually sad, but try to fake happiness for the sake of your child, you’re doing them a disservice. Because your child can see that you’re sad, they may actually believe that it is because of them you are SAD. As you experience emotions, have an age-appropriate conversation with them. You are teaching them how to deal with emotions which is a skill that has long-lasting effects.

If you have younger children, they are not immune to the effect of your emotions. They are often unable to verbalize their negative feelings so they display them by acting out. They may revert to a younger stage like sucking their thumb or having bathroom accidents. You may also notice them not wanting you out of their sight or being extremely weepy. 

As a child, you may have learned lessons from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

These are a few poignant words he has to say about feelings. “There’s no ‘should’ or ‘should not’ when it comes to having feelings. They’re part of who we are and their origins are beyond our control. When we can believe that, we may find it easier to make constructive choices about what to do with those feelings.” 

As a parent, you have the opportunity to teach your children that having a variety of emotions is normal and natural. How you either react or respond is the lesson they learn. Because your child has been watching you over time, it may be a shock how accurate they are in interpreting your emotions. Whether you are happy, excited, angry, or frustrated, your child is aware.  Your increased awareness of that fact helps to create a calm, peaceful and stress free environment for them to grow and develop.

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Is it normal to have a bad day with your kids? Do traffic lights seem to turn red when you’re in a hurry? Does your baby seem to poop in their diaper two minutes before you need to leave the house or worse, in their potty-training underwear? Does your 5-year-old son say they have to use the bathroom 5 minutes into a long road trip?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

No one wants to have a bad day, especially when there are little people depending on you for their wellbeing. And we do everything we can to prevent our little people from having bad days. But guess what? Sometimes they happen, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

There are days where you’re less patient, more irritable, snappy and short, tired, or sluggish. It’s part of life. You’re human and life happens. We experience stressful seasons at work, deal with pain and loss, and have unexpected circumstances pop up. Sometimes, you just wake up on the wrong side of the bed. You’re not your usual self and you take it out on your children. You fuss at them for being a kid. You over-punish them for making too much noise. Or you snap at them for bothering… I mean wanting your attention. Maybe I’m projecting my experiences and the experiences of the parents I know on to you. If so, I apologize.

Let’s not even talk about your kids having a bad day where nothing you do seems to help. Those days where your 4-year-old is just constantly whining, your 6-year-old breaks everything he touches and your 8-year-old can’t get along with anyone, including you.

I could give you story after story of my bad days and bad days my seven kids have had. In fact, that’s how I let go of the pressure of not having a bad day. I talked to other parents who were in the same season or a little further along in their parenting journey and I heard their stories. I saw their laughter. And most importantly, I noticed their relationship with their child wasn’t negatively affected by their bad days. In some cases, the relationship seems to have been strengthened by them.

Crazy isn’t it? Bad days can strengthen your relationship?

Some of our bad days have resulted in laughable memories, like the time my spouse, myself, and my 3-year-old daughter were at a friend’s house. We were filming a promotional video about parenting. Ironic to say the least. I was frustrated because work was stressful that day, I got home late, they weren’t ready to go, we were stopped by every traffic light, I got pulled over for speeding, and of course, we were late. And my daughter cried while we were there for a solid hour and a half. 

To this day, we don’t know why. (I’m still not sure how we got the filming completed. She wasn’t scheduled to be filmed, thank goodness.) She was having a bad day. I was trying to pacify her bad mood in the midst of my own frustrations with no success.

We look back on that day and laugh. It was stressful at the moment. I struggled for a few days because the cat was let out of the bag with everyone that was there… We’re NOT PERFECT PARENTS. We were late. I was clearly flustered. And my daughter cried forever. 

What eased my struggles?

A couple of days later, I was talking to several parents who heard the story. They started sharing their bad days. For 20 minutes straight, parents kept adding their stories, sharing their experiences, and laughing. 

On its own, this may not have been spectacular. The memory I have is that some of them were older parents (aka grandparents) who were talking about their kids, friends of mine that I have the utmost respect for as people, friends, and citizens. I could see the richness of their parent-child relationships. I could see the love, emotional connection, respect, and care in their relationships. And, I could see that the best relationships often happen through the bad days. 

My 13-year-old daughter and I still laugh about that “horrible” night. And when we do, she and her six siblings start telling stories of some of my bad days.

Days I may have fussed at them for no good reason or gone overboard in punishment for a minor offense or an offense they didn’t even commit.

  • I realized having a bad day was not a reflection on my parenting skills. 
  • Bad days haven’t altered my course of life or my children’s. 
  • I wasn’t always to blame. And even on the days where I was the catalyst behind my bad day, it didn’t make me a horrible parent.

In the midst, I’ve learned not to take myself too seriously as a parent. My kids have learned that their parents are human and make mistakes. What’s most important is the relationship, not getting everything just right. I don’t ever wake up planning to have bad days. Normally in the midst of the bad days, I don’t realize it’s happening. 

Sometimes there’s acknowledgment and apologies that follow a bad day. Sometimes there’s laughter. 

There are often talks where we have to correct behavior and help adjust a mindset. Sometimes there are consequences my children experience because how they were feeling doesn’t excuse the behavior. 

With experience, you learn ways to shorten a bad day and help your child get through it. 

Remembering that bad days are part of the relationship-building process that will occur with anyone you’re spending that much time with will help you use your bad days to embrace everyone’s humanity. Ultimately this strengthens your relationship, one apology, and one story at a time. And if not, call my kids; they’ll make you feel a whole lot better about your bad day.

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Does it seem like everyone has something to say about how you’re parenting?

Do you question whether or not you’re doing the right thing for your child?

Do you want assurance that you’re meeting your child’s needs?

Researchers and practitioners have sought for years to find what children need to thrive in a variety of ways—physically, mentally, psychologically, emotionally and behaviorally. The research is in. They might use a different word or two, but we have a good idea about what children need to thrive. Relationship is everything.

Dr. Mark Laaser and his wife, Debra Laaser, LMFT, have worked with individuals and couples for many years. Through their work, they found that in relationships, we all have desires in our hearts. Those desires begin in childhood and last throughout our lives. 

1. To be heard and understood.

Your child needs you to hear and listen to them, even when what they say is difficult to hear. If they don’t feel heard, they will either stop talking or begin to over-talk you.

2. To be affirmed.

Your child desires for you to recognize what they do. Whether for academics, arts, or athletics, you showing up means a great deal to your child. They may win or just participate, but your acknowledgment that they did a good job can make their little hearts happy. When they complete a task or chore, saying thank you (even if they don’t do it the way that you do it) is an additional way to notice their contribution to the family. 

3. To be blessed.

Your child desires to know that you love them unconditionally for who they are not for what they do or accomplish. No matter how they behave (temper tantrums), how successful they are in athletics or not, how well they do academically or not, your child needs to feel your love and support.

4. To be safe.

Your child desires to feel safe, free from extraordinary fear, worry, and anxiety. There are conditions that parents can’t control such as a global pandemic or natural disasters (tornado, hurricanes, fires). What you can do is ASSURE your child that you are right there with them. Being aware of your feelings will help you handle those of your child.

5. To be touched.

Your child needs and desires physical contact. As infants, children who don’t receive physical touch often get a diagnosis of “failure to thrive.” According to Dr. Virginia Satir, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. And we need twelve hugs a day for growth.” 

6. To be Chosen.

Your child desires to know that you want and cherish them as a member of the family. In my house, my sons often ask, “Who is your favorite child?” The truth is each one is my favorite child. Our family would not be the same if any of them were not a part of it. Likewise, your family would not be the same if any of your children were not a part of your family.

7. To be included.

Your child desires to know that as a member of your family, they matter, belong, and have significance. Find ways (age-appropriate) to include them in decisions (what’s for dinner, family outings). Not only is their presence necessary, but their contribution to the family ideals and expectations is mandatory.

Parents want the best for their children through experiences and exposure. There will be times that you miss the mark as a parent. Your child may not make every team or production they try out for. You may get angry and raise your voice. Remember that what your child needs to thrive is for you to be an engaged (not perfect) parent who is seeking to meet the needs and desires of your child’s heart. There are probably a few things that you’re already doing, but if you see one that you’re not, choose one to focus on this week. 

Other Lists Of What Children Need

As you were raising your children you emphasized the importance of treating each other with respect, making wise choices and doing the right thing. So, why do your adult children make poor decisions?

Seriously, let’s be honest. As a parent, it’s sometimes hard not to experience anger, perhaps some guilt and even resentment toward your grown children when you watch them repeatedly treat you or others disrespectfully, make poor decisions with money or their career, or make poor choices in general.

You may even question where you went wrong as a parent…“How could this child have grown up in our home and be making life-altering decisions that are affecting them AND the lives of their loved ones and friends?” you ask yourself over and over again.

☆ While you might be initially tempted to swoop in and rescue, take a deep breath and keep reading.

Before you beat yourself up and allow guilt to invade your mind, stop. It’s highly likely you did everything you could to help prepare your child for adulthood. Questioning every decision you made as a parent isn’t helpful for anyone. 

Here are some ways you can still be a guide for your grown child and give yourself peace of mind.

Communicate.

If you have a voice at all in your child’s life, now would be a good time to ask to have a conversation with them. As the parent of an adult child, how you approach this conversation can make the difference in whether or not you’ll be afforded the opportunity to continue to speak into their life. BEFORE you have this conversation, process through your own emotions in order to be as unemotional as possible while you’re talking with them. Also, think about what really needs to be said.

This should not be a lecture or interrogation. Ask them about what they’re trying to accomplish. Express your concern for what you see them doing or how you see them behaving. You might be able to offer wisdom, suggest other people for them to talk with, or resources to assist them in getting back on track. Avoid fixing it for them

Set boundaries.

Regardless of whether you’re able to have a conversation with your child, if you’ve not already set very clear boundaries for them, now is the time. Sometimes parents feel like they’re being unloving when they do this. In reality, the exact opposite is true. This is one of the most loving things you can do to help them move forward in a healthy way. Consider boundaries such as: 

  • You’ll not tolerate being treated disrespectfully, so if they can’t be respectful, they can’t be in your home. 
  • If they’re dealing with addictive behavior, you’re willing to help them get the help they need, but you won’t support their habit. 
  • They won’t be able to access your money, even if something were to happen to you.
  • Giving them money to bail them out of financial mistakes will not be possible.  
  • Taking responsibility for their behavior in any way won’t happen.
  • Moving back home is not an option. OR if moving back home could be an option, it wouldn’t happen without a contract in place about what will happen while they are at home and a move-out date set. A warning: if you choose to let them move back home, even with a contract in place, it could be very difficult to get them out.

Avoid enabling.

No matter how old your child is, your role as parent never stops, but it does change. When they’re adults, you’re more the coach or advisor on the sidelines, not their manager. It is incredibly painful to watch your children make poor decisions and not swoop in to fix it. Unless you want your 30, 45, 50-year-old child expecting you to continue to make everything alright for them, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT enable them by taking responsibility for their actions. Don’t confuse enabling with loving your adult child

Don’t cave.

This may require you to pull together a group of trusted friends to support you and help you stay strong. We love our children. Following through on our commitments to keep the boundaries that are in place and not rescue them can feel so unloving. It just goes against everything in us as parents. Yet, standing strong and following through with what you said you would do is actually the most helpful thing you can do for your child to encourage movement in a healthy direction.

Manage your emotions.

Parenting adult children who make poor decisions can be like a roller coaster ride. One minute you think you are making progress and the next day you are in the pit again. It’s tempting to let them have it, but don’t. You do need to be able to process your emotions, but don’t do it with your child. Talk with a trusted wise friend or seek out counseling. Let the tears flow, put words to the disappointment, anger and resentment you feel, grieve what you thought would be that is not, and make a plan for how you will continue to live as fully as possible even in the midst of your adult child living in turmoil. This is vital.

Don’t let their behavior put a damper on your love for them.

Sometimes it’s hard not to take your adult child’s behavior personally as though they are doing it just to get back at you. While that is possible, it isn’t necessarily true. They still need to know there is nothing they could do to make you love them more or love them less. Your love for them isn’t conditional.

Live your life.

When people ask you how are, in your heart of hearts, you feel like you are only doing as well as your children are doing. At some point, we have to separate our adult child’s behavior from ourselves and choose not to let them rob us of all of our joy in life. I’m not saying we don’t grieve. What I am saying is, we don’t allow it to consume us.

It’s funny—as our children move from one stage to the next, we think to ourselves, “Wow, I’m glad we are past that.” believing the next stage will be easier only to find out the current stage has its own set of unique challenges. When we finally believe we’ve arrived at a place where our adult children can function on their own, we find even this season of parenting has its own set of challenges, especially because they can do so much damage that is completely out of our control, but we can be impacted immensely by it. 

Being the parent of adult children who make poor decisions or behave badly is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage and tenacity to do what you know is in their and your best interest. Stand strong. Love powerfully. And, in those moments when you are weak and deviate from the plan, give yourself some grace, get back up and keep putting one foot in front of the other. 

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I see the mom walking down the street with her 4-year-old daughter paying more attention to her cell phone than her daughter, and I think, “Put your cell phone down and pay attention to your daughter.” I see the mom at the grocery store at 1 AM with her 2-year-old son and I think, “That’s ridiculous.” I see the 6-year-old talk disrespectfully to his parents at the soccer field and I think, “If he were my son, that’d never happen.” And let’s not mention the thoughts that have gone through my mind when I see the temper tantrum in the grocery store line next to the colorful Skittles that the child wants and can’t have.

Judging other people’s parenting can be intense and destructive to my well beingand it just plain isn’t fair to other parents. When we judge others, we’re sending the message that we’ve got all the answers. Any parent knows this just isn’t the case. Why do we judge other parents and how can we stop?

We judge for many reasons:

  • We parent differently. Breastfeeding vs Bottle. Educational decisions. Kid’s use of technology. Our natural tendency is to see those who parent differently as wrong. Because if they are right, then I’m wrong. Instead of just seeing them as different. There’s usually more than just two ways of parenting. 
  • We develop strong opinions about our beliefs regarding what is the best way to parent. Some of those strong opinions can lead us to judge others who have different beliefs.
  • Our rush to determine a person’s character. Research has shown that someone’s character is more important to us than what they know and their sociability so we rush to make a judgment on their character. We parlay our own circumstances, environment, and experiences onto parents we’re judging without considering that we’re looking at a moment in time without full context. Dr. Elizabeth Hall in Psychology Today says that we take a behavior and instead of thinking about how the situation may dictate the behavior, we attribute it all to the person’s character. For instance, we see Mom letting her 5-year-old use the cell phone and we make a snap judgment about the mom without even considering that they could be communicating with a grandparent at the moment.

When we judge we make ourselves less approachable. We also separate ourselves from the authentic parenting community. We’re less able to help others and to receive help. Even if a parent is in the wrong and could use the help, who wants to listen to someone who looks down on them or thinks they are better than they are?

How do we stop judging other parents?

1. Recognize we all make mistakes and have limitations.

We have all forgotten to pack extra diapers. We’ve all snapped at our kids because we were tired. We’re all learning as we go because no matter how many kids you have—they are all different and we’ve never raised this particular child before. We’re all flawed parents.

2. Reflect on what it’s like to be judged yourself.

You know the defensiveness, shame, and frustration you felt being judged even though you knew the person judging didn’t know your story. Remember what it’s like to feel misunderstood and inferior

3. Remember, you never know everything about a parent’s situation.

You are judging a snapshot in time. Everyone has a story that influences their experiences. You don’t know their story. You know your story. And you don’t know the decisions you’d make if you had their story. (This is a great story to underscore this point.) 

4. Limit what you consume on social media.

Information on any and every parenting decision you can think of can be Googled. (I didn’t say accurate info.) Facebook and Twitter are full of parents’ best versions of their kids. Social media feeds are designed to keep giving you what they know you’ll like and agree with, strengthening your belief that what’s right for you is right for everyone. See social media for what it is. A snapshot. Most often, a snapshot of what people who are most like you want you to see. 

5. Get to know the parents when possible.

Before you judge, get to know them. This doesn’t have to take lots of time. You may find you share a lot in common. You share insecurities. You’re both doing the best you can. You both have challenges, though different, yet still challenges. You may find out that they’re working two jobs or just left the hospital visiting a sick grandmother. Care about the person.

6. Offer help when appropriate.

Keep the attitude that we’re all part of one big parenting club, doing the best we can. It’s with humility and empathy that a small gesture can calm the nerves of an overwhelmed and anxious parent. Offering to watch her grocery buggy while she tends to her little one lets a mom know you support her. Offering a tip that helped you through a tough time says no one expects you to be perfect. 

We stop judging other parents by training our brains to think of how we can encourage others through the parenting journey. I used to judge (and still do if I’m honest). When I do catch myself judging another parent, I am training myself to offer encouragement when possible, to ask questions and hear their story, or simply to replay in my mind many of the mistakes I’ve made as a parent. (There’s plenty to choose from.) We do what we do because we believe it’s right. Give others the freedom to do the same.

You overheard something. You saw something. Maybe you had a gut feeling. So you just came out and asked your teen, “Are you having sex?” You were greeted with a “duh” face and a “yes.” You kept your cool and said, “Can we talk about this? Soon?

Now you are processing a bunch of emotions and running scenarios through your mind. 

And you’re thinking about that talk. What are you going to say? Then what?

You can get through this! Let’s take these in order:

Your Emotional Response:

This could be hitting you in a deeply personal way: Maybe because of your religious values. Maybe because you don’t want your teen to make the same mistakes you did. 

Maybe because you know all the possible consequences. Let’s face it—you may have just found out that you don’t know your teen as well as you thought you did. Maybe you are running through everything you did as a parent and trying to figure out where you went wrong.

You are going to have to sort yourself out first. Feelings of guilt, anger, disappointment, fear, and confusion are totally understandable, but they are not a healthy place for you to camp out and you are going to have to let go of them if you’re going to move forward with your teen in a healthy, productive manner. Remember, your teen might be trying to process a giant payload of emotions right now and you need to be able to help them.

Your Emotions In Perspective:

The reality is that you could have been The Best Parent Ever©  and your teen could still choose to have sex. (Biologically—they are ready, hormones are racing through their body, they occupy a culture preoccupied with sex, their peers might be exerting pressure on them, alcohol or drugs may have diminished their capacity to choose.) 

The flip side is also true. You could be the kind of parent that doesn’t know where their teen is at 11:30 on a school night and your teen could choose a life of chastity up until their wedding day. 🔎 Teens are young adults who make choices of their own despite our best parenting efforts. Let yourself off the hook and let’s start moving forward.

The Scenarios Running Through Your Mind:

  • How long has this been going on?
  • Was your teen pressured into this?
  • Were alcohol and/or drugs involved?
  • Do they even understand “consent?”
  • Are they or did they get someone pregnant?
  • Do they have an STD now? They think they are invincible!
  • What is the legal age of consent in our state?
  • Is this relationship serious or was it just a “hook up?”

These are all legitimate questions. And you’ll get to them in time. But first and foremost, you need to be thinking about your teen—their mind, heart, body, and that talk.

“That Talk” or “Your Opportunity To Build A Deeper Relationship With Your Teen”

☆ When you feel like you have your emotions in check, your mind isn’t racing, and you can find a time and place where neither of you will be distracted or interrupted, then it’s time to talk with your teen. Remember, this is a chance to build a deeper relationship with them. Some rules: No lecturing. No interrogating. No “How could you’s?” Got ‘em?

You want to be a parent that your teen feels like they can move toward. (Literally and figuratively.) This means paying attention to your body language, the volume, and tone of your voice, reserving judgment, actively listening, communicating compassion for your teen, and having a true dialogue with them.

You need some goals. 

This is not a one-time conversation, but an ongoing dialogue. Remember not to interrogate but to probe gently as you actively listen to their responses. Don’t try to cover all of this in one talk and be done with talking to your teen about sex. When it comes to sex, you want your teen to have a healthy mind, heart, and body. 

You want them to understand that once sex enters the relationship everything changes and gets complicated. “Do they really like me or just like having sex?” “This was an expensive date—does it come with ‘strings’ attached?” “If it wasn’t for the sexual part of our relationship, would we still be dating?”

1. A Healthy Mind:

  • What are their thoughts about having sex and how do they believe it will impact their relationship?
  • Do they understand where you stand on them being sexually active and why?
  • Do they understand the risks of and responsibilities that come with being sexually active?
  • Have they thought toward the future and understand the impact that having many sexual partners will have on a future committed relationship?
  • Do they understand how their life would change if they got someone pregnant or became pregnant? 
  • Do they understand consent and the legalities involved?

2. A Healthy Heart:

Do they:

  • Understand the role that sex plays in a relationship?
  • Know the signs of a healthy relationship?
  • Recognize the signs of an unhealthy relationship?
  • Know the signs of an abusive relationship?
  • Have smart boundaries in a relationship? Are they strong enough to enforce those boundaries?
  • Know what to do if they feel pressured to do something they don’t want to do? (Do you have a codeword or phrase that they can use in a call or text that indicates they are uncomfortable and need out of a situation?)
  • Understand how to work through guilt and forgive themselves if they regret having sex?
  • Have the self-awareness to recognize the signs of depression, anxiety, and stress in their life?

3. A Healthy Body:

  • Do they understand they need to be tested for STDs & STIs? 

(No matter how much they protest that they had “safe sex.”)

  • Do they understand that they will need a pregnancy test and visit to a doctor? (Again, no matter how much they protest that they had “safe sex.”)
  • Do they know how to protect themselves against pregnancy and STDs, even if you have expressed that you don’t approve of them being sexually active?

Follow-Up:

Your teen might have been in a heightened emotional state while you were having this conversation about sex. It might take a few days for them to process what was discussed. A couple of days later, you might want to ask them what thoughts or questions they have about your talk. Remember, this was not a “one and done” conversation. Keep the dialogue going by being an “askable” parent. Let them know they can talk to you about whatever, whenever. 

★ Make sure your teen knows you love them no matter what. 

First Things First Resources:

Other Resources:

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As a parent, it never ceases to amaze me that I feel a piece of the hurt that my child experiences—whether it be a skinned knee, a disappointment, or hurt feelings. I’m sure you feel the same way. And unfortunately, anxiety does not discriminate by age. Helping your 8- to 12-year-old child through anxiety is no piece of cake. Many parents are left in the dark as to how to nurture their child through worry, fear, and panic.  

When your tween-ager becomes anxious, how do you help them handle their anxiety? 

Worries and fears are normal for kids, whether it’s being nervous about an upcoming test, a friendship, or feeling uncertainty over a move to a new house. These feelings typically work themselves out in a short amount of time, and life moves on. However, anxiety can become problematic in tweens when it persists and interferes with everyday life. 

Not all kids experience anxiety the same way, and the source of one kid’s anxiety might be different from another’s. According to the National Health Service of the UK, some children simply have a hard time with change, such as attending a different school or moving to a new town. Distressing or traumatic experiences such as a house fire, change in family structure, or the death of someone close to them can certainly spark anxiety. Also, family conflict and arguments can heighten anxiety in children, especially if they experience it often. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, the CDC, and the AACAP, there are some typical signs to look for to indicate that your child may be experiencing anxiety:

  • Anger or irritability.
  • Constant worry, negative thoughts, the nagging thought that bad things are going to happen.
  • Trouble sleeping at night.
  • Bad dreams.
  • Headaches or stomach aches.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Feeling tense or fidgety.
  • Trouble concentrating on schoolwork or other tasks.
  • Avoidance of social gatherings or everyday activities.
  • Lack of confidence to try new things.

Keep in mind that many of these symptoms can be normal in 8- to 12-year-olds from time to time; all kids have a nightmare or show some fidgetiness now and then. However, if you see these symptoms crop up repeatedly, this may be an indication that your child is experiencing some anxiety and needs some help to cope. 

So, what can you do as a parent to help your child during these times? Here are some steps to help your child walk through worry, fear, and anxiety. 

Help your child talk through and name their feelings.

Emotion Wheel

Many kids don’t know how to articulate what it is they are feeling. Putting a label on what your child is feeling gives them a certain power over their anxiety, what some psychologists call a “name it, tame it” philosophy. Tools such as the emotion wheel below can help kids choose words to describe what they’re feeling.

Another side of the “name it, tame it” idea is to help your child give a literal name to the feeling of anxiety. This helps them to call the anxiety out and put it in its place. For instance, they might say, Well,Bruce” is showing up again, making me feel worried about this test. Bruce, you need to go away so I can get on with my class! This may feel a little “lame” to older kids, but it gives them a vocal power over their negative feelings and helps them to regulate tense emotions. 

Teach them to recognize their own signs of anxiety as they begin to arise.

(Such as heart beating fast, trouble thinking straight, sweaty palms, etc.). Anxiety is usually something that shows up progressively before it reaches full tilt, sometimes described as a wave that builds up and then ebbs away. The more your child can anticipate the wave coming, the better they can head it off at the pass with some coping skills. 

Teach your child some simple mindfulness and relaxation techniques for when they feel anxiety coming on.

For instance, they can take three deep breaths, inhaling through the nose on a three-count and exhaling through the mouth on a three-count. Deep breathing helps to slow a person’s heart rate and the amount of stress hormones that get squirted in the brain in a nerve-racking situation. Other very simple relaxation techniques can be found online. 

Help your child talk through what can be and what can’t be controlled in a certain situation.

For example, the fact that they will be attending a new school or that they won’t know anyone the first day or so cannot be controlled. However, they can control whether they open up and get to know other students. They can control whether they ask a teacher for help with finding their way. And they can control the knowledge that they will be coming home after school and can relax better. Direct your tween to make a two-column list, spelling out what can and cannot be controlled in their situation

Encourage your child to keep a “worry journal,” recording what it is that has them anxious and what they are feeling.

Another great version of this technique comes from Young Minds and is called the “worry box.” Kids can take a decorated box and, as they experience worry or anxiety over situations, record what they are worried about on slips of paper and put them into the box. At the end of the week, go through the slips of paper together with your child; have them determine which pieces of paper were worth worrying over (which is usually none of them), and have them tear that piece of paper up and throw it away. This is a great symbolic way of your child showing power over their anxiety

Coach your child to eat a healthy diet and get plenty of physical activity.

(At least 60 minutes a day, according to the CDC). And be sure they get the recommended amount of sleep at night for their age. Our physical health and our mental health are connected.

Avoid “pre-purchasing” anxiety for your child.

In other words, if you are feeling anxious over a certain situation your child is facing, your child will read you and follow suit. Also, avoid persistent family arguments and unhealthy conflict in the house. An environment filled with conflict only serves to increase the anxiety your child will feel at any given time. 

☆ If your child’s anxiety persists or increases despite these measures, be sure to pay a visit to their primary doctor with these concerns. 

Anxiety happens, and you want your child to learn how to read their own anxiety and develop coping skills. Keep in mind that anxiety is something to be worked through. And everyone needs someone else to walk with them through it—especially children. A key concept that 8- to 12-year-olds can begin to grasp is the idea that you have the power to not let anxiety get the best of you. And kids this age can begin implementing coping tools to demonstrate that power over their anxiety. 

Above all, be patient with them. Let them know you are there to walk with them without judging or shaming them for their feelings. A strong, caring relationship with your kids is the biggest weapon you can give them to build the inner strengths to handle anxiety. 

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As parents, the memories linger from the first time you laid eyes on your child or the first time you held your child. Those are memorable moments. As your child continues to grow, there will be additional moments that strengthen your relationship. Strengthening your relationship builds bonds of love, connectedness, and support that last a lifetime.

Research throughout the years has indicated that bonding and attachment in infancy has many benefits in your child’s life which may include independence, self-reliance, better academic performance, and positive social interactions. When they were babies, we bonded by holding them, looking into their eyes, smiling at them and talking to them. As they grow in personality and become mobile, we have to find innovative ways to further our bonds. 

Here are 5 simple things you can do to strengthen your relationship with your child:

1. Read Together

Reading is fundamental to bonding and you can start doing it even when they are infants. As your child grows, reading can be an integral part of your quality time together. Having them sit on your lap and reading a story while making all the wonderful voices for each character not only gives them an appreciation for reading, but it also expands their vocabulary. As they reach ages 5-8, allow them to read to you.   

2. Get Physical 

As family therapist Virginia Satir famously said, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” Find those times in the day when you can physically connect with your child. Wake them up with a hug and a smile. As you prepare for your day either in person or virtual, create a routine of hugging, butterfly kisses, or a special handshake to signal the beginning of the work/school day. Small gestures like a pat on the back, a rub on the shoulder or an old-fashioned high five are ways to bond with your child. 

3. Play

Play can take on many forms as your child grows—from peek-a-boo with an infant to board and card games, even appropriate video games. Plus, play bonds us because when we laugh and engage in rough and tumble play it stimulates the release of endorphins and oxytocin. Take time to show your child the games you played at their age: Hide and Seek, Tag, Red Light, Green Light, Tic-Tac-Toe just to name a few. 

4. Make time to give each child your undivided attention

We always seem to have things take up time on our schedules from work expectations, household responsibilities, or family activities. Sometimes we turn to our devices to take us away from all that is on our to-do list. Making time for your child can seem like another thing to be added to our list. However, it is vital to take small moments of time to focus your attention on your child. It doesn’t have to be long but your child will feel cared for, valued, and important to you. If you are the parent of more than one child, making time for each child builds a personal and individual connection between you. 

5. Enjoy each moment with your child

Your child will grow so fast, but hoping and wishing for the next stage only seems to make the time go faster. Learn to enjoy and savor each moment with your child whether it be making cookies, building a snowman, or singing at the top of your lungs. Slow down to appreciate the small moments together.

The famous saying, “the days are long but the years are short” may resonate with you, especially when you are dealing with an extra-long day. It may feel like everything is calling for your attention from the dishes to the laundry. Consider the big picture—there will be plenty of time to focus on cleaning out closets and a spotless house when your child is Grown and Gone. It’s not always the big moments that stand out, but those small little times that make the largest impact. Make and take time each day to strengthen your relationship with your child.

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